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'You have to win every game': Tuchel's task at Bayern Munich

Matt Ford | Jasmine Baba
March 30, 2023

Thomas Tuchel has been tasked with rescuing Bayern Munich's Bundesliga season, starting with the visit of Borussia Dortmund on Saturday. What tactical changes will he make, and how will he get on with the Bayern bosses?

Thomas Tuchel | neuer Trainer bei Bayern München
Image: Sven Hoppe/picture alliance/dpa

"You have to win every game."

That was the response of Bayern Munich's Director of Sport, Hasan Salihamidzic, on Sport1's "Doppelpass" talk show on Sunday morning when asked what makes the job of Bayern head coach so difficult.

"We have high aims; we want to win trophies," he continued. "That is the job."

And that is now the task awaiting Thomas Tuchel who, having replaced Julian Nagelsmann, will take charge of Bayern for the first time on Saturday against, of all teams, Borussia Dortmund.

Not only does Tuchel have history with BVB, where positive memories of a 2017 German Cup triumph were tarnished by the fallout from the terrorist attack on the team bus that same season, the Black and Yellows also arrive in Munich as league leaders and with their best chance in years of ending Bayern's Bundesliga hegemony.

Since the Bundesliga resumed following the World Cup mid-season hiatus, Edin Terzic's side are unbeaten and have picked up ten more points than Bayern, transforming a nine-point deficit into a one-point lead.

Bayern, on the other hand, got 2023 off to a slow start with three consecutive 1-1 draws against RB Leipzig, Cologne and Eintracht Frankfurt, before slipping to defeats to Borussia Mönchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen, the latter proving ultimately fatal for Nagelsmann.

Julian Nagelsmann looking disappointed with his head bowed
Julian Nagelsmann lasted 21 months as Bayern Munich head coach, but wasn't delivering resultsImage: Frank Hoermann/SVEN SIMON/picture alliance

Nagelsmann's tactical failings

Common to all of those slip-ups was Bayern's vulnerability on the counterattack, with Nagelsmann's preference for flooding the final third repeatedly leaving his own team's defensive line high and undermanned.

In Bayern's best periods under Nagelsmann, particularly the start of the 2021/22 season and in the weeks before the World Cup this season, a "3+2" or "2+3" buildup structure with one full-back pushed high up the pitch saw Bayern able to offer enough cover against counterattacks.

But a switch to a "3+1" buildup structure (three defenders, usually Dayot Upamecano, Matthijs De Ligt and Benjamin Pavard, plus Joshua Kimmich in defensive midfield) saw Bayern exposed by fast counters time and time again (see diagram below).

The warning signs were there in Leipzig when Upamecano was forced to bring down Dominik Szoboszlai. He got away with a yellow card, and Bayern got away with a point. In Mönchengladbach a month later, they weren't so fortunate. Upamecano, again caught out and beaten for pace, was sent off for bringing down Alassane Plea, and Bayern went on to lose 3-2.

Even with 11 men, the same problem occurred. At home to Frankfurt, it even happened twice in one counterattack, as Daichi Kamada and Kolo Muani passed their way through Upamecano, De Ligt and Kimmich for the equalizer.

And finally away at Leverkusen before the international break, comparable situations led to both Werkself penalties, and ultimately to Nagelsmann's dismissal.

"We trusted in Julian and his staff until 11pm [last] Sunday," said Salihamidzic. "But when we analyzed the second half of the season so far, we could see that it was no longer a phase. It was clear that it wasn't working and we had to react."

Tuchel time: 'Less is more'

In Tuchel, Bayern have snapped up one of Europe's top coaches who has proven that he can turn a season around in only a few weeks.

"Hardly any other coach is able to restructure a team so quickly," commented Kicker magazine this week. "Personally, tactically and conceptionally."

Based on his work at his previous clubs, he may opt to have Bayern's defense – which is short on pace since the departure of Niklas Süle to BVB – marking zonally rather than man-to-man, while returning to the "3+2" buildup style they were dominant in.

What he does in attack remains to be seen, having used a number of different two-forward or one-striker systems in the past. In Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting, he will encounter a striker he has already coached twice before, at Mainz and Paris Saint-Germain.

Not that sweeping changes are to be expected on Saturday, with a number of key players only returning from international duty in the second half of this week, and little time for full training sessions.

"Now is not the time for big changes or different systems. Some little adjustments, perhaps, but less is more," said Tuchel at his introductory press conference, saying that his immediate focus was on "smelling the grass again, establishing trust and building anticipation."

Oliver Kahn, Thomas Tuchel and Hasan Salihamidzic pose for a photo at a press conference
"He's a good guy": Hasan Salihamidzic (right) will be hoping he's got this appointment rightImage: Marcel Engelbrecht/picture alliance/dpa

The new Thomas Tuchel: 'He's a good guy'

Within the dressing room, it is to Tuchel's advantage that he is fluent in the three dominant languages in the squad: German, French and English. He could already be seen aiming a light-hearted kick at Leroy Sané's backside during his first training session, before holding a lengthy individual chat with the inconsistent German winger.

"He's won big trophies and has garnered national and international experience," said Salihamidzic of Tuchel. "We've spoken a few times in the past and chatted about football. He's a good guy."

Tuchel will hope that bodes well for his personal relationship with his bosses. After all, it was the breakdown of such relationships – for various reasons, and not always down to Tuchel – that led to his dismissals from Dortmund, PSG and Chelsea.

Now 49, and having traveled to India for a few weeks of downtime after leaving Chelsea, Tuchel begins work in Munich in relaxed mood, confident in his experience and his abilities, and having impressed at his inaugural press conference, where Kicker described him as "clear in his answers, reflective in his views, totally focused and full of intent."

As Julian Nagelsmann found out though, the only thing that really matters at Bayern Munich is winning: every game and every trophy. That starts with reconquering top spot from league-leaders Borussia Dortmund on Saturday.

Edited by James Thorogood

DW Matthew Ford Sports
Matt Ford Reporter and editor for DW Sports specializing in European football, fan culture & sports politics.@matt_4d
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