FC Bayern and its wingers – for more than 10 years now it’s been a rather special story. If Ribéry and Robben were out in the past, the chances of success were heavily limited. With advancing age, however, at least a little has changed in that regard.
The statistics speak for themselves
This season, different players have been under the spotlight. At first it was Thiago, who was somehow able to conceal the lacking structure in midfield under Carlo Ancelotti. After his injury, James moved more and more into focus. The Columbian shone in the centre and quickly rose to the status of key player.
In Ribéry’s shadow, who likewise got injured in the first half of the season, yet another Bayern player soared. Since his signing, there had been an ongoing discussion as to whether he was even at the level to one day succeed Robben. Under Ancelotti, the trust of the coach was entirely lacking.
The Ribéry injury was then, however, as paradoxical as this may sound, a happy accident for Kingsley Coman and FC Bayern. Coman, with the manager’s trust and regular game time, developed into the best one-on-one player in the Bundesliga.
The Frenchman completed 4.2 dribbles per 90 minutes. No player with more than 500 minutes played can top that. But his success rate in his dribbles also speaks for itself. 57.5% of dribbles completed, while Leipzig’s Bruma (4 successful dribbles per 90) comes in at 54% and Dortmund’s Pulisic (3.3 successful dribbles per 90) doesn’t even complete half of his dribbles (43%). Also Leon Bailey of Leverkusen, rightly praised by many, doesn’t stack up to Coman’s rate. He completes 2.7 dribbles every 90 minutes, which gives him a success rate of 56.25%.
The comparison gets really exciting, however, when it comes to the comparison with his own team-mates. It takes a while to find Robben and Ribéry in these rankings. The latter completes merely 30% of his dribbles. Specifically, this means that the 34-year-old only puts together 1.4 successful dribbles out of 4.6 attempts per 90 minutes.
Robben, with 1.3 successful dribbles (of 3.8 attempts) and a rate of 34% is indeed slightly better in his selection, but also not really more effective. The two of them put together, then, come out on top in by far fewer one-on-one situations than Kingsley Coman.
From that alone, a gigantic problem presents itself, and it’s one that FC Bayern will have to solve in the closing stages of the season. Of all times, in the phase in which the cup competitions will be decided, they’re lacking a player that can break the lines out wide. Coman – and it must be said rather clearly – was FC Bayern’s game-changer.
If Coman started, Bayern would generate chances with a lot of pressure. They weren’t as easy to figure out, and clearly more flexible. Coman was certainly dominant in his game, but also knew how to take himself out of the game. Then things started happening on the right side, or the ball was switched to him.
That’s precisely what Ribery hasn’t managed lately. He demands every ball, and is too dominant in his game, although he can’t always keep up with the tempo. As a result he initiates too many dangerous counter-attacks for the opponents.
Coman’s tactical development, meanwhile, is noteworthy. He takes up good positions, finds the right spaces and knows precisely when he can go off dribbling and when not. This conscious dosage, which was often his downfall early on, is something he has now balanced very well. If he’s backed up well, he also takes a risk now and then.
A confident, keen and extremely effective Coman will be a big miss for Bayern. Even if the 21-year-old still has to work more on his end product in the future, he was the key in an otherwise not seldom ponderous attack.
The numbers also serve as proof for that. With Coman in the team, Bayern have won 88% of their competitive games. Without him it was barely 70%.
Was the squad planning bad?
That this injury now hits Bayern so hard isn’t just because of Robben and Ribéry reaching a certain age. On good days they are still able to make FC Bayern a class better.
Those better days, however, are better planned and used sparingly when rotation is possible. Owing to personnel resources, that’s now becoming more difficult and that can certainly be laid at the feet of the club leadership. Going into the season with three proper wingers wasn’t very well thought through.
If only because Robbery couldn’t be counted on to stay fit for the whole season. Here you have to ask yourself either why another winger wasn’t signed or why Gnabry was loaned out to Hoffenheim.
It’s certainly open to question whether he would now make a huge difference when it comes to the international stage against the absolute top teams, but he could at least have made a difference in the Bundesliga, with Robben and Ribéry being saved.
In the league, Gnabry has completed 54% of his dribbles. 3.3 successful one-on-ones out of 6.1 attempts is a top rating which doesn’t just underline his quality in individual match-ups but also speaks for the choice of his dribbles. His goal threat is well-known as well. He has 2.6 shots per 90 minutes, that was enough for 4 goals in 1049 minutes despite his injury. His 4 assists make for a good balance sheet.
He would at least have been a sensible reinforcement. Now, at the latest. Even if such situations can’t be foreseen, they should at least have been involved earlier in the planning.
What alternatives does the squad offer now?
In spite of it all, this squad does still have the possibilities to compensate for the injury somehow. The Bundesliga is over. In Freiburg, Bayern proved that domestically you don’t always need wingers. It isn’t always pretty, but it gets the job done if you’re looking to keep your powder dry.
The more central roles, in the truest sense of the word, will be played by Thiago, James and Müller. In their own way they’ve carried the team through the season. It will now depend on them whether Coman’s injury can be compensated for collectively or not.
If Heynckes has the courage to play all three in the big games, FC Bayern is still able to play flexible and fast-paced football. That relies on the different qualities that this triangle brings with them. They simply complement each other very well.
Thiago is the one that gives the team structure. He makes himself available between the lines and plays the ball into dangerous areas. The Spaniard overloads spaces, switches the play and transports possession not just from the first third into the second, but also from there into the attacking third. Above all, though, he relieves James of important work in the number eight position.
The Columbian can then ultimately focus on his key position in the ten zone, but also in the right half-space, and doesn’t have to participate so much in build-up play anymore. Going forward he contributes shots and final passes. But he also pulls men with him, opening space for Lewandowski or Müller.
The latter is getting stronger and stronger. Müller is not only back, but is more important than ever. Particularly now, with the wingers weakening or out injured, FC Bayern lives off his runs, his mentality and his game intelligence. The raumdeuter can finally shine again in his role as a free roamer, and in doing so he wins games for Bayern.
Sometimes as a goal-scorer, sometimes as a provider, and sometimes because he makes a completely ridiculous run that brings a team-mate into an ideal position. As the so-called bloke on the pitch, Müller is also absolutely essential. He never gives up, he leads the way, and he motivates his team-mates.
The forward coaches his attacking team-mates, helps organise the pressing, gives commands and takes on responsibility. If Müller can take his form and attitude into the big games, an important step will have been taken in the direction of compensating for the loss of Coman.
Anyhow, Müller always interprets his role very centrally. Kimmich then becomes the attacking winger on the flank. The defensive security is ensured by a kind of back three behind, completed by Martínez. Not harmless, but often efficient. The Spaniard has to defend a large space on his own, but is however the only player in the squad who can do that.
The triangle of James, Müller and Lewandowski is not just able to run the right spaces, but also to get behind the opposition back four with combinations.
Thiago forms an additional element that supportively offers security from deeper zones, but also actively helps to resolve tight situations, to switch play and find team-mates with complicated passes. An option would be that, in the centre, Bayern play it to Kimmich free out wide, who can then (like in the graphic) find a runner. Here, however, Heynckes’ side have to work on their occupation of the penalty area.
It would also of course be possible that Bayern directly breaks through with combinations or set up Ribéry moving in from the other side. In such situations, the Frenchman is still very strong. Things don’t work so well for him when he has to run at the defence without a lot of space.
Heynckes must continue to rotate well
Jupp Heynckes is basically called upon as a permanent moderator. He will have to make important decisions. Does he let the mentioned triangle be secured by the great Javi Martínez, or does he sacrifice one of them for Vidal? Vidal can also offer great added value, especially in the away matches of the UEFA Champions League.
But then the Chilean must act in higher zones than in Freiburg. He can overload the opponent’s penalty area and exploit the crosses from the half-spaces by James and/or Thiago, but also Kimmich’s input. That and the ball recoveries in the direct counterpressing make him a machine on good days, which can forgive some reckless turnovers.
However, it would be important that the Chilean is protected by his team-mates. The graphic shows that his advances open up a large space that Thiago would not have left behind. Either one trusts that Martínez will cover that as well, or Ribéry and Alaba are a little more alert. Vidal can be a weapon, but it can also be a risk. That’s why the coaching team and other players have to use him correctly.
Heynckes will have to decide which offensive cast is needed against which opponent and whether he wants to focus on a good protection or on the attack. It is a fact that FC Bayern will miss Coman. His absence is the worst case and leads to the Munich team having to adjust their game.
But they still have their options. They have technically talented players in the centre who can relieve Robbery, an impressive physical form, an intact squad whose attitude is remarkable and they have Müller – a type of player that no other team in Europe has.