Bundesliga MD 01 Preview: Gladbach vs. Bayern

Justin Separator August 13, 2021

“Everyone wants us not to win the tenth championship in a row,” Julian Nagelsmann said at the press conference before the Bundesliga opener in Gladbach. Meanwhile, the expectations at FC Bayern are huge – also and especially for the new coach. According to Oliver Kahn, the goal is to take the “voracious” Bayern “to the next level.”

But what is the next level of a team that has won almost everything in the past two years? How is Nagelsmann supposed to develop something that has only just reached its apparent peak? So far, the club has not yet answered this question. However, if you take a closer look at the statements made in recent weeks, it becomes clear what they will be aiming at: long-term stability and a solid and sustainable basis for success – and perhaps even a bit of a new beginning.

It is a new beginning in the sense that Bayern have lost many seasoned players in recent years. Players like Leon Goretzka, Joshua Kimmich and Alphonso Davies have grown to take their places. Now, new faces like Tanguy Nianzou, Jamal Musiala and Dayot Upamecano are expected to do the same. This turnover is an ongoing process that must be maintained without losing competitiveness – especially on the international stage. Of all the new faces, it is arguably Nagelsmann who is the defining transfer as he has been brought in to shape this development. The benchmark is not an immediate repeat of Hansi Flick’s incredible 7-title success, but rather what the 34-year-old can develop in the medium to long term, starting with the first game at Gladbach.

The opponent

Nowhere in Germany is the discrepancy between immediate pressure to succeed and the desire for sustained development as great as in Munich. If Bayern lose their first game at Borussia Mönchengladbach, the pressure will be on immediately. No win in four in pre-season preparation, again a great deal of discussion about the depth of the squad and, on top of that, a defeat in the opening match?

This is a scenario that does not seem entirely unlikely. Gladbach also had a difficult preparation because some players were out injured or returned late from the European Championship. Breel Embolo and newcomer Manu Koné will certainly be out, while Marcus Thuram and Ramy Bensebaini are still in doubt. Adi Hütter has nevertheless been able to experiment more and convey his ideas more systematically than his colleague in Munich, with whom he is in regular contact. In addition, he has already been able to watch his team in a competitive match: Gladbach advanced to the next round of the DFB-Pokal with a 1-0 win away at third division side Kaiserslautern.

Nevertheless, it is a rather sobering realization for Gladbach that they are not as far along at the start of the season as they would like to be. Against Kaiserslautern, Borussia lost the ball too often without pressure from their opponents and they also found it difficult to create good chances in front of goal consistently.

Strengths

  • High tempo – both speed-wise and in terms of conjuring up promising situations in a flash
  • A lot of experience with players like Sommer, Ginter or Stindl
  • Good individual quality – especially in the midfield centre
  • Many well-rehearsed routines
  • Good space-opening running patterns
  • Fast combinational play ability

Weaknesses

  • A rather thin bench at the start of the season
  • Many of the new ideas of the coach are not yet effective
  • Tendency to sustain too simple ball losses in build-up play
  • Lack of precision under pressure
  • Lack of penalty area occupation in attack
  • Too much risk taking with the ball going forward, leading to a decline in passing accuracy

Typical style of play

  • Midfield pressing with occasional moments of higher pressing
  • Preference for a back four during build-up, although Hütter also likes to play with a back three/five (mostly 3-4-2-1)
  • Compact centre with and without the ball
  • Focus on a clean and structured positioning with occasional half-space vacancies to draw opponents out of position
  • Focus on the right side with a big full-back (often Lainer)
  • Aggressive counter-pressing when many players are near the ball
  • But also quick drop-off if they do not win the ball immediately
  • High involvement of Stindl in the game, who often drops into midfield to open up spaces for wingers running diagonally in behind the opponent’s defence

FC Bayern: How to win the opening match?

In order to get off to a successful start to the season and to the Nagelsmann era, the team will need a lot of patience. Hütter’s teams are known for making it difficult for their opponents with a high work rate, a high level of aggression without the ball, and good defensive structure.

Bayern will have to develop solutions for this that do not jeopardise their defensive stability. Nagelsmann has already announced several times that one of his most important tasks will be to stabilize the team at the back. In preparation, he already hinted at how he intends to do that tactically.

The full-backs in particular are at the center of this. The 34-year-old coach does not seem to be a fan of Flick’s harakiri pressing with very, very, very … really very high full-backs. Instead, he initially kept their advances to the attacking third to a minimum. The offensive wingers and the number 8s are mostly responsible for isolating the opposing full-back. And if an full-back does push very far out, the spaces in behind are more consistently protected – either by the wide defender furthest from the ball or even by a midfielder who is already in position.

Balancing act: Can offense and defense be combined?

Even if this does not reflect in the number of goals conceded so far, it will be interesting to see how Bayern will be able to implement Nagelsmann’s new ideas now that he can draw on the entire first team again.

One of the fundamental problems last year was that the team sometimes forced attacks too quickly and lost the ball in the process. This is where the new roles of the wide defenders should help: By providing good cover when the ball is lost and adding additional bodies to the centre of midfield.

Letting the ball run and forcing Gladbach into mistakes again and again with clever pressing behavior is certainly something Bayern were already good at before Nagelsmann. Ultimately, however, the big question is how stable the defense will still be when Borussia does break the first defensive line.

Will Nagelsmann be able to get off to a good start with a win?

Accordingly, it will be exciting to see whether Nagelsmann’s balancing act will pay dividends at Gladbach already. On the one hand, the team should concede fewer goals, but on the other, the “attacking monsters” that the coach is already looking forward to are supposed to continue to score goals up front at an alarming rate.

From a purely logical point of view, it is unlikely that both will work, optimising offence and defence at the same time. Nagelsmann, too, primarily stands for an offensive brand of football, as his previous coaching jobs have shown – even though he is almost destined to fall short of his predecessor in this discipline.

At Bayern, at least, you can expect a more thought-out style of football than Hansi Flick’s – say those who mean well with Nagelsmann. His critics, on the other hand, say he overthinks the sport. Whether one of the two extremes applies will certainly not be decided in Gladbach. But a successful start would at least ensure some calm for FC Bayern – until the next game.

»Eier, wir brauchen Eier!«

— Oliver Kahn

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