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 (at the time of writing) 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.
[Previous posts in the series: Part One.]
First Half — 4–3–3 and Classic Positional Play
Before watching this game, I was a bit sceptical about what we were going to see from Bayern. Ajax clearly needed to adapt their approach, whereas Bayern had been dominant throughout. However, this game demonstrated the versatility of Jens Scheuer’s side, as I’ll examine below.
As discussed in the previous post, the first half of the previous leg saw Bayern struggle to build attacks from the three-woman base assembled in defence. With wingbacks holding the width, it was up to the midfielders to drop, receive and combine, while the attackers supported these movements by occasionally pulling to the side and opening up some gaps. However, given Ajax’s minimal pressing, there seemed to be a recognition of the fact that a constant numerical advantage in defence was unnecessary, since it could be created dynamically through a fullback rather than constantly holding a midfielder in the defensive line.
This thinking saw the adoption of a 4–3–3 shape, where the elements of positional play were clearly visible. Carina Wenninger and Simone Laudehr were the center-backs, and they often split very wide in order to easily access fullbacks Carolin Simon and Hanna Glas. Marina Hegering was not picked for this match — instead, it was Lina Magull at the base of the midfield, with Sydney Lohmann and Linda Dallmann playing as the 8s. Lineth Beerensteyn was nominally the center-forward, though she had license to switch with right winger Lea Schüller or drop into midfield. Julia Pollak largely held the width on the left.
As mentioned before, elements of positional play were evident in Bayern’s shape — the graphic above demonstrates the starting positions adopted by the Germans. Typically, when Ajax pressed, they did so at the halfway line and by placing other center-back in their cover shadow. Magull found herself being trailed by the midfield line, though she could always manipulate this line to free up another player.
Bayern’s buildup was impressive — Laudehr would frequently pass to Simon, who would immediately be pressed on the touchline. However, there would be several corresponding actions to an Ajax press — Laudehr would immediately drop deep and fall into the same lane as Simon, where the Ajax player could not press since it would open up a big gap in the middle. Pollak was an option down the wing, while Lohmann and Magull offered between the lines for a third man combination. A pass to either could then be flicked to Dallmann and Glas on the other side, forcing Ajax to shift their block immediately. A third option available to Simon was to find the run of an attacker in the channel, which Schüller was able to provide a few times. This is not to say that Bayern always played through the press — Ajax showed decent intensity in closing players down, though occasionally they were a beat too late when pressing.
It did not take long to recognise that this setup worked — Bayern scored in the very first minute, with Simon passing inside to Magull who then flicked a pass to the more advanced Lohmann (sound familiar?). The midfielder then charged down the channel before crossing for Beerensteyn, who slotted the shot past the stunned goalkeeper.
This early goal aside, the match settled into a rhythm, where Bayern’s patterns were more easily visible. Particularly, the 4–3–3 shape felt more rigid in this game, with players constantly moving to occupy channels at different heights to ensure that positioning within the structure was maintained (overloads on the ball side were a recurring, though not frequent, part of the game). Some fluidity was permitted, with Dallmann and Lohmann often exchanging sides. If Dallmann was on the left and pushed up to press, Pollak would drop inside to maintain the line of three, and if she was unavailable, then Magull would move out of her position with the confidence that someone would always come across to cover.
Unlike in the first leg, the winger — fullback dynamics were clearer in this leg, since Simon and Glas were both aggressive players down the flanks. Simon often came inside into the halfspace due to Pollak’s out-to-in movement, whereas Schüller (who largely operated in a narrow role as the striker) would occasionally move out to the flank to overload the wing. Of the forwards, it was Beerensteyn who had the most active role, dropping into halfspace when the 8 charged up and moving to the wing to receive passes and win fouls. Ultimately, the constant movement and technical excellence of the Bayern players often had Ajax chasing shadows, and the few times they were able to stop possession, they became the victims of a harrowing counterpress.
Second half — Press and Possess
The second half saw a substitution at the beginning — Zadrazil for Magull — but little changed in terms of playstyle. Ajax upped their intensity in duels (from a 5–4–1 shape where they could send multiple players to the flanks) which resulted in quite a few fouls. However, Bayern’s early goal had effectively killed the tie, and they scored another within a minute of the second half after a flowing move involving Beerensteyn and Schüller.
One of the key aspects of the first half — that carried into the second — was Bayern’s pressing, which was different in the second leg. Ajax themselves changed the way they built from the back, with the wingbacks being pushed up and the center-backs moving wide to create a 3–2–5 shape. Either the center-backs or the goalkeeper would play the ball directly to the wingbacks, who then attempted to progress by passing it down the channels for a striker to chase. The difference from the first leg was clear, since they were no longer trying to lump the ball to their center –forwards.
Against this, Bayern used a 4–1–4–1/4–4–2 shape, deploying a kind of man-oriented zonal marking. Here, Dallmann would join Schüller up top, trying to control the options available to the Ajax center-backs. The central midfielders (Lohmann and Zadrazil/Magull) could then pressure their counterparts if they received the pass, whereas the wingers moved to control the options of the wingbacks. Since Ajax had a numerical advantage, it was not uncommon to see a winger move up to press a center-back, in which case the fullback (usually Glas on the right) moved up with the defensive chain shifting accordingly. The key was that once a player picked up an opponent, the ball carrier’s options had to be closed off, while also ensuring that gaps do not open up in the structure. Through a combination of this pressure and Ajax’s own mistakes, Bayern controlled their opponents well, repeatedly winning the ball or regaining possession after a counter press. It’s clear that this had a demoralising effect on Ajax, whose increased physicality in the second half could not obscure the fact that they were dealing with technically superior opponents.
This series amply illustrated Bayern’s strengths & patterns versus low blocks. We know the team is capable of switching shapes while retaining their identity as a possession-focused team — but what happens when they are pressed properly? Hopefully, the next opponent — Swedish side FC Rosengård, who finished second in the 2020 edition of the Damallsvenskan — sheds more light on this facet of play during their quarter-final meetings with FCB Women.