In our pre-season preview we expected this year’s team to be the strongest in recent years, and that luck in regards to injuries would be a decisive factor. Luck was on Bayern’s side this season, hardly any players missed out over long periods of time: of the likely starting eleven for the semi-final on Wednesday, only Maxime Awoudja was out of play for a considerable period. He has played in 19 of 35 games this season so far. Apart from him, the majority of the team was able to play with their strongest suit.
Going through the season: good start and throwbacks
Holger Seitz’s team had a perfect start to the season with four wins in the first four games. Special notice should be paid not only to the clear 3-0 local derby win against TSV 1860, but also a 5-2 win over TSG Hoffenheim. But while the team had a good start to the Youth League as well with two wins there, the Bundesliga situation changed completely. Four losses, two draws, only one victory made the team drop into the middle of the table. However, as no team was able to convincingly claim the top of the table, the U19s went into the winter break only one point behind leaders FC Augsburg. The run in the Youth League was over, despite a good 10 points from the games there.
In the second half of the season, the team’s performance was a lot more consistent, with two losses that were equally unnecessary and annoying against harmless Hoffenheim and in Nuremberg (both ending 1-2), but also seven wins from ten games until the win of the championship. This was finalised with a 5-0 victory in Fürth. The final game, a 0-3 loss against Eintracht Frankfurt, had no impact, with manager Seitz rotating on almost all positions, giving many players with little or no playing time this season a chance.
Tactical system: Defense first
The biggest question ahead of the season was that of the tactical system, since the players in the squad offered Holger Seitz various options. He decided to go with a 4-4-2 with a flat midfield – two central, defensively oriented players alongside two offensive wingers. These wing positions were not filled with classic winger material, however, but rather with Tillman and Shabani, who previously acted in more central offensive roles. Their focus usually was on moving into the centre, which on the one hand makes room for the full-backs that run behind them, and on the other hand feeds the two strikers with passes up front. Tillman, who was brilliant in the centre during his U17 season, needed almost the entire first half of the season to get used to the new role and make the right decision about which option to go with. In the second half of the season, Seitz sometimes put asymmetric players in these positions, with Emghames as a classic winger on the right, and Tillman on the left. This happened mostly during the time when Adrian Fein was out with injury for a couple of weeks and Shabani moved into central midfield.
Generally speaking, Seitz’ focus is, first and foremost, on a solid defense. Niklas Tarnat, the defensive midfielder responsible for build-up play, often drops back to the centre-backs to start almost every attack. That way, the team usually has three defensive players in the centre in case of early turnovers, leading to a lowered danger of counter-attacks. On the other hand, this often leads to the team being outnumbered further up the field and struggles to find passing options. This leads to often foreseeable moves in moving play from one side via the centre-backs and Tarnat to the other side. In an interview with fcbayern.de, captain Matthias Stingl described the offensive concept:
“Up front, we manage to create good opportunities, due in part to our individual class“. With this, he hints at won tackles and fantastic runs by the dynamic Adrian Fein or by Timothy Tillman, but also at the team’s high quality with set-pieces. Of the 54 league goals, an estimated 20-25 were direct consequences of dead-ball situations. Centre-back Felix Götze, for example, already has seven goals this season, the same number as full-back Marco Friedl (including two penalties).
The team in detail
The safe pair of hands for the team is Ron Thorben Hoffmann. In winter, he was replaced by the U17s goalkeeper Christian Früchtl, who suffered a ruptured syndesmosis in first team training and will miss the rest of the season. Apart from one mistake in the home game against Hoffenheim, Hoffmann has had an excellent season.
In the classic back four, captain Matthias Stingl is playing on the right with Marco Friedl, who recently signed a first-team contract, on the left. Next to the regular starter Felix Götze, transformed to a centre-back by Holger Seitz in pre-season, Maxime Awoudja is currently Götze’s partner and slightly ahead of Thomas Isherwood. Both Awoudja and Götze were selected to play for Germany’s U19s squad. Due to his past in defensive and attacking midfield, Götze is able to build-up play from the back, while Awoudja is a more classic centre-back: big, good at heading and tackling but rather happy when he can get rid of the ball with short passes to Tarnat or Götze.
Niklas Tarnat, son of Michael Tarnat, is a bit reminiscent of Xabi Alonso. Much like our retiring Spanish professional, he’s able to make pin-point diagonal passes to the wingers. To gain enough space to do so, he drops deep a lot as I’ve mentioned before. He’s complemented by last season’s U17s captain Adrian Fein. Physically, he’s ready for senior football. Fein has the ability to find the right situations for dribblings through the centre. Once Fein gets going, he’s incredibly hard to push off the ball due to his physical presence. Both players have just extended their contracts and will play for FC Bayern next season, despite several other offers.
I’ve talked about Timothy Tillman already. A key player for the U17s in the past season, he had to get used to a new role, one he got better and better in throughout the season. Tillman’s strengths are 1 versus 1 situations, dribblings, finishing, as well as passes behind the defensive line. His weaknesses are his crossing and for quite some time his discipline. He collected eight yellow cards in his first nine league games as an attacking player along with getting sent off against Eindhoven in the Youth League. However, he’s made some progress here, only getting booked once in 2017 so far. His counterpart is Meritan Shabani, who had already played for U19s last season. Shabani is very talented but often seems phlegmatic. Either it’s going well and Shabani can decide a game on his own or it’s not going well and he disappoints with defensive contribution and frequently tries to force things going forward. If Shabani stays at Bayern – which seems unlikely, if the rumour mill can be trusted – he’ll have a tough time with some very good attacking players arriving from the U17s next season. There’s a good chance that Shabani will have to take a seat on the bench for Yousef Emghames. The Berlin-born attacker is a classic winger who likes the receive the ball wide and run at his opponents with pace. Emghames’ runs loosen up the sometimes static play of our U19s. Once Emghames is around the box, two forwards usually offer good runs for a cross. A situation that often leads to goals.
Manuel Wintzheimer is starting upfront. After being top goal scorer last season, he also had to get used to the new system under Holger Seitz, where he faces vastly different tasks compared to Tim Walter’s system. Wintzheimer, who has a rather unorthodox style of running because he played through injury in the past, is a classic striker. A rare breed nowadays. Good with his back towards goal and ruthless in front of goal and hard to deal with for any defender. Benjamin Hadzic should feature next to him, possibly making his last appearance at home ahead of a summer move to a league rival. The Bosnian U19s international has made huge strides under Tim Walter last year and won the second striker spot over Mario Crnicki. He’s the team’s second best goal scorer with 10 goals.
Preview for the semi-final
In the semi-final for the German championship, Schalke 04 are facing Holger Seitz’s team. The first leg will kick off on Wednesday at 4 p.m. in the so-called “Hermann-Gerland-Kampfbahn” (Stadium on Grünwalder Street) in Munich, the second leg on the following Tuesday, 16th of May at 5:45 p.m. in Wattenscheid. Schalkle’s U19s are coached by Norbert Elgert, who is probably the most well-known youth coach in Germany along with Hermann Gerland. He put the finishing touches on all of the club’s talents like Benedikt Höwedes, Mesut Özil, or Leroy Sané.
The course of Schalke’s season has been almost the opposite of Bayern’s. 14 wins in the first 17 games made Schalke seem like the uncatchable top dogs. In the last nine games, however, they only managed three wins, three draws and three losses. On the last matchday, the team even lost the first spot in the table after only getting a 1-1 draw against already relegated Wuppertal. The team doesn’t look in form at all. This can obviously change very quickly in football and Norbert Elgert is known for making his teams perform incredibly well in big games.
FC Bayern’s U19s has met with Norbert Elgert’s Schalke twice before. In the final in 2006, the Royal Blues (with Höwedes and Özil) triumphed over our U19s (with Kraft, Hummels and Sandro Wanger) in a 2-1 win. With the same scoreline, Bayern lost the final in 2012. In both games, Schalke had the advantage of playing at home. If our U19s should advance to the final they’d face this disadvantage again, as the winner of the other semi-final (Dortmund against Wolfsburg) will play at home.
It’s difficult to make a prediction. The Weststaffel (west German championship) has been the best in the past years; this can completely chance from year to year, however. Furthermore, it’s tough to judge if we are the winner of a strong, balanced Südstaffel or just the best team of an average league. What’s for sure is that for the first time ever, 49 points out of 26 games were enough to win the Bundesliga Süd. Since the introduction of the U19s Bundesliga, the South German champions never had this few points and only twice a worse goal difference. One could obviously argue that these stats are mainly based off the poor run in the first half of the season and in 2017 the team – if you exclude the deliberately thrown-away game in Frankfurt – achieved a usual average of 2.2 points per game.
The answers for all questions will be delivered on the pitch on Wednesday. And we’ll continue to report.