This series takes you through how to evoke the memories of classic teams over the years, recreating their tactics in Football Manager to (hopefully) win games and (definitely) have fun in the process.
Club sides, international teams, league winners, cup winners and just all-round entertainers, the series will focus on the most notable tactical styles which you can then recreate in your FM save. This time we do put Pep Guardiola under the microscope – not for his Man City team, or his instant impact with Barcelona, but his tactically ground-breaking Bayern Munich side.
The Forgotten Seasons
Nobody in world football can deny that what Pep Guardiola did at Barcelona was legendary, and may never be repeated: to win repeat league titles and domestic cup competitions, two Champions League trophies, bring through some of the best players the game has ever seen, as well as THE best player the game has ever seen.
Since his time at Barcelona, however, feelings towards Pep have been mixed from across the footballing landscape. Many consider his spells at Bayern Munich and Man City as failures, despite winning five league titles in that time and even more domestic cups. Whilst it is true that his teams have not won the Champions League, they have reached the latter stages on multiple occasions. What draws the eye towards the enigmatic coach is his outlandish tactical decisions in these ties – many of which do not materialise into a win.
You may have seen our recent feature in the “Play Like” series, on Vicente Del Bosque’s Spain team, which utilised a false nine and inside attacking midfielders to overload the midfield space – 6 bodies in the central area, all capable passers, to overwhelm the opposition and get the ball high up the pitch.
This system from Guardiola takes that to the next level. The striker (Robert Lewandowski, who came to Bayern in Guardiola’s second season) plays deep, joining the midfield when required to initiate attacks. The wingers, nominally Robben and/or Ribery, cut inside at all opportunities, providing more depth in the midfield.
The midfield trio of a CDM (often Alonso) and two CMs (often Thiago, Muller, Vidal or Martinez) provided understandable control of the middle. This takes us up to six, but the way Guardiola maxed out the midfield space was with his final flourish – David Alaba and Philip Lahm. These two intelligent, creative and positionally astute full backs were Guardiola’s masterpiece – he played them inverted, sitting inside next to Alonso during the build-up, rather than flying down the wing beyond Robben and Ribery like a normal full back would.
A little like this:
Of course in actuality, the pitch never really saw the two centre halves sitting deep and just watching eight Bayern players crowd the midfield. But as players always sought to take up these positions, it meant that passes were always available, there was always someone on, they say could prod and probe their opponent before finding an opening.
The two inverted fullbacks gave an extra layer of midfield strength that no other team on the planet had. Luckily enough, Football Manager recognised this too, and decided to make inverted fullbacks a feature of the game. Aren’t we glad they did?
Play Like: Pep’s Bayern Munich
To really get the full impact from what Pep was trying to achieve at Bayern, a vertical tiki-taka is more appropriate than the standard approach he favoured at Barcelona. Then, simply lay out the team as below:
Essentially every player role that we would be looking to use in this system is already filled in with the “Vertical Tiki Taka” setup. The team instructions are also identical, with underlaps and narrow attacks exactly what we want to see.
All that is missing is ensuring the fullbacks become inverted wingbacks – I have given Alaba on the left an attacking duty, just to give some extra impetus up top.
I have kept Alaba in for his midfield ability. Whilst Alfonso Davies is certainly the hotter prospect at the moment, for this role Alaba is still king. Similarly, Kimmich on the right is a reincarnation of Lahm, the perfect replacement.
Tolisso has the passing range to act as Alonso. Goretzka isn’t quite the passing dynamo that Thiago was in the left CM slot, but still has more than enough quality, and can score from distance if required.
Sane and Coman, on the right and left respectively, are like for like replacements for Robben and Ribery (although Gnabry may be a more effective LW than Coman). Lewandowski and Muller fill their previous roles.
In my opening game, a 4-1 win over Werder Bremen, the side enjoyed total domination of both possession and the attack – with so many bodies for the opposition to track, it became an impossible job, and our players broke through time and time again.
The inverted fullbacks were a menace, particularly Alaba with the attack duty. In the above shot he is further infield, and higher up the pitch that the centre mid Goretzka – this is the essence of Guardiola’s system, bolstering the centre of the pitch with quality players who can all assist the attack.
By the end of the game, the team shape is precisely how I want it: compact, narrow and based entirely around the centre circle, with even Lewandowski dropping back to link play with the inside forwards.
To demonstrate how attack minded this system is, take a look of the replay of our first goal in the 3-1 win at Chelsea:
7 players in the opposition box as the shot was taken – all arriving from open play – and Tolisso waiting just outside to mop up. Only a positive mentality, nothing rash, but players overloading the midfield push the opposition back into heir own box, until they eventually cannot withstand the pressure.
Recreating Guardiola’s Tactics
Guardiola, of course, moved from Bayern to Man City, and brought his style of play with him, making Kyle Walker into a more than capable inverted fullback, and creating midfield overloads that brought him the highest ever points total in a single league season.
To recreate this tactic with your side, the three keys are:
- Fullbacks who can comfortably play as CDMs
- A goalkeeper who can sweep the space in front of him
- A front three who can occupy the space in front of the box – a deep-lying forward and two inverted wingers will do the trick
To deploy Guardiola’s style in your team, download the tactic on Steam.