Bundesliga Matchday 29 Preview: Bayern against Düsseldorf
Fortuna Düsseldorf were a team that was difficult to play, Flick said at the pre-match press conference on Friday. They’d be quite capable of hurting their opponents, especially when they have the ball. But Flick added a small qualification: “If you let them.”
And that is exactly what Bayern want to prevent. They intend to approach the final six games with the same degree of concentration and focus as the previous 24 on Flick’s watch.
21 wins, one draw and two defeats – the figures since the change of coach have been impressive. But as is so often the case, these figures are based on progress and learning processes. In the first half of the season in particular, there was a certain amount of uncertainty as to whether Flick was capable of more than just acting as an interim coach. Shaken by two self-inflicted and partly unfortunate defeats against Leverkusen and Gladbach, as well as a few injuries, the record-breaking champions fought their way into the winter break with important victories.
What has happened since then has been marked by constant progress. The aggressive high press, which was still quite precarious at the beginning of Flick’s term of office, has stabilized. The team has learned how to compensate for turnovers in possession or even prevent them altogether by smart positional play, which often came at a high cost in the first games.
Bayern continue to make the spaces close to the ball extremely tight. Due to their good distribution and positioning, this results in sometimes remarkable combinations through the half spaces, which are so important for their own game. Whether Thomas Müller, Leon Goretzka or one of the wingers: The space between the lines is always occupied. Thanks to coronavirus we can now hear how Müller constantly reminds his teammates that they should please occupy the spaces in between the opponents’ defense and midfield.
A lot of movement, a lot of rotation and a concentrated build-up game – the record champions are once again able to do more than just cross balls into the penalty area, one at a time, again and again. And even if a pass does not arrive, Bayern’s gegenpressing is highly effective in most cases. As the game winning goal by Kimmich against Dortmund during the week showed, the players feel comfortable to take risks because they know that their teammates can attack immediately if they misplace a pass.
Bayeen under Flick have already scored 75 times in the 24 competitive matches. That averages to 3.125 goals per game. An incredible figure. But it is by no means only the attacking spectacle that is impressive. 16 goals against is also a top figure. On average, Neuer concedes 0.66 goals per game. By comparison, Pep Guardiola’s Bayern scored 2.57 goals and conceded 0.79 goals per game, and under Jupp Heynckes, the team scored 2.59 goals and conceded 0.72 per game between 2011 and 2013. Even compared to the most successful season in the club’s history (2012/13), the statistics remain impressive: 2.8 goals and 0.61 goals per game.
Of course it makes a big difference whether a coach’s track record contains only 24 matches or whether he has had continuous success over several years. But the start is promising. Flick has already made significant progress within his first few months, but without deviating from his basic principles.
At the same time, he keeps suggesting that he is far from satisfied. It is the balance that his team lacks the most. Only rarely are they able to calm down a game while they are in possession of the ball. After the match against Dortmund, Joshua Kimmich said that Dortmund was able to string a series of short passes together to get into attack more often than his team would like. This was particularly noticeable when the visitors had to defend in an unaccustomed deeper position. But they coped well with this challenge, dropped off quickly and were able to clear most dangerous situations.
A few months ago, their high press would perhaps have been overplayed more quickly. But Bayern have gained stability and have worked out alternative courses of action. Although it was obvious that running after the opponents was not what they wanted, they accepted the situation and solved it well.
Flick has pushed the door to the eighth championship in a row wide open. Now FC Bayern just have to go through. Not much is missing any more. Now it is all about confirming the strong performances of the past months, even against supposedly smaller teams.
If Bayern are German champions again, the next challenges for Flick are already mapped out. He has had 24 impressive games. But they are just the beginning. They mark the beginning of a development that has already brought a calm to FC Bayern that had not been seen for years. This may also be due to the fact that Flick is able to communicate to the outside world that he is always only interested in the next step. And the next step is a home game against Fortuna Düsseldorf, which will only be a surefire win if Bayern approach it with the same dedication and determination as every other game played under Flick so far.