Top Week From Bayern
Julian Nagelsmann would line up with the same eleven for both matches as the injury list remained extensive. Sven Ulreich, Noussair Mazraouoi, Dayot Upamecano, Matthijs de Ligt, Alphonso Davies, Joshua Kimmich (c), Leon Goretzka, Serge Gnabry, Jamal Musiala, Sadio Mané and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting were the selected lineup.
It’s certainly hard to argue the results. Bayern would romp their way to victories in both match scoring a total of nine goals while only conceding two. More importantly it saw the Bavarian side clinch the top of their group in the Champions League and go top of the Bundesliga, at least temporarily as Union Berlin don’t play till Sunday.
Three Things we Noticed
Hitting Their Stride
After a month of struggling, especially in front of goal, Bayern are back on track. Gnabry and Mané especially seem to be hitting their stride with both being integral in both of the wins this week.
Gnabry has finally found his form after a long period of struggles early. He assisted all three goals against Barcelona midweek and scored the first against Mainz on Saturday. Mané meanwhile scored in both matches and set up several more in the Mainz match.
But honestly it goes beyond the statistics. Both players look more dangerous, more involved and the statistics are just the result of that.
Mané is still struggling a bit with his finishing but he looks a lot closer to figuring that out and has been making good decisions around the box overall creating quite a few chances.
Gnabry looks like the player we all know he can be when he’s on. He has been a player to watch every time the ball is at his feet over the last two weeks which has made Bayern significantly more effective and dangerous in the final third.
The Choupo Effect
Part of me wonders how much a factor the introduction of Choupo-Moting has been to the resurgence of those two players, and Bayern as a whole.
It seems a bit too coincidental that Bayern have started to get results and return to form just as Choupo was introduced to the starting eleven.
The introduction of a striker who can provide even a bit of the quality and skills that the departed Lewandowski brought seems to have brought out the best in the remainder of the squad, especially the forwards.
They all look far more comfortable in their play, positioning and tactics. It also appears to have taken some of the pressure off of several of the players to be primary goal scorers, Mané and Gnabry in particular.
The question I think is how to balance things out when the team returns too full strength, assuming that happens. It seems unlikely that Nagelsmann and Bayern are going to continue playing Choupo as the primary striker for the remainder of the year.
So the question becomes, do Bayern go try to find a striker during the winter window? Or do the try to figure out the strikerless system that they were playing prior to Choupo’s introduction?
My money is on the later for this season but that also means that they probably need to return to that style of play sooner rather than later. As well as they are playing now, if they do not intend to continue with Choupo or another player as a more traditional striker, the team needs to lose that crutch and plow on with trying to figure out the new system.
It is going to be interesting to see how they proceed after the World Cup break. Injuries and health will obviously play a massive role but if they come back and struggle under the strikerless system again for a month, I think there is going to be a lot of pressure to put Choupo back up top and scrap that plan altogether.
Finally, it has to be said that the defense and midfield has also been significantly better these past few weeks. Upamecano and de Ligt have formed a very solid paring at the back. Davies has been fantastic on the left and Mazraoui has been very good himself on the right.
More importantly, Goretzka’s return has reminded us all of just how good a paring he and Kimmich are in the midfield. They form a very complimentary paring and have such a good understanding with one another.
Combined, those two units have really controlled matches in a way that we had not seen previously this season and maybe quite a bit longer than that. Even without Neuer in goal, there hasn’t been a lot of fear or hold your breath moments over the last few weeks.
The goals allowed to Mainz were both unfortunate. The first goal off the corner was just a very good shot in a nearly impossible to prevent or save situation. The second was just a complete blunder from Ulreich. But neither really strike me as a systemic problem or bigger overall issue.
Next up, Bayern host Inter for their final Champions League group stage match before traveling to Berlin to face Hertha at the weekend. Let’s hope this current run of form sees them through the next four games and into the World Cup break.
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Yes another good week with satisfying football and satisfying results. With the team looking in form, it’s rather unfortunate the World Cup is about to jeopardise this great run. This period feels familiar to the good Pep or Flick time in the past, whenever the team play I can expect a good game with fluid and good football, even if the result is not always guaranteed (only 99% guaranteed). I am happy for the team of course but also for Nagelsmann and Salihamidzic, the pressure must have been incredible for the at times, especially before the international break, but now the team is on a good path, they “only” need to keep this up.
You brought up an interesting point about with Choupo-Mouting. It’s true part of me wants to see more of him, but another part slightly doubt the sustainability of this old new-found 4-2-3-1 with Choupo up top, considering his age, his fitness and especially his form (or whether he can keep up this form). If Bayern plays Liverpool next week (I don’t see any other team than them in the 16th :D) I’m sure the current setup will be used, but next Feb? Anyone’s guess. Nagelsmann will have to be very careful, I think he already learned the lesson of disruptive change. Too much changes brings instability leading to less favourable results, lower morale, increasing pressure etc and when you want to go back, it takes time and it might be too late.
However, aside from this à la Lewandowski scoring rate (which he may or rather may not sustain), there are so much more to his game that contribute to the overall play, especially his intelligence, movement and technical skill that have been helping a lot the other attackers in the overall game. In that sense he’s like another Mario Mandzukic, who was another underrate striker but played for the team and was tailor-made for a Bayern’s system during that unforgettable 2013 campaign. In other words if Choupo stays fit I would be happy to see him continue leading the line.
I agree, this has been one of the more stable runs of form in the past few years. Not overy high high’s or super low low’s. Just good solid performances that leave you in no question of who is going to win start to finish. Even when they dial it back a little over the last few weeks, they still are controlling the game by in large. It’s been very refreshing to see.
I agree that for the time being Choupo will be the choice up top (other than for maybe rotational purposes). However I’m also with you that after the long break, I think it’s much less likely that they continue to use Choupo in that position. That is going to undoubtedly create a reoccurance of some of the issues that plagued them early in the season. The unfortunate thing is that it will come at a much less forgiving time of year. They can’t afford a month of middling to bad results come February and March. That again makes me question how wise it is to continue down this path with Choupo despite the success and performances he has put in. If it cannot be relied upon later, I don’t think it makes sense to do so now.
I completely agree with you. Choupo has been a great boon to the side well apart from his scoring. His hold up play has been a tremendous help. His work rate and pressing has been great. His movement and situational awareness has helped the rest of the team feel more comfortable. Even if he weren’t scoring goals at the rate he is, Bayern would still look 100x better than they had before his introduction. My bigger concern is his ability to play that many games/minutes at his age, and stay healthy. I also think that it won’t take an extended bad run of form to see a massive amount of pressure to make a change very quickly. While that’s true for many players, I think it will also be coming from those inside Bayern and not just outside.
For me the question that remains is whether they feel as though they can revert back to a system without a classic number 9 and be successful. If the answer is yes, then they should do it sooner rather than later. If the answer is no, then they should be in the market for a striker during the winter transfer window. Otherwise this could very well end up being a lost season.
I think we can almost be certain that Choupo will play the all the 3 remaining games of 2022, if he’s available. The stake is too high right now to experiment. They (Nagelsmann + the Boards) will watch the World Cup and also use the time it consumes to try to find a solution. I agree with you that they will most likely end up doing nothing in term of personnel, and pressure will be on the coach again to try things. If he successes, great, if he fails, it’s the usual narrative “he’s tinkering too much, he’s trying to beat himself”, etc.
At least now I know Jan Kirchhoff, back then, had a good judgement when it comes to playing Choupo-Mouting (https://www.goal.com/en-cm/news/choupo-moting-draxler-and-kirchhoff-rave-about-bayern-munich-new-/92wss8wn16d5113xgpmvn0jh6)
The team looks fabulous. That said, I think the Kimmich situation will bite the team in the long run if they don’t get a handle on it. It just seems like the coach’s inability to field the team without him, in a world cup season no less, only increases the possibility of not having him at peak performance when we need him most (spring/summer); and seems to undermine Sabitzer and Gravenberch. I thought pushing Gravenberch up was tantamount to Sabitzer at left back last year- a disservice to the player and the team. I mean I do enjoy totally destroying teams like Mainz, but if that’s what we’re hanging our hat on this year, then leave me unimpressed.
I should reiterate that the team looks fantastic right now, but I am a bit of a killjoy.