Bayern Munich, from brilliant to woeful – a 3-2 thriller against Napoli

By on November 4, 2011

Bayern Munich went into this game looking to wrap up qualification from group A with a victory against Napoli.  Both teams were at full strength bar Napoli’s fulcrum centre back and the long term injury of Robben for Bayern Munich.  As anticipated Jupp Heynckes set Bayern 4-2-3-1 with Muller given a free role to leave the right wing and link with Gomez and Ribery.  Walter Mazzarri set Napoli in his brilliant counter attacking 3-4-3, opting for Zuniga ahead of Dossena on the left of the midfield 4 with Fernandez taking the centre back birth. As anticipated, Bayern had most of the possession with Napoli set up to break on the counter attack with the 3-4-3 moving to a 5-4-1 when in defense.

Bayern Munich Retention of Play

Bayern in the first half looked every bit the potential European Champions League winner completing 306/335 passes with 11 shots, 7 on target and 3 goals.  Key to this retention of the ball was Bayern’s patients in possession.  As shown by Stats Zone, Bayern were just as happy to go backwards as they were to play a killer pass forward with Gustavo and Schweinsteiger dictating the pattern of the play completing 98% and 95% of their passes respectively.

What is interesting is the way Heynckes sets up Bayern compared to most clubs who play the modern 4-3-2-1 formation, is the central square between the centre backs and centre midfielders.  This is rare in the age of modern tactics with the birth of the modern centre back which see’s one of the two centre midfielders drop between the centre backs with the second pushing into the attack with the full backs.

As seen during Bayern’s first goal while the creative talents of Kroos, Muller, Gomez and Ribery supported by Lahm and Boateng create the space for the goal, the central defensive square of Schweinsteiger, Gustavo, Badstuber and Van Buyten keep Bayern completely solid in the middle of the field with either centre midfielders able to cover the space of the full backs if required to cut out the direct counter attacking ball.  This is very similar to the tactics introduced by Brazil from the 1998 World Cup.  Even with the attacking talent of Schweinsteige,  he never once made a forward run beyond the forwards.


Muller’s Role

One of my favourite players to watch, Muller first came to the world’s attention during Germany’s excellent run in the 2010 World Cup.  In the first 10 minutes, Muller played very much as a right winger however as the half went on Zuniga was forced back as a permanent left back due to the pressure being exerted by Bayern, as a result Napoli didn’t have the usual outlet ball to the left wing.  With Bayern having so much possession there was no need for Muller to occupy the right side in terms of defensive duties allowing him to drift across the forward line and link up with Ribery and Gomez.  While not actually having any shots he did create three chances was involved in Gomez’s second goal by pulling away the marking defender to create the space for Gomez to finish.

Napoli’s Defensive Shape

There were two key changes in the second half which enabled Napoli to get back into the game.  The first was Bayern taking their foot of the gas and the second was the change in Napoli’s defensive line.  In the first half Mazzarri’s Napoli sat far too deep which invited Bayern to have all possession and territory up to the edge of the 18 yard box.  As previously mentioned Napoli set up 5-4-1 when out of possession with defenders automatically dropping back in their defensive third looking to hold the 18 yard area to prevent Bayer playing balls over the top for Muller and Ribery to run on. This enabled Bayern to build attacks through several passing phases waiting for the gaps to play between.  The key aim of playing with two banks of defenders in this case 5-4 is to reduce the space available for the attacking to probe due to the compactness of the space, something which Rafa Benitez was masterful with Liverpool.  However as seen in the picture below Napoli left large gaps  which allowed Gustavo to pick any one of 5 passes to split the Napoli defence.

Most crucially none of the three centre backs took the responsibility of marking Gomez who is surely the most improved striker in Europe. This was a regular occurrence in the first half with all three of Gomez goals coming from balls between the centre backs with Gomez not being tightly marked.

Napoli in the Second Half

Napoli changed shape in the second half in response to the injury of Aronica at centre back and the fact they needed to chase the game.  Napoli lined up 4-3-1-2 with Zuniga moving to right back, Maggio pushed on as right winger and Hamsik playing almost as a lose centre mid.  This allowed Dossena to play as a wingback on the left which he has done brilliantly this season.   Leaving their counter attacking principles Napoli pushed further up the field closing Napoli from their defensive line.  The four attackers worked as unit to close the Bayern defenders in the attacking third preventing the easy ball to Gustavo and Schweinsteiger who had previously dominated the game.   This meant Bayern couldn’t exert the same dominance in possession they had in the first half through midfield and forced the play back Neuer as the outlet to clear their lines.

As can be seen from Stats Zone, Neuer passed the ball 8 times being successful with 6 including 4 short passes in his own half. In the second half with the exerted pressure put on by Napoli to the defensive line this forced the Bayern defenders to play the ball back to Neuer he was required to clear his lines 21 times being successful only 8 times.  This enabled Napoli to get a grip of the game. By forcing Bayern to give the ball away cheaply Napoli could keep players further up the pitch forcing Bayern’s midfielders who were previously camped in the Napoli half to defend and track runners.


Final Thoughts

Bayern are undoubtedly one of the best teams in Europe with one of the best forward lines next to Real Madrid and Barcelona, however what will be a concern for Heynckes is the lack of drive and concentration shown in the second half.  In addition and even more surprising was the way Bayern couldn’t cope with the physicality shown by Napoli particularly in the second half and at free kicks.  Manchini should not this and consider how he uses players like Barry, Yaya Toure and Milner to ‘get amongst them’.

While Napoli are still well placed to qualify, especially with the last round of games in their favour they have become very obvious in their game play and will need to show more variety in their approach when they host Manchester City and will be required to go for a win.


By Paul Power