Analysing Pep Guardiola’s 4-1-4-1 Formation

Blog by: Shayne

Pep Guardiola

Pep Guardiola

When Bayern Munich first announced that former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola would take over the reigns at the club when Jupp Heynckes, one of the first questions asked was whether Bayern would trade in their current style of play to suit Pep’s favoured tiki-taka.

Under Heynckes, Bayern moved the ball around but at a very fast pace, and their combination of pace and raw power made for attractive viewing, even for neutral fans. However, Pep’s Barcelona side passed the ball around in a somewhat slower yet elegant fashion, often systematically breaking down their opponents by keeping possession and then finding the back of the net.

Pep himself suggested that he wouldn’t change their style too much. “I take the reins of a team that last year did extraordinary things. I have to continue the high level of Jupp ­Heynckes. I have huge respect for his work. There are a few things I would change. But very few.

Football belongs to the players, not the manager. The fans come to the Arena to watch the players, not me. The players of Barcelona are different to those who play here at Bayern so I have to adapt to the players – 100 per cent. The system doesn’t matter.”

However, those words turned out to be just a tad bit untrue.

The first thing Pep did was introduce a new 4-1-4-1 formation. The system differs a fair bit from Bayern’s previous 4-2-3-1, so let’s take a quick look at the basic features as well as the advantages and the disadvantages of this formation.

The 4-1-4-1 can be called a slight variation of the more commonly used 4-3-3 formation. While both formations have some common traits such as the use of a three-man midfield (one defensive midfielder and two central midfielders), the main point of difference between the two formations is the positioning of the two wingers. In a 4-3-3, the wingers are well inside the attacking third of the field; in a 4-1-4-1 the wingers start in a much deeper position. This allows team’s to build attacks from deep. This formation is conducive to possession-based football, something we know Guardiola favours.

The sole defensive midfielder plays an important role in this formation. Given that he is the sole defensive shield (unlike in a two-man midfield) he must ensure that he’s always well-positioned and not too advanced, while at the same time being able to receive passes from the wide men. The two midfield players are also key, as their sense of positioning will change the flow of the game. If they’re too deep too soon, the tempo will be slow whereas if they’re too advanced they will be unable to contribute to the team’s offensive play.

I already mentioned the first major advantage of that formation, at least from Pep’s point of view: the formation supports the type of possession-based football that Pep likes to employ. The formation also gives teams the option to overload the opposition’s box, getting more men into dangerous attacking positions.

One of the major weaknesses of the formation is getting caught on a swift counter-attack. The fact that there’s only one defensive midfielder covering the defence presents that particular opportunity. The fact that Bayern’s current squad possesses players better suited to a 4-2-3-1 formation doesn’t help their cause.

Will this particular experiment be successful for Guardiola? Only time will tell. Till then, it will no doubt be interesting to see how Bayern perform in the first half of the season.

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