When Niko Kovac was relieved from his duties as the Bayern Munich manager and Hans-Dieter Flick took over, the German club lay in the fourth spot in their domestic league. Since the change in coaches, Bayern have romped to their 29th Bundesliga title, won the German Cup and since a post-Covid restart, have won all 14 of their games and are a victory away from a sixth Champions League triumph. The key to their success lies in the extension of the idea of the gegenpressing system. They have taken the philosophy, made famous by Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, and tweaked it for their own betterment.
Bayern’s version of gegenpressing
The primary change in tactics for Bayern has been their reaction to losing the ball. During Kovac’s reign, Bayern would apply a press when they lost the ball, but if the pressure didn’t work in the first one to three seconds that they applied it, they would revert to their defensive formation and try to win the ball back from thereon out.
Under Flick, their gegenpressing has evolved. Instead of retreating to a low block further down the field, Bayern now continue with their counter-pressing even if their opponents play a successful first pass to counter the counter-press. If Bayern lose the ball high up the pitch towards the left or right of Lewandowski, the two closest players to the opposition team’s ball carrier try to counter pressure the player and form a triangle with Lewandowski, who is already in position and is a superlative striker capable of harrying defences into losing the ball and still be highly potent in front of the goal.
This means the opposition ball carrier, in a limited amount of space and time, has to lob the ball to a central midfielder further up the pitch, or try a long pass to their attackers, also further up the pitch.
Statistically, this puts the odds in favour of Bayern to either win the ball at their end of the pitch, or scoop up a long pass initiated by the opposing team.
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How has it turned out for the Bavarians?
The overall statistics suggest the Bayern team has been devastating across competitions. Bayern have scored 42 goals in just 10 UCL games this season, and if they put three past Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League final, they would have matched Barcelona’s 45 goals in their Champions League campaign of 1999-2000. But Barcelona took 16 games to achieve that record.
Of their 42 goals, Lewandowski has scored 15 in the Champions League this season and is only two behind the record set by Cristiano Ronaldo in the 2013-14 season. Outstanding goalscoring has been the standout feature of this Bayern season.
According to Fbref.com, as a team, Bayern are outperforming their npxG (non-penalty expected goals) by 9.9, while Lewandowski and Serge Gnabry are outperforming their npxG by 3.2 and 5.3 respectively — making Bayern one of Europe’s most clinical in terms of finishing, both on an individual level and as a team.
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Can PSG stop this goalscoring machine?
PSG have only conceded five goals in this Champions League campaign. Their defender Marquinhos has the highest number of blocks in the UCL this season with 27. And yet, in order for this match to become competitive, it’s the pace and chance creation of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Angel Di Maria that the French champions will need to lean into.
Trying to fight Bayern in a possession war will only result in the Germans gaining the upper hand because of their superior press. And that pressing has led to Bayern winning possession in areas from where they are able to create a rich vein of chances. PSG will need to counter those by not focusing on keeping the ball, but to create opportunities — something that they have shown promise in, in this Champions League.
The trio of Neymar, Mbappe and Di Maria have created nine goal scoring chances each in the Champions League this season. This trio also possesses individual pace that they can deploy against Bayern’s defensive line — a very high line that was routinely troubled in the opening half of their semi-final against Lyon.
Another area that can be exploited by PSG is Bayern’s susceptibility on the wings. While Alphonso Davies has earned rave reviews for his attacking prowess in the final third, his one-on-one defending has not been upto scratch and can be exploited by the Parisians should Bayern stick to their high defensive line.