How will Bayern Munich line up under Julian Nagelsmann?
Bayern Munich officially have a new coach with Julian Nagelsmann replacing Hansi Flick in the Allianz Arena dugout from 1 July. How will the reigning sextuple winners line up under the game's most exciting young tactician? bundesliga.com takes a closer look…
In Flick, Bayern are bidding farewell to a man who, with a Bundesliga, DFB Cup, UEFA Champions League, FIFA Club World Cup and DFL and UEFA Supercups hogging his mantlepiece, only has two fewer trophies than he does defeats since succeeding Niko Kovac as the club's head coach in November 2019.
Watch: Flick's final Bayern chapter
Flick leaves significant boots - and perhaps a training tracksuit - to fill, but Nagelsmann has no mean coaching CV of his own. The youngest Bundesliga coach in history when he succeeded Huub Stevens at Hoffenheim in October 2015 at the age of 28, he more recently guided RB Leipzig to the Champions League semi-finals and has turned them into his future employers' nearest challengers ahead of perennial rivals Borussia Dortmund this season.
As well as being one of the brightest young minds in the sport, Landsberg am Lech-born Nagelsmann will also have some of the best players in the world at his disposal back in his native Bavaria. How he sets them up remains to be seen, but what his predecessor Flick has done with Robert Lewandowski, Alphonso Davies and Co. - and what they have done for him - might offer a few clues.
Flick's record as Bayern coach reads: 83 games played, 68 won, seven drawn and just eight lost in his 17 months at the helm. Perhaps just as remarkable as his winning record is the fact he has sealed those victories with the same 4-2-3-1 formation in all but 12 of his matches. And in only two of those - a 3-2 league victory over Paderborn last February and 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid in the Champions League in December - did he start with an outright deviation with three at the back.
Lewandowski leads the line almost uninterrupted, as he would for almost any team in the world. The prolific Pole has scored 36 league goals this season at a rate of one every 61 minutes he has played. With three games left of Bayern's current campaign, he could yet overtake Gerd Müller's 50-year, 40-goal single-season record, despite the recent knee injury which ruled him out for six games.
Behind him is Thomas Müller. One of Flick's first acts as Bayern coach was to reinstate the self-styled Raumdeuter as the nearest player to Lewandowski. "It's better if I can play alongside someone in attack," Bayern's top scorer explained at the time. "With Thomas next to me it's easier. He helps me a lot. We complement each other very well." Thirty-eight league assists from Müller later - 21 of them another single-season record last term - and Flick and Lewandowski have both been proved right.
Watch: Müller under the tactical microscope
Müller is not the only player aged 30 and over to have been rejuvenated under Flick. Centre-back Jerome Boateng was a mainstay of his Bayern side before his departure this summer, and behind them, Manuel Neuer continues to underpin the team, the greatest goalkeeper in the game, and perhaps of all time, who offers heat-seeking long distribution from deep. But the way Flick has blended youth with such experience deserves a special mention, too.
Lucas Hernandez may be Bayern's record signing and a World Cup-winning left-back, but Davies made the UEFA Team of the Year in 2020 after a stunning maiden campaign, and the 20-year-old Canadian has started four more league games than the Frenchman in 2020/21. Joshua Zirkzee was the other breakthrough story last season; Jamal Musiala this. The 18-year-old is the youngest player to reach six Bundesliga goals for Bayern, and has already broken into Germany's midfield, much to England's chagrin.
Nagelsmann has been a much trickier coach to second-guess in his career so far than Flick - although with Hoffenheim and then Leipzig not enjoying quite the standard of personnel of the Bundesliga's record champions, perhaps he has had to be. Nagelsmann has utilised a number of different formations in 2020/21. No stranger to Bayern's 4-2-3-1 having used it 10 times in all competitions, a 3-4-2-1 nonetheless wins out as his most prolifically-used system, seen in 25 of his 43 games this season, or 58 percent of Leipzig's matches.
Where Flick has rejuvenated certain players, Nagelsmann has positively recalibrated his. Formerly an attacking midfielder or right winger who scored 16 goals and assisted 11 more last term, Leipzig captain Marcel Sabitzer has been moved to central midfield, where his tireless running and eye for a pass are complemented by a thunderbolt shot he can still employ from range. Full-backs have become outright wingers, meanwhile. See: Angelino, who has had a hand in more goals (19) than any other Leipzig player in all competitions this season.
Watch: Nagelsmann's tactical revolution in Leipzig
Nagelsmann has also given 22 members of his squad league minutes this tern, meaning that players such as Amadou Haidara - who has featured on both wings, in support of a striker, or his most natural spot in central midfield - don't even feature in Leipzig's average first XI, statistically. In his backline, Nagelsmann has tried nine different players in 17 different combinations, meanwhile.
While sharing playing time so evenly might be conducive to a happy dressing room, it is testament to how well-drilled Nagelsmann's team is that despite the near-constant changes in defensive personnel, Die Roten Bullen have conceded a league-lowest 25 goals this season - seven less than next-best Wolfsburg, and some 15 fewer than champions-elect, Bayern.
So, what might the above mean for Nagelsmann's Bayern? It seems fair to assume that he'll stick with a formation and playing style that has served him so well so far, at least most weeks. Of course, Bayern will be just as unlikely to line up the same way in consecutive matchdays next season as Leipzig are this, but they certainly have players who can thrive in a 3-4-2-1.
Lewandowski might like having one world-class Germany international next to him, but why not two? Leroy Sane and the wingers in the squad needn't worry too much about any narrowness in attack with the width provided by full-backs. Christopher Nkunku and Emil Forsberg were reared as wide men and have enjoyed plenty of minutes - not to mention goals and assists - tucked in beside Dani Olmo for Leipzig.
Serge Gnabry was once used as a right wing-back by Nagelsmann when the pair were at Hoffenhiem in 2017/18. It may not be his favourite position, but it is a potential avenue for more minutes with Müller, Sane, Kingsley Coman and now Musiala to compete with for time in the final third, and only the more defensive-minded Benjamin Pavard among the top-level right-backs on the books - as promising as US youngster Chris Richards, back from his loan at Hoffenheim, looks to be.
With Boateng and David Alaba following Flick in leaving at the end of the season, Bayern's defence will undoubtably be reconstituted under Nagelsmann, although a back three of Hernandez, Niklas Süle and Dayot Upamecano - who, like Nagelsmann, is swapping the Red Bull Arena for the Allianz - should strike fear into any opposition attack. The three-man defence also means there is no left-back problem - Davies, the Bundesliga's fastest ever player at 22.7mph can simply hug the flank ahead of Hernandez.
The transfer merry-go-round may still have some to spin, but it already looks like Nagelsmann's Bayern is set to make the opposition dizzy.
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