Bundesliga MD 06 Preview: Greuter-Fürth vs. Bayern
For FC Bayern München, this early phase of the season has definitely been an exciting rollercoaster ride. An unconvincing pre-season in the summer dotted with various complications for the coaching team has been followed by seven wins and one draw in the first eight competitive matches. The record champions seem to have found their rhythm early on and the comprehensive 7-0 victory over VfL Bochum once again sparked discussions about how exciting the Bundesliga is as a competition.
In a way, this is in part also a compliment to FC Bayern. They have only just taken the lead in the standings, and already signs of resignation to the inevitable seem to be spreading across Germany. It is not only the results that are impressive, but also how quickly the team has been able to adapt to the new coach. Just how problematic such a change can be is currently being demonstrated by several other clubs, most notably last season’s runners-up Leipzig.
Bayern, however, continue to march towards their tenth title in a row. It is certainly far too early to completely rule out a big surprise, but in the end there are many indications that their quest will ultimately end in victory.
And so the question as to how high Bayern will win at Fürth may be less interesting than how much trust Nagelsmann already puts in the depth of his squad.
On the one hand, before the Bochum game he emphasised that the established first eleven needs additional match practice in order to continue to pick up rhythm. On the other hand, he is now facing the first really relevant “English week” as well as the first injuries in his squad. The game at Fürth is followed by the second Champions League match at home against Dynamo Kiev before the home game against Eintracht Frankfurt at home before the second international break.
FC Bayern’s goal is three wins out of these three games. In addition to the players who have already been unavailable, the coaching team will also have to plan without Kingsley Coman, who has just resumed training after heart surgery. Furthermore, Jamal Musiala, Serge Gnabry, and Lucas Hernández are all back in training after various problems but are still uncertain. At yesterday’s pre-match press conference, Nagelsmann assessed the chances of Musiala and Gnabry starting against Fürth as slim.
So is this the time to really test the depth of the squad for the first time? So far, Nagelsmann has rotated only sparingly, and when second choice players have been used, it tended to be in situations of unassailable leads. Against promoted Fürth, who so far have only won one point against Arminia Bielefeld on the back of 3-13 goals, there is now in theory an opportunity to give some of the injured and most heavily used players a break.
Under Flick, there was almost always a noticeable drop in performance, regardless of the opponent, as soon as he made changes in more than three or four positions at once. Will that be different under Nagelsmann? At least his system seems to be less susceptible to counterattacks after losing the ball, which should facilitate using new players in the starting eleven without taking on too much additional risk.
In training during the week the coaching team placed special emphasis on practicing throw-ins. According to Nagelsmann, set-piece situations initiate 30% of all goals and he counts throw-ins among them. He was not satisfied with the quality of his team’s set-pieces against Bochum. From a tactical perspective, however, one should not expect many further adjustments against Fürth.
Greuther-Fürth are, after all, the top favourites for relegation. With all due respect to the club’s performance in recent months, it seems unlikely that they will be able to survive in the Bundesliga with their current squad. There are many reasons for this, which on the surface do not even have much to do with Fürth themselves. When discussing the Bundesliga as an unbalanced competition, the gulf between the 2nd Bundesliga and the first flight must also be taken into account.
In recent years, there have always been different types of promoted teams. First, there are those like VfB Stuttgart, Hannover 96, and Fortuna Düsseldorf, all of which have had at least some history in the Bundesliga in the recent past. For such clubs, the goal of staying in the league is more realistic because they have the necessary structures and background.
Then there are clubs like Union Berlin and Arminia Bielefeld, whose promotion had been in the offing for at least two years. Both had the opportunity to prepare for the eventuality of going up to the Bundesliga in the second division for a long time. For Union in particular, it was a development that had been in the making for several years. In addition, at least in Berlin, there is a unique amalgamation of club and city that offers a lot of potential.
Union managing to secure their Bundesliga status was rightly celebrated as a sensation, but it happened on a different basis from Bielefeld, who belong to the third category of promoted teams along with Braunschweig, Paderborn, and Fürth. For these clubs, staying in the league is almost impossible if other Bundesliga clubs do not play into their hands by offering such consistently absurd to outright embarrassing performances as Bremen, Köln, and Schalke did last season.
- Quick finishes
- Individual quality
- Too many ball losses
- Distances between the team departments in situations of high pressure
- Horizontal spacing of the defensive line
- Pressing too often comes to nothing
- Not enough threat created in forward play
- Susceptibility to standards
- Too low a success rate in pressing
- 4-4-2 variations
- Midfield pressing
- Attempt to steer the opponent to the wings and press there
- Quick play to the top
- Provoking counter-pressing moments in the attacking third
- Sometimes use of long balls to this end
- Focus on the right wing
- Against Bayern, possibly the attempt to overplay a high left-back (Davies) with long balls
Fürth’s gap to the rest of the league is so large in all areas that their options are severely limited, and that is putting it nicely. It is certainly not impossible for promoted teams to stay in the league. But due to the massive gap between the German first and second flight they are dependent on how much one or several of the established Bundesliga teams are unable to act to their potential.
In Fürth, they are already working very close to their limits. They have put together a squad that is not bereft of quality – including some players with Bundesliga experience. Rachid Azzouzi, Fürth’s sporting director, stressed a few weeks ago in a German football TV show that they would not go out on a limb financially just to buy themselves the very small chance of staying in the league. The risk is simply too great, as has been seen elsewhere.
And so they will hope that the existing team steps up to the new level as quickly as possible with the young players in particular developing rapidly, and that there are one or several clubs at the bottom of the table that will show unexpected weaknesses. This is the straw that clubs like Greuther Fürth have to be clutching at.
Football-wise, Fürth try to stay true to themselves despite the arrears in quality. In the second division, the “clover leafs” surprised many opponents with high pressing and fast offensive transition moments. With an average of 32.2 pressures per 90 minutes in the attacking third, they rank eleventh in the Bundesliga – behind Gladbach (34.6) and Dortmund (36.2). In the middle third, they put their opponents under pressure 70.6 times per game (6th place) and in the defensive third they record 45.6 pressures on average (10th place). This puts them in the more aggressive half of the Bundesliga overall.
Coach Stefan Leitl is not a great adherent to the idea of digging in in front of the penalty area and waiting for a chance to strike the opponent on the break. Instead, he wants to see his team in the opponent’s half as often as possible. His players are supposed to hit long balls over the top (65 per game, a share of almost 2/5 of all passes) to make the transition from defence to offence and shift to forward pressing situations. The problem: Precisely because most of the individual players have major problems adapting to Bundesliga level, Fürth too often lose the ball in situations where the gaps between defence, midfield, and offence are too large.
Against FC Bayern, however, they will not succeed by exclusively relying on pushing forward aggressively anyway. The performance at home against VfL Wolfsburg a fortnight ago serves as an example of this. Fürth allowed Wolfsburg to pin them back at the back relatively easily and did not manage to push forward. In particular, the space in front of their own defence was often left criminally empty. Before the 0-1, Wolfsburg were able to penetrate into the penalty area several times. Leitl therefore appealed to the courage of his team during mid-week. From the record champion’s point of view, a beginning in a similar fashion as against VfL Bochum on Saturday can be expected. Should the promoted team begin in s similar vein to what they always do as well, the game is bound to tilt in the direction of the visitors rather quickly.
Bayern did not have much trouble against Bochum, but they only really got into the game after a set-piece goal after an invitation from the visitors. Assuming Fürth would manage to take an early lead from a courageous opening phase and build up self-confidence, perhaps a situation could arise in which Bayern could ultimately be faced with a closer game.
However, they also face the huge challenge of somehow having to make up for the huge difference in quality at an individual level. Fürth have struggled with this in every Bundesliga game so far and why should that change against Bayern of all teams?
At the moment, the offensive performance of Fürth in the top flight has a bit of a groundhog day vibe to it in that they do the same things over and over again just to be failing over and over again. And perhaps this will lead to Leitl having to abandon his offensive approach at some point in the future in order to stabilise the defence. But primarily, that has to be the sober realisation after five games, Fürth’s main problem is their substantial quality deficit to the competition – at all levels. How clear will this difference become apparent against FC Bayern? Friday evening will tell. But everything points to the duel of the unequals being a clear affair.