Having overseen 18 wins out of 21 matches in all competitions – the best win percentage of any manager in the history of Bayern Munich (86%), Hansi Flick’s record early on in his reign is more than promising. No wonder the club recently extended his contract until 2023.
The 55-year-old took over Bayern 10 games into the current Bundesliga campaign, when they were in fourth place, and has led them back to the top of the table. Since taking over from Niko Kovac, Flick’s Bayern are scoring more goals and conceding fewer at the other end. The net result is they are now generating more points per game.
Considering that Flick has had the same players available at his disposal to Kovac, what changes have resulted in this turnaround?
In the matches Flick has overseen, Bayern have been more willing to take risks in attack, as well as press teams high up the pitch to win the ball back. When the opposition has the ball, the team applies a lot more pressure than they did under Kovac.
In matches under Flick, Bayern are on average allowing three fewer opposing passes per defensive action than they did under Kovac. In addition, they have more pressed sequences and make huge efforts when it comes to sprinting.
Flick has turned Bayern into a pressing machine, a term that is normally associated with another German manager: Jürgen Klopp. No wonder Liverpool and Bayern have recorded the highest number of pressed sequences in the big five European leagues this season – just under 18 on average per game. A pressed sequence is defined as a sequence where the opposition is restricted to three or fewer passes, and the sequence ends within 40 metres of their own goal.
For managers like Flick and Klopp, it isn’t enough to just interrupt the opposition’s build-up. The goal is to regain possession as far up the field as possible. In attacking areas – 40 metres or less from the opposing goal – Flick’s Bayern and Klopp’s Liverpool have forced more turnovers per game than any other team in the top-five European leagues this season (7).
To operate this high pressing game, Flick and Klopp need their defensive and midfield units, as well their forward lines, to operate higher up the pitch. We can use the ‘start distance’ metric to measure the average distance a team starts their open play sequences from their own goal. By coincidence, the three teams with the highest average starting points across the big-five leagues all possess German managers.
So does pressing wins championships? The fact that the three leading teams in this metric are also clear leaders in their respective domestic leagues would suggest so.
The Bundesliga’s Pressing Evolution
Given that each of the top three managers enjoyed their initial coaching breakthroughs in the Bundesliga, let’s take a look at the evolution of pressing in Germany.
Back in 2008/9, the average Bundesliga game saw fewer than 22 pressed sequences. Now, eleven years later, there are over five such sequences more per game. The game has changed, and the managers have played a part in it.
The first peak in pressing occurred in 2010/11, when Jürgen Klopp won his first Bundesliga title with Dortmund and Thomas Tuchel achieved an outstanding fifth place with Mainz (a club record finish). These two teams had by far the highest number of Pressed Sequences that season. The next rise in pressing was initiated by new managers coming into the league, including Pep Guardiola in 2013/14 (Bayern Munich), Roger Schmidt in 2014/15 (Bayer Leverkusen) and Ralph Hasenhüttl in 2015/16 (Ingolstadt). All three teams recorded the highest number of pressed sequences in their first respective Bundesliga seasons under their new coaches.
There was a major drop in pressed sequences in 2017/18 – by that time Jürgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola were already in the Premier League and Thomas Tuchel had chosen to take a year off from professional football. However following the emergence of new pressing-orientated coaches, including Hansi Flick, the high pressing game has enjoyed another upswing. In the current campaign, there are more pressed sequences (27.2) and high turnovers (8.5) occurring per game than at any time since Opta began collecting Bundesliga data in 2004-05.
The same trend is also evident when it comes to the start distance metric. Thanks to the work of pressing champions like Jürgen Klopp and now Hansi Flick, the average start distance in the Bundesliga has increased in the last eleven years by over three metres.
High pressing is on the march and so are the players on the field.