Bundesliga MD 21 Preview: FC Bayern vs. Bielefeld
Consider also our preview of the reverse fixture last autumn.
Not too much has changed at Bielefeld since last autumn. Coach Uwe Neuhaus is still sticking to his rather pragmatic approach, and there is no reason for him to depart from it, too. Especially regarding defensive stability, the team belongs more to the middle third of the Bundesliga than the relegation zone – a quality that could well pay off in the end.
Bielefeld have conceded only 32 goals so far this season – with 8 of them coming most recently against Frankfurt and Köln. That is why it is probably not a bad thing for the team that their game against Werder Bremen was postponed due to a thunderstorm. It gives the team time to regroup and tackle the big goal of staying in the league with fresh minds and legs.
But Bielefeld’s upcoming matches are tough: Bayern, Wolfsburg, Dortmund, Union, Leverkusen, Leipzig. If Bielefeld pick up zero points during this spell, as they did in the Hinrunde, things could get hairy psychologically. Mainz (currently four points behind Bielefeld) play Leverkusen, Gladbach, Augsburg, Schalke, Freiburg, and Hoffenheim in the same period. On paper, this is an easier run-in from which they managed to extract five points in the Hinrunde.
But precisely because Mainz are now experiencing an upswing under coach Bo Svensson, it could happen that Bielefeld lose ground. Especially since it is far from clear when the all-important match in hand against Bremen can be played.
Neuhaus will have to quickly improve his team on two fronts for the coming weeks: Foremost, he needs to recover his team’s defensive stability. Secondly, Bielefeld need to be more courageous and forthright in attacking the opponent’s goal. This is no doubt easier said than done.
The same as Schalke, Bielefeld have only scored 15 goals, which is the joint lowest return in the league. Going by expected goals, they even manage to underscore the Miners: 14.3 xG, which amounts to 0.75 xG per game, for all the team’s defensive quality will not be enough to save them from the drop.
People often talk about captain and main man in attack Fabian Klos, who has only scored three goals. The same as with HSV’s Simon Terodde, it is often said he is an outstanding second division striker but not good enough for more. But it is not quite that simple. It may be that Klos is not a typical top division striker in terms of technique and speed. But with his vision and composure under pressure he has qualities that could help keep Arminia in the league.
In practice, the main problem is that no team in the league has as few shots on goal per game as Bielefeld (8.7). Only 53% of their goals come from inside the penalty area – another low. It seems that the team lacks the ideas and perhaps the quality, too, to execute longer passages of play in the opponent’s half, or at least create dangerous finishes. Klos has only 1.2 shots per game, many of which come from poor posit
31% of Bielefeld’s play takes place in the first third and only 24% in the final third. By way of comparison: Rivals Mainz still manage 27% in the attacking third, while Bayern are leading the legue with 35%. There is no question that Bielefeld have a concept for building up. They heavily emphasize building up from the back with short, controlled passes. Goalkeeper Ortega with his way above average technical qualities on the ball is instrumental in this, giving the team an advantage over many of their rivals. But as soon as the play moves from midfield to attack, there is suddenly a lack of space, movement and creativity. Despite all their creative build-up potential in defense, no team plays as many long balls over the top as Bielefeld (77 per game).
Therefore, Bielefeld will only be able to avoid relegation under two conditions: Firstly, they will either manage to get more points from the upcoming games than is generally expected or at least not let the expected string of defeats put them down psychologically. And secondly, they need to play with more courage in offense. Neuhaus has proven at various clubs during his career that his teams can score goals. Even if the Bundesliga is a different proposition and he perhaps lacks the player types for a more penetrative game, there is more potential in this team than the 15 goals they have scored so far.
Bielefeld at times have shown this, too. In the reverse fixture against FC Bayern, their offensive efforts yielded them a goal, but that was about it. Neuhaus relied on many man-to-man markings in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Especially in midfield, his players stayed very close to their dedicated opponents.
Bayern, then with Corentin Tolisso and Leon Goretzka as the double pivot, were able to escape this pressure well given the situation at the time (injuries, heavy fluctuations in form) and repeatedly managed to find open spaces in the attacking third.
So it is quite possible that Neuhaus will opt for a more pragmatic solution this time and forgo extreme man-orientation. It is also conceivable that Bielefeld will try to play with few touches and many long balls. In recent weeks, the coach has tried out a few new shapes – mostly a flat 4-4-2. This brought in a little more dynamism offensively and Klos was better supported by a dedicated second forward next to him.
Since the change, Bielefeld have scored 9 goals in 10 games, winning 13 points. In the 0-0 draw at Hoffenheim, Bielefeld even played in a 4-3-1-2 formation with a diamond. Why not try out the double forward system at Bayern again?
With a flat back four, Bielefeld could still create high pressure in midfield with the two attackers working backwards and the double pivot defending forwards. If Neuhaus opted for the diamond, his team would be well positioned to close the spaces that are so important for Bayern’s build-up play and keep the center extremely compact.
In that case, a main challenge would be to shore up the wings because of only one wide player on either side. Several teams have shown this season that the diamond can be effective against Bayern. In the reverse fixture, a big problem for Bielefeld was that they tried to play their way out of too many hopeless situations. As a result, they too often succumbed under the pressure of a high Bayern press.
Nevertheless, Bayern’s biggest hurdle against Bielefeld will not necessarily be to find the best tactical adjustments to their opponent. As the Club World Cup in Qatar showed, it is not so easy even for highly conditioned professionals to deal with the stress of traveling and instantaneously acclimatizing to new climatic conditions.
In both games, the Bayern players did not seem lively and fit enough. Although they ran a lot and also ultimately managed to win both games in a commanding manner, their opponents did not have the necessary quality to expose the obvious flaws in Bayern’s game.
The team returned to Munich with their sixth title in the bag, but short one Thomas Müller. The attacker had contracted coronavirus and will return home later. Also, Serge Gnabry will be missing the game against Bielefeld due to a hamstring injury. This will reduce Flick’s options in midfield, too, as he had recently used Gnabry there.
It may come as a small consolation that David Alaba and Marc Roca did not leave a bad impression as midfield partners for Joshua Kimmich at the Club World Cup. Both could recommend themselves for upcoming tasks. With Alaba in midfield, Flick would also temporarily avoid the annoying discussion about Lucas Hernández playing or not playing.
In the central playmaker position, Corentin Tolisso was allowed to show himself briefly in the final of the Club World Cup, coming on for Gnabry. The Frenchman was again not really convincing, but at least indicated that his attempts from range can still pose a threat. In terms of performance, Musiala was not really convincing either, despite his best efforts against Tigre.
What Musiala lacks in particular is a physical presence off the ball. As was clearly visible in the first goal from Kiel in the DFB-Pokal, he often seems unsure when to challenge which opponent. Perhaps that is why Flick has not yet been able to bring himself to giving the young talent a place in the starting eleven. Without Müller, however, Musiala’s game time should go up again.
Just like before the game in Bielefeld a few months ago, Flick this time around has major personnel worries in midfield again. Especially with a view to the upcoming round of 16 first leg against Lazio in the Champions League, Müller’s absence is a massive hit. Müller is the linchpin of Bayern’s attack and he has been enormously important in pulling apart the opponent’s defensive lines, especially in recent weeks. He has the second most shot-creating actions per game (4.49), by far the most pressures in the team (20.04 per game in the last 365 days and around 18 per game this season), and he delivers an extremely high number of balls under pressure (157 in total).
If he is unavailable, Bayern immediately find it harder to create chances. The final of the Club World Cup is further proof of this. Flick does not have much time to come up with an alternative. But the two upcoming games against Bielefeld and Frankfurt should provide him with an opportunity to tinker. The in-form and aggressive Frankfurt in particular will ensure that Flick gets another good impression of how ready his team is for the Champions League.
But first, there is Bielefeld. A task that Bayern will only solve as expected if they can get back into the swing of things quickly enough after this stressful week and, as in the reverse fixture, leave no doubt from the start who is in the driving seat. If Bayern do not win against Bielefeld, the games against Frankfurt and Lazio threaten to become even more difficult. In this respect, the next three games will be important gauges of progress on the club’s path to a successful season.
Kick-off is Monday at 8:30 pm, CET