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FC Bayern Munich Mid-Season Review: Tactical switch brings back the old Bayern

We approach the turn of the year with the start of the winter break and it is time to assess Bundesliga giants FC Bayern Munich’s season so far.

Carlo Ancelotti’s journey at the Allianz Arena started with a bang, leading his side to eight wins on the trot and settling into the German culture sumptuously. But since then it has been an uphill ride for the Italian manager who is finding it hard to deal with the scarce competition from other sides in the league. And the feeling still persists that the first few months of Ancelotti’s sway were not as virtuous as they could’ve been. But, a recent alteration in tactics has brought back the Bayern of old. They recorded with back to back wins, the latest one being a 3-0 hammering high-flying RB Leipzig.

THE NUMBERS

Last Thursday’s 3-0 smashing of RB Leipzig demonstrated the attacking fluidity of Bayern Munich. Despite a lot of criticism linked with him lately, Ancelotti’s Bayern side has racked up 38 goals in 16 matches in the Bundesliga, averaging 2.37 goals per match. 26 of those 38 have come in at the Allianz Arena, where they have averaged a scintillating 3 goals per match.

Going by the numbers, the Bavarians have faltered very little this term. But the standards and expectations have brought them under criticism lately. Carlo’s men have secured 12 wins out of the first 16 league matches, 3 of them ending in draws and one in a defeat to rivals Borussia Dortmund in the league. Allianz Arena, home of the Bavarians, has seen 7 wins and 2 draws in the 9 matches played there in the league. In terms of taking trips, Bayern succumbed to their only defeat of the season at Dortmund, while registering 5 wins and 1 draw in their 7 away matches.

The Champions League group stages ended in discontent for Ancelotti and his men. Two defeats away to FC Rostov and Atletico Madrid cost them the second spot and a tie with Arsenal in the last 16. It was very off-putting for Carlo to see his side finish below Atletico despite scoring 14 goals, 7 more than Atletico, in the group stages.

Same time last season, Bayern were coasting five points clear of second-placed Dortmund with 43 points on the board and 45 goals scored. 

SQUAD ANALYSIS

Carlo Ancelotti had inherited an already thriving Bayern squad from his predecessor Pep Guardiola. It was Pep who had made numerous signings the season before. But in addition to that, Ancelotti secured the signatures of two big players, Mats Hummels from rivals Dortmund and Renato Sanchez from Benfica. The Portuguese teenager has found it hard to cope with the high energy levels of his Bayern compatriots. Hummels, on the other hand, has been very influential defensively at times for Bayern this season.

The greatest strength of the Italian manager is that he does not stick to his system, no matter what. Ancelotti has a tendency to adjust his style to the opponents’ approach. And that is what has benefited the master tactician this season. Bayern had been finding it difficult to settle into the 4-3-3 formation initially employed by Ancelotti. It was after their win over FC Mainz with the 4-2-3-1 formation, that Carlo changed his tactics and stuck with 4-2-3-1 thereafter. If only that formation change could’ve come sooner.

Offensively, Bayern are one of the most lethal sides going forward. From the evergreen Ribery and Robben to the little maestro Thiago Alcantara, Bayern have proved to be a formidable attacking unit. Xabi Alonso’s presence alongside Arturo Vidal has given Bayern’s midfield the authority to attack further forward up the pitch. Douglas Costa’s pace has been very effective in knocking out the opposition defence. French star Ribery has notched up 5 assists this season, the most by far by any Bayern player in the league.

But amidst all this we forgot to talk about Bayern Munich’s standout performer:

STANDOUT PERFORMER

ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI

The Polish forward has been a vital element to Bayern’s goal scoring annals. He has netted 12 goals in 16 starts in the league, that is about one-third of the total goals scored in the league by the Bavarians. In the Champions League, Lewandowski has scored 5 goals in 6 group matches.

After a successful two-year spell with Pep Guardiola, Robert has proved his worth in Ancelotti’s system as well. Having scored 17 goals in 23 appearances already, he will be hoping to maintain last season’s goal scoring touch in which he scored a whopping 46 goals in 51 matches in the Bundesliga and Champions League.

STRENGTHS

FC Bayern’s wide range of attacking options is by far their supreme strength this season. A squad which includes the firepower of Lewandowski along with the Ribery-Robben duo plus the creativity of Alcantara has proved to too much for opponents at times. Apart from this, they have so many offensive threats who fight for the first team spot. Douglas Costa, Thomas Muller, Renato Sanches and Joshua Kimmich have all contributed their bit whenever they have been given a chance to show their worth. The Bavarians’ sumptuous goal scoring spree, which includes an average of 2.37 goals per match [which is apparently more than what Guardiola’s team averaged (2.35) after 34 matches in the league], has proved advantageous for their current leading position at the top. With so many goal scorers and match winners up top, they seem like the team to stop in the time to come.

WEAKNESS

The Bavarians go into the holiday season on the back of five wins on the bounce and little to worry about during the turn of the year. The side seems to have settled into their stride after Carlo’s recent shift to 4-2-3-1 formation from their usual 4-3-3. But if there was to bring out a weakness in this Bayern side, then it has to be at the defensive end as well as somewhat at the offensive end too. While there is always very little to fight for in the Bundesliga for Bayern, their offence has not been able to deliver in tight matches like the ones against Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund. Same is the case defensively. In such tight matches, their backline is unable to stop the opponents’ force for too long and succumb in the end, giving away a goal in the process. They need to perform in big matches if they are to go a long way in the Champions League and also lift their fifth consecutive Bundesliga title.

WHAT TO EXPECT

With Carlo Ancelotti in charge, any club should feel relaxed considering the master tactician’s abilities. His tactical shift from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 lately has brought back the Bayern of old and after their win over RB Leipzig it seems that there is no one stopping them now, at least in the league. If nothing goes wrong, the Bundesliga title should comfortably end up at the Allianz Arena. It is now a question of where the German giants will end up in the Champions League.

Expected League Position: 1st

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