Thomas Tuchel has plenty to ponder as he looks to shape his Bayern Munich side. - © /
Thomas Tuchel has plenty to ponder as he looks to shape his Bayern Munich side. - © /

Tactical giant Thomas Tuchel ready to shake things up at Bayern Munich


Bayern Munich's new coach, Thomas Tuchel, has taken to the training ground at Säbener Straße with plenty of his characteristic high-energy and enthusiasm already on show.

As the 49-year-old settles into his new role, investigates what possible tweaks the former Mainz and Borussia Dortmund boss might make to the record champions as they build towards Der Klassiker and beyond.

Tuchel was referred to as a tactical giant by some during his time in Dortmund and as the likes of Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Mainz would confirm, there is plenty of truth in that. The Bavaria native boasts an enormous pool of tactical ideas while his in-game versatility repeatedly poses major problems for opponents. That was certainly the case in the 2021 Champions League final, when his Chelsea team defeated Manchester City and their coach Pep Guardiola on the tactics board before doing so again on the pitch.

Watch: Tuchel unveiled as Bayern coach

What makes Tuchel the master tactician that he is, is that he is not tied to a single idea or concept, or even a specific formation. The recently appointed coach likes to vary his plans for each game, adapting his sides to whichever opponents they may be facing.

In his first steps with Bayern, expect Tuchel to build on what Julian Nagelsmann left behind as a base. "It's not the time for big changes in systems or tactics," the new man explained at his unveiling on Saturday. Having begun his tenure during the international break, many of Bayern's players were away with their respective nations. Some will not rejoin the team again until the end of the week. Yet what about the medium term and the possible changes to Bayern's tactical set-up?

Watch: Tuchel's first Bayern training session

Bayern are generally known for their classic 4-2-3-1 formation. It has been a line-up that has stood the test of time at the club with only only former FCB coach Guardiola varying things with his three-man defences. Otherwise, 4-3-3 and other such standard formations were both the norm, and highly successful.

When Nagelsmann arrived, he occasionally experimented with other systems. After a disappointing start to 2023 that saw the team play out three draws using four defenders, Bayern's now former coach switched to a back three, and it brought success. As many as nine wins in 11 games were recorded following the switch with a 4-2-3-1 being Nagelsmann's preferred alternative in the latter part of his tenure.

With Nagelsmann varying things depending on the tactical situation, playing 4-2-3-1, 4-1-4-1, 3-4-2-1 or even in a 3-1-4-2, there is clearly already plenty of variation there for Tuchel to play with from the get-go.

Watch: Bayern's best goals in Der Klassiker

While the ex-Mainz coach was long considered an advocate of a back four, he repeatedly used three central defenders at Dortmund to bring stability to his back-line. Similar attempts at Paris Saint-Germain subsequently failed, but Tuchel kept the back three at Chelsea regularly, until that changed to a five-man defence.

Tuchel rarely used defenders as wingers, in what his predecessor Nagelsmann called "rail players," or those operating high on the flanks. However, when he began to do so, it was effective (12 wins, eight draws, no defeats at Chelsea – and of those eight draws, his side won five in extra time or on penalties). In general, he prefers to play with his defenders staying on the defensive side of the line (as was the case in 66 of Chelsea's 86 games using a back three). In as many as eight of the 20 games when attacking full-backs or wingers were used, it occurred in cup competitions against lower-tier opponents.

Watch: Der Klassiker is coming 

For Bayern, this raises questions: for example, who will fill the wing-back positions? And what will Tuchel do with Kingsley Coman, who recently often acted as a right wing-back and delivered outstanding performances?

In crunch clashes, Tuchel has generally looked to his defenders, so against BVB this Saturday an out and out right-back will probably be deployed. The choices are numerous: Joao Cancelo, Noussair Mazraoui, Josip Stanisic and Benjamin Pavard offer an attractive variety. That said, the latter two will likely be needed in the centre of defence as Tuchel is expected opt for a system with three central defenders. Whatever happens, Cancelo and Mazraoui seem a better fit on the right when it comes to Tuchel's style of play.

In the past, the Krumbach native often had his his full-backs push right up - regardless of whether that was in a back three or four - pressing back the opposition wide defenders. Cancelo - who is well-known for moving into midfield when in possession - has already played such an attack-minded role under Nagelsmann. Mazraoui, meanwhile, is used to a similar style of play from his time at Ajax, where he frequently played very offensively.

Kingsley Coman or Joao Cancelo? Or both? Thomas Tuchel has previous when it comes to keeping fans and opposition coaches guessing. - IMAGO / Passion2Press

A prime example of this set-up was seen at Tuchel's Dortmund. There, Raphael Guerreiro played as a left-back under the new Bayern coach. When the Portuguese failed to carry out his forward shifting role to perfection, however, Tuchel moved him into central midfield – a role Guerreiro has revisited and thrived on in previous games this season. For Coman or Gnabry, this could mean that they will rarely, if ever, be used on the wing.

However, since both of the aforementioned players show their strengths with deep runs and working from the outside in, and are not, like Leroy Sane, at home in the half-space, a switch back to the 4-2-3-1 could prove to be logical for Tuchel in the medium term so that the wingers do not have to be used in different positions. Half-space players can be seen in a 3-4-3 formation as the offensive midfielders who act behind the centre forward. At Bayern, Jamal Musiala, Sane and Thomas Müller operate in just such a position.

With Tuchel, you can never be quite so sure how he will develop tactically and adapt to his players. Given Coman's outstanding form high on the right, for example, it might come to pass that Tuchel wants to keep the Frenchman there. More than any other coach, Tuchel evolves a gameplan based on the players available to him.

Watch: Müller - a Klassiker specialist

The coach is particularly known for his defensive stability, an issue that has repeatedly caused problems for Bayern in the current campaign. After taking over at Chelsea, Tuchel stabilised things there, moulding the Premier League side into a deep 5-3-2 system.

In the first 14 competitive games under his guise, Chelsea conceded only two goals. This was something that had already been seen with Tuchel at Mainz and Dortmund, where he rarely lost. He chalked up two impressive runs at the 05ers: his team didn't concede for four games in a row, and they once went 12 games on the bounce without defeat. Both runs are currently still Mainz records in the Bundesliga.

Under Tuchel, BVB only lost 15 percent of their Bundesliga games. No Dortmund coach can lay claim to a lower percentile. In addition, the tactician did not lose a single home game in the Bundesliga with BVB (27 wins, seven draws).

But how does he achieve such defensive stability? Tuchel teams like to retreat quite far back. A deep defensive line from Bayern is to be expected against Dortmund, who were lightning quick in the Klassiker on Matchday 9 earlier this season. In adopting such tactics, Tuchel often does not rely on counter-pressing, as Nagelsmann did, but instead structures his teams more defensively when they lose the ball.

Watch: Highlights of the 2-2 draw on Matchday 9

Pressing is something that is not usually employed by Tuchel in terms of a switching tactic (such as the counter-pressing that is common in Germany after losing the ball), but as a tactic in the game phase without possession of the ball.

He sets up clever pressing traps and tries to steer the opponent into direct duels with his strong duel specialists and as far forward as possible in order to quickly get into his own offensive switchover situations. If you consider Bayern's enormous speed (four players in the top 20 in terms of top speed this season are at Bayern), this could be an element that Tuchel will increasingly rely on when it comes to facing the so called 'bigger' teams.

In his coaching history, Tuchel has developed clever plans week in, week out to outwit opponents. In his first season at BVB (2015/16), his team scored 82 Bundesliga goals – a club record for Borussia at the time. As previously mentioned, in the past, Tuchel has mainly played with full-backs that have been pushed up. If that forward thrust is pushed to the very limit in a 3-4-3, for example, the result is a 3-2-5 formation.

Watch: From the archive - Tuchel's Dortmund tactics in 2017

Such structures can be seen regularly under Tuchel, even when he builds up using a back four. He can also shift into a 2-3-5 structure depending on how a game is panning out. Exactly how things look depends on the opponent. However, Tuchel is trying to create a secure structure without losing the majority of his players from a midfield base. If the opponent presses with many players, his offensive half-space players fall back a little to offer passing situations and thus open the game up. Since Tuchel's full-backs pose a danger for deep runs, the opposing central defenders rarely come out with the half-space players, meaning these are often free.

What has been important for Tuchel is to get many players into the opposition penalty area during well-structured games. When building up from a 2-3-5, three central players tend to be active in the front row in the penalty area, two more from the midfield area follow behind and the full-back - who is far from the ball - also moves into the penalty area. Bayern's new coach does not have to reinvent the wheel at his new side. Nagelsmann attached great importance to the very same aspects and was successful in doing so.

Watch: Tuchel's best Bundesliga moments so far

Bayern's 72 goals scored are by far the best in Europe's top five leagues. Even Manchester City, with the outstanding Erling Haaland, have only scored 67 goals so far and despite playing two more games. Paris Saint-Germain, meanwhile, have scored 68 goals having played three more games than the Bavarian giants.

Whether in a back three or four, in a 3-2 or 2-3 structure - Tuchel offers enormous tactical flexibility and combines the prospect of huge offensive potential with defensive stability in every system in order to outsmart his opponents. The upcoming tasks that lie ahead for Bayern are big, but with the tactical giant at the helm in Munich, the men in red are ready to loom large over their rivals at a crucial time in the campaign.

Niklas Staiger