DFB-Pokal Semi-final: Bayern against Frankfurt
It was a clear story when Eintracht Frankfurt last played in Munich’s Allianz Arena a few days ago. Apart from a brief phase when two set piece goals in quick succession for the side from Hesse raised the hopes of the Frankfurt fans of a different outcome, Bayern played with a lot of confidence and calmness.
Frankfurt’s pressing came to nothing on several occasions. For the most part, Bayern left nothing to chance during build-up play and in front of goal, and even managed to capitalize on invitations such as the one leading to Alphonso Davies’s goal. It was an all-around satisfying evening.
Now the big question is what should have changed within just a few days. Frankfurt continues to bob around in the league from matchday to matchday, knowing that staying up is a mortal lock but there is little chance of an upward trend as well. On the other hand, Bayern march ahead with an ever-broadening chest. Even if they fall behind early like last weekend against Leverkusen, this hardly serves to break their stride.
But the calculation before the semi-final is not quite so simple. Even if Bayern are of course the clear favourites, the game will be played under completely different conditions than a few days ago in the Bundesliga.
For one, there is a lot more at stake for Frankfurt. The DFB-Pokal is the last realistic chance for the Hessians to win a Europa League ticket. If they beat Bayern, another season in the Europa League is on the cards, a competition in which Frankfurt have provided a lot of joy to their fans in recent years.
But there are also considerable financial aspects at play. Whether or not the club reaches the Europa League could influence their squad planning and ambitions for the short to mid-term future. This turns this semi-final almost into a final for Frankfurt. It is therefore all the more bitter for them that their key player Kostic will be unavailable.
Frankfurt has proven several times in the past just how unpleasant they can be when they do not have to make the game. It will therefore be crucial for FC Bayern to go up a gear compared to the average Bundesliga fare. This may seem absurd at first glance, as the Bayern team have played their last opponents off the park. But cup matches tends to become even more intense – especially if there is so much at stake.
Bayern will probably not make a lot of personnel changes again. Flick will not want to take any risks, but he has try to keep those who do not see much game time at the moment happy, too. Probably the only real imponderable is whether Thiago is ready to make his starting eleven comeback and whether Flick is planning to play with him in this game. Both Frankfurt and Gladbach are teams that (try to) keep up the pressure in midfield. Thiago might be a vital component in countering this pressure with his calm and composure on the ball. Next weekend, Lewandowski and Müller will be missing in the Bundesliga, sitting out their respective fifth yellow cards. Thiago should then have the chance to make the first eleven at the latest. Yet despite his enormous importance for the team, his way back to a regular first choice option will not be easy, as Goretzka has recently made significant steps forward.
Goretzka and Müller are players who are associated with vertical play and many gegenpressing moments. Despite their good performance in Leverkusen, Bayern’s wingers seem to be more expendable than the two of them. Perhaps Flick chooses to shuffle his team around a bit and bring back an asymmetrical formation in which Müller is strongly indented from the right, thus strengthening the center. Then he, Thiago, Goretzka and Kimmich could start together, while Coman and Gnabry fight for the spot on the left wing.
No matter what personnel choices Flick has made in the recent past, all his variations proved to be successful in the end. Paradoxically, this makes it more difficult than easier for him. Especially with a view to the final stretch of the season, the competition for places will probably gather momentum. But at FC Bayern, there is always so much star-studded strength in depth in the squad that there will always be dissatisfied stars on the bench. It is the coach’s task and duty to cope with this and to subordinate individual aspirations to the common cause. So far he has been very successful in this. Even if he has yet to prove himself in a crisis.
From a tactical point of view, there are three main aspects that will be crucial against Frankfurt: To neutralize their pressing, to keep steadily moving to draw their opponents out of their positions, and to keep calm in possession. In our eighth episode of “Mia san Rotstift” we explain what is meant by this in detail (German):
Whether the match will be as clear an affair as the one in the Bundesliga recently is entirely up to the team from Munich. If they make the mistake of approaching the game in the business as usual spirit of the Bundesliga, Frankfurt could catch them off guard. But if they accept the intensity of a cup occasion and ultimately manage to impose their game, it is difficult to see what should stop them from reaching the final.
At the moment, Flick is under great pressure in one area in particular: maintaining the team’s concentration and focus. He has to explain to his team, which has been undefeated for 20 competitive matches (19 wins), that a team that by contrast has only won five out of the last 20 competitive matches can be dangerous. And he must make them believe that such a clear victory as the recent 5-2 is only possible if all players bring their greatest possible concentration to bear. With Bayern everything seems so simple at the moment. But this is a fleeting state which they will only be possible to maintain if they do not lose their modesty and humility and approach every game with the same high earnestness, work ethic, and focus.