BUNDESLIGA MD 12 PREVIEW: DUSSELDORF AGAINST BAYERN
Dusseldorf, Red Star, Leverkusen, Gladbach, Tottenham, Bremen, Freiburg, Wolfsburg – the last weeks of the calendar year pack a punch. Not only for Flick, but for Bayern as a whole, a phase is now beginning whose outcome may well prefigure the rest of the season.
Currently four points behind leaders Gladbach, Bayern has some catching up to do in the coming weeks. On the way there, Flick has already succeeded in reviving a spirit of optimism among his players. Thus, the basis has been laid, but continuity must now follow.
It can be heard from all corners that the new man on the sidelines is a real people person. A person who one likes to listen to not only because he is well spoken and says the right things, but rather because he radiates competence. It seems that his tactical adjustments have been well received by the team. The question is now whether he will be able to build on his successful beginning and consolidate his initial success.
On a beautiful Munich evening against Dortmund anyone can do it. At least this is the impression that one must have got over recent years. 5:1, 4:1, 6:0, 5:0, 4:0 – these have been the results in the Bundesliga against Dortmund in the Allianz Arena since 2015. Since then, Bayern has been coached by Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti, Jupp Heynckes, Nico Kovač and Hans-Dieter Flick.
The predecessors to Flick all had careers of varying success at Bayern. This suggests that while the importance of this game in itself is enormous, it is not overly indicative of Bayern’s overall success in the larger context of the season. Ancelotti and Kovač, in particular, did not manage to transfer the team’s convincing performances in this match to the rest of the season.
So breaking this pattern is the biggest challenge for Flick now. His statements, his charisma and what the team finally showed on the field – everything speaks in his favor at the moment. But there are other issues that he needs to tackle successfully in addition to the question of whether he can maintain consistency. Can he, for example, reintegrate the players who he left out of the team in his first week?
Doing so is likely to be crucial with respect to Thiago in the coming weeks. With a view to the match in Gladbach, a Thiago in top form would be more than welcome. He can not only structure a game, he can also provide stability. His dedication and his strength in man-to-man challenges are qualities of his that are generally underestimated in Germany.
If Flick manages to lead Thiago back to his old strength, that would be another milestone reached for him during his term in office, which is currently due to expire at the winter break. The question of Joshua Kimmich’s position also needs to be clarified. Against Olympiacos and Dortmund, the 24-year-old showed that he can direct and control a game out of the holding midfielder position. In both games, Bayern benefited from his presence in the engine room of the pitch, which made their game less predictable as a result.
Thiago’s return to midfield does not preclude Kimmich from remaining in the center. However, their collaboration has not yet seemed to be completely harmonic this season. If Flick were to plan with the two starting together, it could soon become apparent whether this was due to the lack of a basic structure under Kovač. Because despite some criticism, this structure did in fact have its positive aspects. On paper, the two playing at the same time provides a perfect mixture of aggressiveness and playing skills in midfield. It was not least their collaboration that managed to make Bayern’s game look structured and balanced against Leipzig, Schalke and in the first half against Paderborn for example.
In his first week in charge, Flick put his trust in Goretzka, Müller and Kimmich. On the one hand, he did this because he knows these players particularly well. On the other hand, Thiago, Corentin Tolisso and Philippe Coutinho had been less convincing. The last few months under Niko Kovač showed that establishing a definite first eleven does not really work.
From now on Flick has to integrate as many players as possible into his plans, but also establish clear hierarchies. That sounds like a lot of work for a limited time, but if he cannot reconcile the team’s many big egos, the mood in the squad might quickly turn sour. Not because the team has a bad character, but because this comes with the territory when dealing with top players.
But if there is one man on Säbener Strasse at the moment who can be trusted to manage this and to lay the structural foundation for his successor, then it’s “Hansi” Flick.
Bayern’s weekend opponent Dusseldorf will resemble Olympiacos much more than Dortmund. They will likely be a compact and aggressive opponent, who will initially sit back and be anxious to defend their own goal and try to hit Bayern on a counter attack every now and then.
In the last two encounters, Dusseldorf tried to bridge the midfield quickly. They attempted to reach the offensive half spaces in the final third with long balls over the top as well as low, long passes in order to release their fast players on one-on-one running contests with Bayern’s ageing central defense.
This time around such a strategy would probably not be half as effective. Should Flick stick with his first choice back four, his defense will feature two center-backs in David Alaba and Javi Martínez who will rarely be taken by surprise. In the last two games on and off the ball, Bayern also kept a much more compact shape than under Kovač.
However, attacks down the flanks with subsequent crosses remain a possible means for Dusseldorf. With Rouwen Hennings, Dusseldorf has a center-forward who is an accomplished header of the ball, especially because of his clever movements. Three of his nine goals so far have been headed goals, five of his 25 shots were also headers.
Funkel has staffed the wing positions in different ways in recent weeks. Sometimes, he played with two left-backs – the regular starter Niko Gießelmann at left-back and Markus Suttner as left winger. In other games the nominal center-forward Dawid Kownacki took the position on the left wing.
Since Suttner is a little more experienced in defensive work, this could tip the balance in his favor against Bayern. As in the last two encounters, a formation with a back four is the most likely. Although Funkel experimented with a back three or five at the beginning of the season, the tried and tested 4-2-3-1 prevailed in the end. Perhaps he also speculates that the strong commitment of Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry to participate in their team’s defensive work against Dortmund was a one-time exception due to the special occasion. If they do not join in on their team’s defensive work again, there will be room for Dusseldorf. And there also will be less support for the still inexperienced Alphonso Davies – should he get another start.
Bayern will probably be able to adjust to two compact lines of four, perhaps even to a tightly staggered 4-5 organization behind single striker Hennings. Against Dortmund, they created dangerous chances mainly in gegenpressing. That will be more difficult against Dusseldorf because they will likely not take such big risks in possession as Dortmund.
In the first game under Flick, Bayern was able to strengthen their own defense, but their attacking game was still sluggish. Now the newly assembled team of coaches has had some time to come up with a concept. Although many players were away with their national teams, the challenge against Dusseldorf is to show a positive development from the game against Olympiacos.
There has been a healthy dose of euphoria injected at Bayern lately. Flick is mainly responsible for this. After his exceptional first week, however, daily routine now follows. If he cannot transfer the euphoria to day-to-day life, the injection threatens to quickly be judged a mere placebo. He can be trusted to prevent this. But after the expectations of him were quite low initially, he has now raised the bar considerably with the performance against Dortmund. It will be interesting to see if he is able to clear it.