Bundesliga MD 06 Preview: Köln vs. Bayern
It was plain to see in Moscow that Bayern are a bit running on fumes these days. Certainly the performance was not bad. For long stretches of the game, the team controlled the action both offensively and defensively. They could well have been two goals up at the break and then the game might have been over already.
But as it is so often the case when clinical efficiency in front of goal goes begging, before you know it the opponent gets a foot in the door again. Moscow managed to charge down dangerously on Manuel Neuer’s goal on several occasions, but they failed to use their best opportunities. Still, they finally managed to draw level and suddenly the game became an open contest.
In the end, it was for Joshua Kimmich, who did not enjoy the best of games, to secure his team the victory with a remarkable finish from a tad outside the penalty area.
Bayern’s defensive performance was bizzare at times, especially in the second half. After the substitution of Thomas Müller in particular, the pressing seemed to lack punch and precision.
This shows once again how important Müller is for his team. If he is missing, calamity ensues. But it is not only his absence that has made a second half like the one in Moscow possible in the first place.
Of course, Bayern’s mental fatigue was evident throughout the game. Compared to the previous weekend, Flick had hardly rotated at all. He clearly put the Champions League first – possibly also because, on paper, Köln is a weaker opponent than Lokomotiv.
The main lesson for Flick from Tuesday evening will be that his second string players are not an adequate replacement of his first choices in all areas. Players like Douglas Costa (weak going back before Lok’s goal) or Javi Martínez do not yet have the rhythm to be able to help immediately and in every situation. With the real newcomers, it will probably take some time before they are fully integrated. Marc Roca, who has seen precious little game time so far, is a case in point.
In Flick’s system, small mistakes are enough to challenge the stability of the whole system. That is why Flick is called upon. He has to accelerate the integration process of the newcomers through clever rotation without jeopardising the success of the team.
This weekend against Köln, he may have a good opportunity to give important minutes to players like Roca, Costa or even Bouna Sarr. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting could also be recalled to the team. It is all about these players catching up and geling with their teammates as quickly as possible.
It is absolutely clear that individual quality is missing on the pitch when Müller, Kimmich or Robert Lewandowski sit on the bench. Oftentimes, however, this is of little consequence, because in most games of a season Bayern’s substitutes also have more quality than the opponents.
Once they have internalised Flick’s philosophy and the procedures on the pitch, it will be easier for the coach to prevent mental fatigue and to compensate for the slight loss of quality with tactical adaptations.
But he will still have to strike a balance against Köln: On the one hand, there is the ambition to decide the game as quickly as possible. On the other hand, there is also the responsibility to give players like Kimmich, Leon Goretzka or Müller a break.
Flick already took a slight risk in Moscow. All three players mentioned probably were not 100% match fit. It is therefore conceivable that he will rotate a little more than usual against Köln, although more than four changes at once appears unlikely. The coach stands for continuity and a rather moderate rotation. If he makes more changes to his starting lineup, it is usually because he feels forced to do so.
Flick will also be keeping an eye on the upcoming matches. First away at Salzburg, then another away game with the important “Klassiker” against Borussia Dortmund. There, he will need the players who can best implement his philosophy at the moment.
The “Effzeh” is currently not among the most likely candidates for a surprise against Bayern. Their defense in particular should be causing Köln a great deal of concern: The last time they did not concede a goal in a Bundesliga match was 16 games ago (against Schalke 04). Since then, they have conceded 36 goals.
Köln finds it difficult to make the right decisions under pressure – not really an advantage when it comes to playing against Bayern you should think. Although Markus Gisdol’s philosophy to some extent is based on creating an orderly chaos, the “order” part in orderly chaos is missing too much in many phases.
Quickly advancing to the final third and then going for second balls characterises Gisdol’s idea of football. However, a lot of things on the pitch at Köln currently happen in a rather uncontrolled way with not a great deal of precision. In addition, there is a slew of catastrophic individual mistakes that would break the neck of any team.
But despite such dismal premises, the record champion’s three points are still far from certain. Against Frankfurt and Stuttgart in the last two games, Köln at least partially has begun to find back on track, gaining their first two points of the season with two 1-1 draws. Defensively, they were sometimes lucky, but offensively for the first time in a long time there were a few well-created chances in transition on the break.
For Köln, the match against Bayern is certainly not the benchmark. They will have to stabilize their first small successes in the coming weeks and try to bring some consistency to their own performances.
On the other hand, the game against Köln may be a benchmark for Bayern. Depending on how much Flick is going to rotate at the weekend, the appearance against the “Effzeh” could go a long way to determining the future chances for game time of the substitute players.
How far is the way yet to a squad that has strength in depth not just nominally, but also in actuality? Which players will be able to lay a serious claim to a place in the first eleven? And who will still need time? At the very least, there is reason to believe that whichever the composition of the first eleven at the weekend, they will need time to gel and harmonize at the beginning of the game. If that happens quickly, Köln are in for an unpleasant afternoon. But if it takes time, Markus Gisdol’s team may have the opportunity to make the afternoon unpleasant for their visitors from Bavaria.