Up until now, the performance level has been pretty mediocre. Although the team has qualified for the round of sixteen, in the DFB Pokal and the Champions League, and managed to create a six-point margin ahead of main competitor Borussia Dortmund, not everyone seems to be satisfied at Säbener Straße.
There are several reasons for that. For example, in the Champions League, FC Bayern will only come in second behind Atletico Madrid for the first time since 2009. In addition to that, RB Leipzig is the current leader in the Bundesliga with three points ahead of the Bavarian record-champion. However the main issue might be the style of play with many problems, since Ancelotti took over.
In this article we will discuss five tasks that will be essential to work on, in order to play a successful season.
1. Improving the positional play
We already mentioned the problem regarding the space behind the striker several times. Unfortunately there are other spaces not covered as well so that it becomes difficult to maintain possession.
There are quite often situations, in which players crowd the same spaces, or are staggered in a straight line. All this heavily harms the diagonal passing and makes it easier for opponents to enable pressure. When the team has only few options available in possession, their approach becomes quite obvious.
The focus on attacks always lies on the wings, which also makes it more difficult to create good chances. One indicator might be the crossing stat. Bayern play 20.1 crosses per game, which is way too high. Especially David Alaba is forced to use this method more often than ever before (6.1 times per game; only 1.4 reach the target). Douglas Costa’s numbers in this category are even worse. 0.6 completed crosses on 7 attempts per game.
Overall, only 2% of all the crosses coming from outside the box lead to goals, which sums up the lack of creativity and ideas. You cannot blame the two mentioned players for this at all. It is due to the whole team, who is not able to provide better options.
Right now the team struggles to control the centre because they always fall back into the dreaded U-formation. They are rarely able to complete diagonal passes into half spaces or the centre. All of this also makes it difficult to pick up pace while attacking. If you want to crack an organised defence you need to have instruments likes changes in tempo and side-switches at hand, but fewer options available make those nearly impossible. As a result, insufficient periods in possession get longer so that the opposition is able to structure itself.
One former way leading to successful plays in the past, where the ball is passed deep into opponents’ territory in order to lay it off and thus create space, is simply not existent anymore. This is likely because of the lack of advancement, when in an attacking position. Moreover one-twos in the centre need to be played more frequently to pressure defensive lines effectively.
2. Ancelotti needs to find his own way to control and dominate the game
All FC Bayern fans should say goodbye to the former regular dominance displayed by the team. Due to the reasons above, it’s simply not possible to act that way for the whole of 90 minutes. Despite that, it’s necessary for Ancelotti to find solutions to dominate games even on high levels.
Guardiola worked out a team and a playing style that should be left out of the discussion. His work should be the aim, or better, a stimulation to reach up to that level in the future again. In 2010 under Louis van Gaal, the club changed his philosophy and implemented offensive and dominant attacking football.
The squad is still perfectly designed for this. Players like Philipp Lahm, Xabi Alonso, Javi Martinez and Mats Hummels are forced to cover their lack of pace with other skills that contribute to the explained style of play much more efficiently.
The squad at Ancelotti’s disposal has players that are over their peak. It will be important to give those players an appropriate amount of playing time. In addition to that the system should be adjusted to cover their weaknesses, which Guardiola managed to do perfectly last season.
The transition in general from Guardiola to Ancelotti seems to be as challenging due to the fact that the players are not used to grant as much time of possession to the opponent. The coach must find a solution to gain more control over the midfield, but more importantly it will be essential to stabilize the periods without the ball.
3. Fine tuning counter-pressing and stabilizing defence
The positioning is also a factor when it comes to pressuring the opponent. Because spaces are not covered correctly, the distances get too long to enable pressure directly. However, the team still tries to pressure high up the field, which creates a big space behind them. This space is only covered by Alonso as the sole number 6. To avoid the opponents’ access in this area of the pitch, it will be necessary to pass on the constant counter-pressing from time to time and only act that way when they are already well positioned.
The team, as it seems, is not able to coach itself into a way to defend effectively after losing the ball. Ancelotti stated, that the execution of pressure is still imbalanced. They move up the field like under the reign of Pep Guardiola, but Ancelotti wants them to pressure much deeper. The team needs to understand his approach ultimately to perform it correctly.
Another important factor are the distances between the lines. Attacking high up the field needs the support of the whole team while unnecessary movement in regression should be avoided.
The game against Leverkusen showed some improvements regarding that case. Alonso had more support and counter-pressing was only enabled in suitable situations. They still had problems defending the half-spaces, from which the conceded goal originated.
4. Make Thomas Müller great again
The Müller problem is a Lewandowski problem as well. Without Müller the polish striker needs to work way more in the centre to create spaces or track back to provide options. Müller also executes those tasks, but his position right now takes away the option to field a one-on-one player on the wings. Changing the system might be beneficial, so that classic wingers cover the outsides with pace and Müller plays around Lewandowski. A 4-2-3-1 formation might be better to cover the field than the current 4-3-3.
All offensive problems are connected to the Thomas Müller situation. If he is able to play behind the striker, Lewandowski has more freedom. It is quite logical that Ancelotti still sticks to Müller, who does not need a break at all. All he needs is a moral boost by goals. If Müller becomes the old Müller again, Ancelotti’s job will be hugely simplified.
5. Fifteen minutes against Leverkusen as the current benchmark
The whole situation for the coach is incredibly difficult. Key players are missing games, some are out of form and the demand is enormous, which is totally reasonable.
The team has already shown that they are able to dominate opponents and play fine offensive football. The case that the squad is getting older has the right to exist, but is no excuse.
In the second half against Leverkusen it became clear, that there is a lot of potential in that team. Creating triangles and supporting Alonso were rewarded with several vertical passes of the Spaniard. He structured the game so that the team could show they are still able to play dominantly in possession for 15 minutes.
Covering important spaces, patience, creating link-ups and supporting each other are the essentials to move forward to control games in the future. Situations such as in Rostov, where Sanches, Bernat and Ribery were present in the same zones should be avoided as well.
It would be unfair to judge Ancelotti on the development of the positional play, because that is not his primary task. He is known for maintaining an existing playing style. With the given basics, he can lead the club in a successful transition period. Hopefully the approach of the game against Leverkusen will be continued.
However, he will be judged on how the team can keep the form of the Leverkusen game in the future. Even though the good performance lasted only 15 minutes, it makes us want to see more of it in the upcoming games.