Having analysed Hansi Flick’s Bayern Munich in the past, I wanted to examine the tactical framework of FC Bayern’s women’s side, who currently rank first in the Frauen-Bundesliga (two points ahead of Wolfsburg). The team’s goalscoring and defensive record is scarcely believable — 73 goals for, and a measly 8 against. They are by far the Bundesliga’s most potent side — Wolfsburg rank second in goals scored, with 59 across the 19 games played so far. Through this series, I wanted to analyse the games that Bayern have played in the UEFA Women’s Champions League, in a bid to understand the trends that underpin this team’s tactical framework.
First Half — Adjustment followed by territorial domination
When one looks at their goal difference, the similarities between Bayern’s men’s and women’s divisions are startling. However, during the course of this first leg, I was struck by another factor — like the men’s side, FCB is built around dominating the center, in a bid to create the ideal situation for their wide players. This was most clearly seen in the case of right back Hanna Glas, though winger Lea Schüller also attempted a few take-ons on the left.
At the outset, it has to be noted that Bayern create a tremendously secure base for circulation. The center-backs Amanda Ilestedt and Carina Wenninger split, with Marina Hegering dropping into the middle. While Hegering is the connective tissue, the half-backs are important when it comes to accessing either flank. It is also not uncommon to see Ilestedt and Wenninger charge up to contest for the ball, and they do this while ensuring that there is sufficient security at the back.
Ahead of this line of three, Sarah Zadrazil worked as the single pivot, staying behind Ajax’s first line and being marshalled by the home side’s three-women midfield. During this phase, she largely served as a decoy, binding the midfield to herself and allowing the 8s — Sydney Lohmann and skipper Lina Magull to receive in the half spaces. When Ajax shifted to defend against these movements, Zadrazil moved to areas where she could be easily accessed, drawing a player out with her movement and opening up a passing lane in the process.
Since Bayern changed their shape to mirror that of Ajax, Glas served as the wingback on the right, while Schüller did the same on the left. However, the latter was often very high up, occasionally forming part of the frontline. This phase saw a number of players drop into the flank as a means to ensure staggering and passing options, with Ilestedt, Magull and Lohmann all rotating out to the wing at times.
For the initial 15–20 minutes, Ajax matched Bayern quite well, as they were able to shift across in time to block off passing lanes. Since the 5–3–2 shape opted for was narrow, Bayern found it easy to access Glas on the right, though her subsequent options were closed off and she had to resort to back passes quite frequently. Several times, the execution of the pass was off, leading to attacks fizzling out.
However, Bayern slowly grew into the game, largely because their midfielders began to puzzle out Ajax’s block and started moving into areas that were free. Short passes were used to probe for openings, and players often dropped from between the lines to offer as a passing option. This saw a counter movement by another player into the vacated area, which kept Ajax on their toes. Initially, Bayern attempted to overload the left, tilting the pitch in order to free up Glas on the right. The right back had a decent crossing opportunity when she arrived on to the pass at the edge of the box, but Ajax were able to defend the sequence well.
Bayern were patient and calm, resorting to back passes in the absence of good options and shaking off the early execution failures. The most aggressive phases of their game saw them attack with something resembling a 3–3–4 shape, with Glas joining the front three of Schüller, Klara Bühl and Lineth Beerensteyn. Magull and Lohmann were key in this phase, with Magull in particular dictating the side from which Bayern would attack. During the final twenty minutes of the half, she combined with Glas and Schüller down the right, with third man runs allowing them to find a good option and Ajax pinned by the players in the center and on the left. The sequence saw Schüller get a good crossing position from the by-line (albeit outside the box), which fizzled out in the end.
Ajax had largely sat off in a block (see graphic above), but they gradually began pressing more players from the front. The press could occasionally become a ball side 4–3–3 shape, something seen more regularly in the second half. Even here, Zadrazil, Magull and Lohmann were able to play through and around them, with different players offering in different moments. Glas was an ever-present menace on the right, as Bayern always ensured that players always compensated for each other when one moves out of position.
Second Half — Intensity, ambition and goals
At the beginning of the second half, Ilestedt was taken off for Carolin Simon. The substitute continued as the left center-back, though her driving runs made her much more of a force down the left. With Simon providing support down the flank through her overlaps and deep crosses, Lohmann oriented herself towards the center and the right half space. Magull continued to float around the middle third, offering hserself when necessary and supporting attacks in advanced areas.
Ajax adopted a more grounded approach to possession in the second half, trying to reach their center-forwards more often. However, Bayern were able to snuff out these attacks with Magull carrying in transition. The midfielder also produced an outstanding freekick that Schüller should have done better with. However, the striker did redeem herself later, scoring the opener by leaping to meet Zadrazil’s cross with the outside of her foot.
Both in and out of possession, Bayern were intense — there was a clear desire to win the ball that manifested itself in their defensive transition and control over passing lanes. This is not dissimilar to the men’s side, and Lohmann scored a wonderful goal just minutes after winning possession with some trademark Bayern intensity. With Beerensteyn and newly introduced substitute Linda Dallmann making runs to drag away the defenders, space opened up for Lohmann, who dribbled inwards before pulling her shot just inside the post.
They would go on to score another to take a commanding advantage on away goals, though Ajax would get one for themselves through wingback Jonna Van De Velde. The goal arose out of a rare Bayern error (a miscued header which led to some ping pong inside the box), and the Ajax wingback was able to arrive to loop the ball inside the near post.
Ajax were not the strongest opponents, and they did not do themselves any favours by sitting back and allowing Bayern to prise them open. It will be interesting to see the changes they make for the second leg. On the other hand, this was a good exhibition for what Bayern can do against set blocks, and suffice to say that it is every bit as impressive as I expected from Jens Scheuer’s league-leading team.