A brief look at Jupp Heynckes’ refined tactics with Bayern Munich

LEVERKUSEN, GERMANY - JANUARY 12: Head coach Jupp Heynckes of Muenchen gestures during the Bundesliga match between Bayer 04 Leverkusen and FC Bayern Muenchen at BayArena on January 12, 2018 in Leverkusen, Germany. (Photo by TF-Images/TF-Images via Getty Images)
LEVERKUSEN, GERMANY - JANUARY 12: Head coach Jupp Heynckes of Muenchen gestures during the Bundesliga match between Bayer 04 Leverkusen and FC Bayern Muenchen at BayArena on January 12, 2018 in Leverkusen, Germany. (Photo by TF-Images/TF-Images via Getty Images) /

Jupp Heynckes has resuscitated a broken Bayern Munich side into a powerhouse once again, bringing back his style which won the treble with a modern, refined edge.

On the seventh matchday of the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich were enduring a crisis following a sub-par start to the season. A mauling at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain and leaving his team five points off league leaders Borussia Dortmund cost Carlo Ancelotti his job.

Out with the old, in with the older.

There was much speculation over who would take over, with Thomas Tuchel and Julian Nagelsmann rumored. But the job instead fell to another astute tactician with whom the club were abundantly familiar. On the October 6th, Jupp Heynckes came out of retirement for his fourth stint at the club.

The return has proven to be one of significant success. Bayern quickly regained their stance at the top of the table and currently sit sixteen points clear, even exacting revenge on les Parisiens in the process.

Attacking and return to the 4-2-3-1

It was clear Heynckes had learned from watching his successor, Pep Guardiola, in bringing back an essence of Positionsspiel (or positional play). The German immediately ditched the 4-3-3 (for the most part) and brought back the fabled 4-2-3-1.

Wide play has played a fundamental part to Heynckes’ success this season. The nominal wingers Arjen Robben and — more often than not — Kingsley Coman brings pace in excess to the squad. Adept at cutting in – an obvious trait of the Dutchman – and stretching play by sticking close to the touchline.

(Photo credit should read GUNTER SCHIFFMANN/AFP/Getty Images)
(Photo credit should read GUNTER SCHIFFMANN/AFP/Getty Images) /

The full-backs, David Alaba and Joshua Kimmich, facilitate the strong play in the center by combining with their respective wingers. Specifically, Heynckes is a firm believer in dominating the half-spaces – much like Jürgen Klopp at Dortmund and Liverpool. When Coman runs down the wing, Alaba tucks into the midfield; when Robben cuts in, Kimmich overlaps out wide.

An added bonus of this is Alaba and Kimmich are abundantly familiar with the midfield. As well as often playing in an inverted full-back role during Guardiola’s era, Alaba has stated before his preference to play in the midfield, while Kimmich often played in the center before being accommodated at right-back.

Arguably one of the most improved players in the squad has been James Rodríguez. Given licence to roam, the Colombian looks back to his best just months after looking out of sorts under Ancelotti. Rodríguez has performed excellently in his familiar attacking midfield role and will often drift out wide with or without the ball to assist the full-back and/or winger.

But Rodríguez has also excelled in a deeper role, too, playing in a midfield three alongside Arturo Vidal. The Colombian has served as an unlikely link player by collecting the ball from the defense.

Defending and pressing

Heynckes has evidently broadened his thinking of the game and has proven himself more adaptable in a game-by-game basis, in stark contrast to Ancelotti who often seemed bereft of ideas when things went sour.

The 4-2-3-1 has been a mainstay once again, but there have also been occasions where a 4-3-3, 4-5-1 and 4-1-4-1 have reared their head. Of course, this comes in respect to the opposition to whom Osram is up against.

(Photo by A. Beier/Getty Images for FC Bayern)
(Photo by A. Beier/Getty Images for FC Bayern) /

In his first match in charge this season, the manager instantly brought back the renowned counter-pressing against SC Freiburg. The Black Forest side stood little chance as Bayern pressed en masse and obliterated their opponents to stunning efficiency.

The man-oriented pressing involves one player pressurizing the player in possession, while teammates stick close to viable passing options, thereby suffocating the opposition and enforcing errors. Naturally, Robert Lewandowski is at the fulcrum of this and rushes the center-halves, while Coman and Robben are alert enough to harry the full-backs.

This same half-space pressing enforces turnovers in possession high up the pitch, and has been integral to many wins against ‘lesser’ teams in the Bundesliga.

Of course, Heynckes is abundantly aware you cannot just change a team’s tactics overnight and expect it to work against all classes of opposition.

In the wins over Dortmund (DFB-Pokal) and Paris Saint-Germain, the 72-year-old opted for a low-press tactic in dropping back and encouraging build-up play. But pressing the center with a midfield-five formation made it a Herculean task for either team to create chances. In the end, basic errors cost die Schwarzgelben, while fluid counter-attacks undid the Ligue 1 side.

Encapsulating the constant transitions from defense to attack and vice-versa is Arturo Vidal. The Chilean’s unparalleled energy and determination has made him the quintessential dynamo of the team, despite also sustaining a stuttering start to the campaign.

An aggressive box-to-box midfielder, Vidal makes full use of his superior physicality in brushing players off the ball, while also exhibiting a remarkable Raumdeuter style to his skillset – much like Thomas Müller – in making excellent runs at the other end of the pitch.


It is indeed remarkable what Heynckes has accomplished in a short spell (again). The former Gladbach striker has thawed relations in the dressing room and brought about a flexible system to which players can get behind.

Next: Bayern shine offensively, struggle defensively against Hoffenheim

A Champions League run looks an uphill task, as investment is somewhat lacking behind Europe’s fellow elite. But it is extremely encouraging Heynckes has managed to unearth performances thought to have been beyond a Bayern side in turmoil. Fingers crossed the great man is here to stay for longer than this season.