1:5 – Kovač’s Waterloo
For the first time this season, Niko Kovač put David Alaba in central defense. Lukas Mai was benched once again. After his good performances Alphonso Davies stayed in the first XI while Thomas Müller and Philippe Coutinho returned. The German attacked over the right side. For six minutes Thiago and Joshua Kimmich were building a duo in central midfield until the early red card for Boateng forced Niko Kovač to dissolve the double-pivot. Kimmich pushed back to right-back so Benjamin Pavard could switch to central defense. Bayern’s base formation now was a 4-2-3.
Eintracht Frankfurt started in a 3-5-2 without their defensive leader Makoto Hasebe and with Bas Dost and Gonçalo Paciência in attack while André Silva stayed on the bench.
After 6 minutes played Gonçalo Paciência broke through and was fouled by Jérôme Boateng. Only after an intervention by VAR the decision was corrected to a free-kick and send-off for Boateng. Bayern would have preferred the penalty probably. They were now forced to change formations and play a much more defensive game with only the occasional offensive maneuver. Still, Frankfurt managed to score first. They quickly played the ball from their left to their right wing via Bas Dost where Danny Da Costa found the free Djibril Sow. His shot was blocked by Alaba but found Kostič in goal-poaching position (25.).
Frankfurt played a flowing passing-combination not unlike prime Bayern with their second goal in the 33rd minute. Rode played a wonderful one-two with Paciência’s heel while Sow and Kostič reversed their first goal: Kostič crossed with Sow poaching it in. A fabulous play from Frankfurt.
Four minutes later Robert Lewandowski showed that such vile things as passing and combinations were beneath him, when he just forced himself through Hinteregger and Abraham with nothing but sheer willpower and scored out of virtually nothing.
It seemed like Frankfurt’s energy reserves were depleted as they now lowered their pressing-intensity. Bayern could now really establish themselves in Frankfurt’s half for the first time, yet it wasn’t enough to get any more real goal-scoring opportunities.
Since the player’s energy being replenished was the only change compared to the first half, the game returned to the status it had before the 35th minute mark. Gnabry lost the ball in build-up, Dost reacted quickly opening up the field for the free Da Costa whose sharp cross found Abraham who finished clinically (49.).
Kovač reacted with subbing in Kingsley Coman for Coutinho, who was as weak as everybody else, Müller now played in the middle (56.). At the very least Bayern’s best combination of play followed. Davies beat his opponents and via Coman the ball reached Kimmich who passed it very well to Gnabry. However, the German international failed to find Lewandowski in the middle.
Conversely, Frankfurt closed off the game with a corner in the 60th minute. Kostič brought a corner in and just as he had been all game, Pavard was standing at least a full meter too far off from his opponent. Hinteregger headed it inside. Kovač de facto surrendered with subbing in Martínez for Müller and shortly afterwards Goretzka for Gnabry to prevent an even further debacle. Still, after playing a one-two with Lewandowski, Davies surprisingly managed to hit the post in the 70th minute.
Things quieted down with the game decided, but Eintracht Frankfurt still had one final punch left . Martínez opened up the middle of the field, Silva dribbled into the box past the reckless early challenge of Alaba, Paciência scored and could finally take the limelight after his splendid game.
Naturally an early red card tosses all plans overboard. A quality side like Frankfurt can really pounce on teams. Bayern surely would have preferred the initial penalty decision or even Frankfurt to just be awarded a technical goal.
Yet all of this must not be an excuse for how little Bayern produced after the send-off. It must not excuse how Bayern just accepted Frankfurt’s dominance and continuous attacks. Whenever Bayern actually escaped their own half, they lost the ball not far off the center circle anyway. Sure, Frankfurt overexerted themselves in the first half and Bayern was also very much missing another player, but the last time a Bayern Munich side was caged in their own half that much was under Ancelotti against a historic Real Madrid side.
In previous weeks Niko Kovač viewed offense and defense independently and put the blame on bad individual performances. Sure, with the exception of Manuel Neuer and a few strong moments of Lewandowski and Davies, everybody was indeed bad against Frankfurt. Yet football is a team-sport and Bayern’s problems far exceed players being out of form. One just has to look at Frankfurt’s goals. Basically all of them came after crosses and that isn’t coincidental.
Frankfurt’s players generally know where their teammates are without lifting their heads. These are the results of automatisms, positional play and correct runs inside the box. In the situation of the 1:3 these trained automatisms lead to the surrounded Bas Dost being able to pass the ball precisely to Da Costa who in turn anticipates the ball already and thus has enough space against Davies to not get blocked.
This is so indicative because on the opposite side, no automatisms are left anymore in Bayern’s game. Everything is individualism. The many misplaced passes do not just happen by accident. They happen when a team has no real exoskeleton directing them. For long periods of the game Bayern could not free themselves out of Frankfurt’s press, they barely made it past the half-way line! Because nobody knows where his teammate is, no triangles were formed. The free-man who even down a man must exist and does exist was never found.
Sometimes the sheer individual quality Bayern has, bears fruit. Few center-forwards if any could do what Robert Lewandowski did before he scored. Hinteregger and Abraham are among the league’s best defenders this season and he marvelously beats them both and scores out of virtually nothing.
Yet how often do these situations have a good outcome? Even during the best times of Bayern dominating opponents with sheer passing and combination sequences they scored the odd goal that was purely a result of a fantastic individual action. They were the cherry on top of a very tasty cake. Because you cannot count on players just beating two of the league’s best defenders at the same time and scoring themselves. This really only happens once, if at all. But if you’re passing combinations work, the opponent will not know which problem he needs to fix first.
The result is crystal clear: Individualists 1 – The Collective 5
“Mia san Mia” has become a marketing tool over the course of time and few people outside of Munich understand this mindset. Yet it does have its own meaning on the pitch. It reflects the aspirations of an entire club. This includes that even in terrible form, in an away game, facing the best fans in the league, against a strong Eintracht Frankfurt side and even a man down you must not succumb helplessly to the opponent. It is against the club’s ambitions that the goal following the most beautiful sequence of play of the entire season is scored by the opponent (0:2).
By no means is this result coming out of the blue. It was in the making against Augsburg, Union Berlin, Piräus and Bochum despite winning some of these must-win games. Against relegation-battling second division Bochum, Bayern was not even able to accomplish a single half-decent chance for 85 gruesome minutes and advanced undeservedly. Now they were completely torn apart by a much stronger side. At the very least, this is the logical conclusion to a several week lasting downward spiral with expecting Bayern’s impending implosion virtually every other game. On Saturday, they did implode.
Some people thought of Bayern’s 1:5 defeat to Wolfsburg ten odd years ago, but no Christian Lell or Massimo Oddo is playing for Bayern. Eight of the nine outfield players have already proven their qualities sufficiently and the ninth, Davies, might have been the best onfield player of the whole team that day. Bayern Munich has a good squad.
If a player is getting out of line, you have to talk about him but if the entire team for weeks cannot string together four successful passes, you have to look somewhere else to find who to blame.
Days before this expectable disaster, Niko Kovač placed the blame solely on the individual players in the team. Goals conceded were supposed to be the product of defending too passively and not the lack of any sort of compactness. The many, many misplaced passes were said to come from a lack of concentration and attitude and not the complete non-existence of positional play and the gaps between players being to vast. He is mistaken.