Fluidity the key to Flick’s Bayern success


Bayern Munich’s dominant 5-0 dismantling of Fortuna Dusseldorf on Saturday was arguably one of the most complete team performances produced by any side in the elite European leagues for a long time.

Devastating in attack, organised in defence and relentless out of possession, Hans-Dieter Flick’s Bayern displayed all the qualities of an immense side. Now, their opponents, Fortuna, were by no means a brilliant proposition but they were made to look incredibly poor by the efficiency of the home side’s performance. 

Whilst sitting in admiration at the unit they have become, the burning question is why are they so good? The answer is simple: fluidity and flexibility.

Bayern aren’t rigid, whilst they have a formation, the players don’t stick regimentally to it at all times. They adapt and change seamlessly depending on whether the team are in or out of possession. Of course, lots of teams do this or attempt to do this but Bayern do it with an ease and sharpness that oozes class. 

Benjamin Pavard is a prime example of this ethos. He lines up initially as a right back. However, when Bayern have the ball he pushes high up the pitch becoming a right winger and sometimes even taking up a position you’d associate with a supporting striker. When he does this, one of the defensive midfielders, usually Leon Goretzka or Joshua Kimmich fills in so that if Bayern lose the ball and get caught on the counter attack, they aren’t short at the back.

However, Pavard is by no means a lazy full back who fancies himself as an attacker and has no interest in defending; to say that would do him a disservice and simply isn’t true. He never shies away from his defensive duties and made a couple of crucial last ditch interventions to help maintain Bayern’s clean sheet against Fortuna.

Thomas Muller is another player thriving with this creative licence that Flick has given the players. During the course of a game, he seems to occupy every attacking area at some point in the match. One minute he’s pumping a ball into the box from the left flank, the next minute he’s on the right. Then he’s in the hole behind Lewandowski, then he’s in the centre forward area getting on the end of a Lewandowski cross.

If you were able to obtain a copy of the German’s heat map and ask people to guess which position he played in, they would struggle. However, he isn’t just blindly running around at all times, it isn’t necessarily about covering an insane amount of distance, with Muller it’s about clever short bursts and faints of movement that see him suddenly appear in space, available to receive the ball.

He roams the field looking for little spaces in the attacking third where he can cause chaos and confusion. If a player was to try and man mark him they would be dragged all over the field. Much was made about the fact that Muller struggled under Niko Kovač and one imagines that is because he was being told to be more disciplined and play in a more clearly defined position.

This doesn’t suit Muller’s game as so much of it involves being unpredictable and appearing in the right place at the right time. If he is tied to one position, it takes his strengths away and dilutes his threat to opposing sides.

The versatility of the squad is mind boggling too. Last week Joshua Kimmich was scoring a quality chip to defeat arch rivals Borussia Dortmund and heavily swing the title Bayern’s way. Fast forward four days and in the second half against Fortuna, he was playing centre back. Yes, you read that correctly: centre back. An injury to Lucas Hernandez at half time and the absence of Jerome Boateng left Bayern a little short of experienced defensive options. It really didn’t matter. Young Frenchman Mickaël Cuisance replaced Hernandez and played in midfield with Kimmich dropping back into the heart of the defence.

To say Kimmich didn’t look out of place would be an understatement. He looked a natural fit alongside David Alaba (who also isn’t a natural central defender but is a regular there these days) and if someone was watching Bayern for the first time and just tuned in for the second half they would not have guessed that this wasn’t the first choice defensive partnership.

With these vast amount of options at his disposal, Flick is spoilt for choice but he is utilising it and using it to his advantage. Why tell Pavard to not venture beyond the halfway line when he is such an attacking threat? Why constrain Muller when his positional awareness is one of his key attributes? Why risk introducing an inexperienced young centre half into the game for Fortuna to target when you could put a bright young midfielder on and let Kimmich slot in alongside Alaba?

When coaches take the big jobs in European football, success normally depends on mastering three key areas; man management, tactics and having trust in the players. With the way Flick sets his side up at the minute, it is extremely clear that he is ticking all three boxes with aplomb. 


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