Bundesliga MD 02 Preview: Bayern vs. Köln

Justin Separator August 21, 2021

For half an hour last week in Cologne’s Müngersdorf district, it looked as if the “Effzeh” would pick up right where they left off last season: they were sluggish, somehow inhibited, and throughly impotent in front of goal when the opponent did not issue clear invitations. Fortunately for them, they were able to turn the game around in the remaining hour, thus averting a minor crisis in Cologne yet again. 

Ultimately, Köln turned a 0-1 deficit into a 3-1 victory – and no later than Anthony Modeste’s equaliser in the 41st minute, the handwriting of the new coach finally became visible. Steffen Baumgart likes to present himself as a friend of a simple, direct, and passionate brand of football – both on and off the pitch.

He is never at a loss for a quip and always speaks his mind. With his personality, he occasionally causes a stir, but also receives a lot of confirmation. From a sporting perspective, however, there are no two ways about it: What he has achieved with Paderborn cannot be valued highly enough. He now wants to build on this success at Cologne.

The opponents: 1. FC Köln

Baumgart’s style is characterised above all by an aggressive, courageous and intensive pressing. The focus is always on compacting the centre. Against Hertha, Baumgart used a 4-3-1-2: “A team in which even a single player doesn’t put in a shift will not be successful in the long run,” the 49-year-old said in an interview with Sportbuzzer. Instead of sitting deep and waiting for the opponent, “we begin our work off the ball right at the front where we can punish the opponent’s ball losses even faster,” he explains.

Hard work is exactly what was missing against Hertha in the early stages. Instead, Köln seemed to be playing with the handbrake on. But after half an hour, they started being more aggressive and feisty going forward. As soon as the second half, Hertha, who by that point had already made many simple mistakes, seemed surprised and almost overrun.

That is the core of Baumgart football: overloading opponents, putting them under pressure and keeping the distances to the opponent’s goal as short as possible to maximize the effectiveness in offensive transition. But the Köln team also showed good quality in longer phases of possession. The attacking wide positions, which did not exist on paper, were dynamically assumed by the full-backs and the two strikers. Especially Jan Thielmann (the right number eight) and Florian Kainz (the left number eight) benefited greatly from the fact that Hertha put a strong focus on packing the centre of the pitch. Again and again, they drifted out to the wings to escape the opponent’s pressure and to be available as a passing option. Modeste also kept drifting wide to stretch the Berlin defence.

Strengths

  • High aggressiveness
  • Many high ball wins in pressing
  • Defensive compactness with good coordination
  • Good offensive transition moments
  • High penetration in attack
  • Finishing quality
  • High work ethic

Weaknesses

  • Sometimes lack of structure in the back four
  • Vulnerable on the flanks in defence
  • Great variety of quality in the squad
  • Many fouls in dangerous areas
  • Fragile under opponent pressure
  • Inability to stick to the game plan after setbacks

Typical style of play

  • Preferred formation is a back four with a flexible offence: 4-4-2 diamond, 4-2-3-1, and 4-3-3
  • Very compact centre – directing opponents wide
  • Pressing out of an advanced mid block
  • Vertical, fast passing
  • Preference for short passes
  • Many positional changes in attack
  • Many counter-attacking movements: One attacker drops off, the other runs diagonally into the opening space
  • Wing focus in possession despite compact formation (see role of number eights above)

There are no signs that Köln will suddenly start parking the bus at Bayern. “I think what you need first and foremost is courage,” Baumgart said when asked about his game plan against the reigning champions. He said their goal was to be courageous in going forward and “not take a wait-and-see approach”.

“We will not deviate from our style. We will continue to press high up the pitch,” he added. Whether that approach will pay dividends at Bayern remains to be seen, but Köln are aware of the defensive risk it entails. However, sticking to their offensive convictions promises a better performance than adapting to an unaccustomed style.

Bayern’s homework: increasing accuracy in moving the ball forward

The fact that Bayern already had to deal with an aggressive opponent with a clear centre focus in mid-week may play into their hands for the game against Köln. Regardless of whether Baumgart will rely on a diamond in midfield the same as Dortmund did, the Bayern team will be faced with a similar challenge on Sunday.

Specifically that means that they will have to keep their midfielders consistently involved and support the full-backs. Julian Nagelsmann’s team had their strongest phases against Dortmund when Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich were able to create spaces in the defensive and attacking midfield areas – or had those spaces opened up for them by teammates and their runs.

Alphonso Davies was another important factor. Whereas at Gladbach he yet evinced one or two lapses under pressure from the opposition, he made the right decision much more often in the Supercup match. His risky dribbles in many cases are a useful way for Bayern to free themselves from opposing pressure and take up speed when the game seems stuck. At the same time, however, this can also result in dangerous turnovers for opponents – as in the case of the Gladbach goal on matchday one.

Who will better be able to capitalize on the opponent’s weaknesses?

If you want to pressure your opponent’s build-up play high up the pitch, you automatically run the risk of being more open at the back. If the record champions can use the individual quality of their build-up players well, Cologne could quickly be faced with problems. On the other hand, Gladbach have just shown that Bayern are not yet solid in every situation.

“Of course we will concede goals. But I have no fear of losing. What counts for me is how many goals we score,” says Baumgart with a view to the season as a whole and his philosophy. His record against Bayern underlines this claim. While his first attempt in 2018, when he lost 6-0 in the DFB-Pokal, was still an occasion to forget, he only narrowly lost 3-2 in the two Bundesliga games with SC Paderborn. In both games there were many moments when the record champions struggled to take control.

Baumgart has not yet been rewarded for his courage, but the experience from the two narrow defeats should be a warning to Bayern. Even in the much-praised Supercup victory at Dortmund, they still lost the ball too often in dangerous areas. It was only thanks to a concentrated defensive performance and an outstanding Manuel Neuer that they did not concede more goals. However, Neuer is expected to miss the game with a capsule injury and Bayern generally would be well advised not to rely on another top performance from their central defence.

The cards have been reshuffled ahead of this match, but Bayern are still expected to win. Yet getting there could be a tough job against a team that not just in terms of attitude has little in common with the one that was almost relegated last year.

»Eier, wir brauchen Eier!«

— Oliver Kahn

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