Bundesliga MD 09 Preview: Stuttgart vs. Bayern
Hansi Flick showed himself satisfied on Wednesday evening. A 3-1 win at home against Salzburg, four victories in a row in the Champions League and the group victory in the bag with two games still to play. Flick was not in the mood to extensively criticize his team’s performance. He limited his remarks to the many ball losses in the first half. Apart from that, all that he could be prodded into saying was praise for his goalkeeper: “I am very satisfied with the efficiency today and we simply have a world-class goalkeeper at the back.
If Manuel Neuer is at the centre of the coach’s praise, there must have been deficits on the pitch. And indeed: 11 to 19 shots, 1.3 to 2.9 expected goals – Bayern once again proved to be vulnerable. It was only the fifth game under Hansi Flick that the Bayern team lost according to the expected goals model of StatsBomb. The other four: Dortmund away twice (0.9 to 0.8 and 2.0 to 1.1), the Champions League final against Paris (1.8 to 1.0) and the defeat against Hoffenheim a few weeks ago (4.0 to 1.6). In addition, there has been one level game this season against Köln (1.0 to 1.0).
But the game against Salzburg was a novelty in that it was the first home game this season in which Bayern had the fewer shots. Ultimately, however, it is always the actual result that counts, and it was Bayern’s efficiency in front of goal that made the difference.
But despite the good results, Bayern are not instilling fear at the moment. Opponents like Köln and Bremen have shown that at the moment every team in the league can get their chances against the league leaders, circumstances permitting.
And so VfB Stuttgart, too, will not be paralyzed with awe but asking Bayern major questions. The promoted team got off to a good start to the season, having won two games and lost only one (Freiburg) so far.
Against their opponents from the neighboring state, however, Stuttgart will need qualities that they have yet to demonstrate this season. Stuttgart like to have the ball and try to keep their opponents away from their own goal through a quick passing game and transitioning to attack. At the weekend this is unlikely to be possible, which is why their focus will shift to the work against the ball. However, especially against Eintracht Frankfurt and TSG Hoffenheim they had big problems when they sat to deep. But this is exactly what will be unavoidable against Bayern. So which approach will Pellegrino Matarazzo choose?
On paper, the coach usually trusts in a back three/five with the shape in front of it depending on the opponent. Against Frankfurt, Stuttgart played in a kind of 3-1-4-2, against Hoffenheim Matarazzo decided to strengthen the defensive midfield by opting for a 3-2-4-1. Against Bayern, a setup with one striker might be the obvious choice, because that could help Stuttgart put additional pressure on the Bayern center. Salzburg showed, particularly in the first half, that Bayern are currently often able to bypass their midfield if the pressure in the center becomes too great.
Lots of long balls, high risk passes and lack of precision – Bayern carelessly lost possession several times against Salzburg and was then vulnerable to counter-attacks. This is what Materazzo could try force as well. His Stuttgart team is a very aggressive side who are more offensive than defensive minded. With Gonzalo Castro and Wataru Endo, the coach can rely on two very experienced and strong actors in midfield. With Orel Mangala there is a young player at their side who has been having a good season so far. The fourth player in the center could be Daniel Didavi, who, although he does not stand out in his work against the ball, could use his offensive qualities to support the sole striker in transition.
Either way, Stuttgart should take care not to allow their opponents to pen them in at the back. In many games this season there were phases in which the team was too passive and committed errors in their positioning without the ball. That would be fatal against Bayern’s deep runs.
The big problem of Flick’s team lately has been that without Joshua Kimmich, an organizing hand in midfield has been missing. Both against Bremen and in the early stages against Salzburg, it was evident that they had difficulties finding solutions against a packed midfield. In the 1-1 draw against Werder they frequently tried to broaden the game out to the wings early, resulting in predictable attacking movements that Werder could defend quite easily. Against Salzburg on Wednesday evening they resorted to a lot of long balls to play over the midfield, which was also not ideal.
But then Marc Roca started stamping his mark on the Bayern game. From the 20th minute on he took more and more responsibility and picked up balls a bit deeper. Doing so, he had his strongest moments less when he dropped in between the center-backs, but when he stationed himself exactly where Salzburg wanted to exert pressure: In the holding midfield position.
The Spaniard unerringly managed to distribute the ball into the half-spaces up front. Even with his back to the action and under pressure, he managed to turn quickly in the right direction and serve the raumdeuter Thomas Müller or other players in front.
In this phase Salzburg increasingly withdrew and Bayern assumed control of the action. Until the break this was the best phase by a Bayern team for a long time, if you leave out the exceptional match at Dortmund. If Roca plays against Stuttgart again from the start, he could be the crucial factor in defeating Stuttgart’s style of play and help his side working their way into the attacking third.
However, there remains a major problem: The balance between him and Leon Goretzka is not yet ideal. Roca had his strongest moments when he was stationed right in front of the defense and Goretzka with his runs could open up the spaces for him that he needed to turn and look. In return, Goretzka often dropped in between the center-backs, which in turn meant that he was missing in higher areas with his important offensive runs.
Bayern’s problems in the final third could have their origin here. Kimmich is often able to hold his own against two or even three opponents. Roca is not there yet. He says the same about himself. With more playing time under his belt, he might be able to deepen his intuitive understanding of the Bayern game and improve his positional play accordingly. But for that he will need game time in the coming weeks.
Furthermore, his double booking against Salzburg showed that he still lacks orientation against the ball. In some situations Roca was not ideally positioned and therefore was too late with his challenges. It is normal that there is still room for improvement for him in all these areas. Nevertheless, against Salzburg he was able to indicate what he could bring to the game of his team. He can provide exactly what Bayern will need against Stuttgart and many other teams: An imperturbable anchor in defensive midfield with good distribution of the ball.
After Roca had to leave the pitch, the game took a turn for the wild again. This was not only due to being a man down, but also problems in the positional play. Bayern started bypassing the midfield center again and a lively back and forth with end-to-end action ensued. There was no more calming presence in midfield, the game once again became hectic and the ball was turned over frequently.
Stuttgart is a team that can use this to their advantage. Materazzo has endowed his team with enormous flexibility and verticality going forward. Stuttgart can get into the attacking third with just a few touches and show great versatility in creating opportunities. Many deep runs and passes in behind characterize their game.
The same also applies to Stuttgart’s build-up play. They employ the almost classic build-up through the full-backs or wing-backs less often than other teams do. Stuttgart usually look for a way through the central midfield and try to broaden the game out wide later. Due to the many runs and movements, their shape varies constantly when the are in possession.
However, because their game with the ball is so flexible and full of movement, Stuttgart have problems falling back into shape quickly when they lose the ball. They try to use methods such as an asymmetrical positioning of the wing-backs to immediately be able to defend with at least four men in the back line after losing the ball. Another method is an often quite tight positioning in the final third to keep the distances short in case they have to launch a gegenpressing action. But due to mistakes in positional play, frequently spaces emerge for their opponents on the wings.
If Bayern can provoke such moments, there is a good chance that they will be able to use their wingers more effectively than against Bremen. If Leroy Sané is used out wide from the start, he could make a difference there because Stuttgart have recently shown one or two weaknesses defending the left wing. Borna Sosa has improved at left wing-back, but it still could seem too great a risk for Materazzo to rely on him against someone like Sané. However, Silas Wamangituka has not been without his mistakes working back recently.
But even if Bayern again fail to perform at their best in attack from open play, there is still the chance of scoring from set pieces. Stuttgart has proved particularly vulnerable after corners and free kicks from midfield.
In the coming weeks, Bayern will have to get back on track. Stuttgart should by no means be taken lightly. They have a lot to offer going forward and in the work against the ball. They may well be able to exploit the recent weaknesses of the side from Munich.
For Materazzo the big question remains whether his team can bring the necessary consistency to the pitch. A strong 45 minutes against the record-breaking champions will most likely not be enough. Flick, on the other hand, knows exactly why he was so satisfied after the rather poor 3-1 against Salzburg.
Even the otherwise demanding coach knows that the team is longing for a break. Maybe not so much on a physical level, but all the more so mentally. And he knows that in this year’s busy calendar it is hardly possible to ideally integrate the newcomers. Nevertheless, he does not want to hear excuses. After all, and that was probably partly responsible for his satisfaction after the Salzburg match, with their win his players have given him two additional dates to rest players in the remaining Champions League games.