Euros blog: 14 Bayern players, one big dream – our Bayern tinted preview

Justin Separator June 12, 2021

The same as we did for the last big tournaments, we will be following this year’s European Championships and, above all, looking at what the Bayern players are doing. From Germany’s record champions, 14 players will participate in the tournament, which will be held all across Europe for the first time instead of in one or two countries – the Allianz Arena will also feature as a venue as the “Fußball Arena München”. The final will take place in London.

Most of the Bayern players will feature for Germany and France. Poland and Austria, however, also have called up one player each from the side from Munich – depending on whether you still count David Alaba as a Bayern player as his work contract with Real Madrid will not begin before July.

We want to accompany the Munich players during the tournament and provide an assessment of how they did after each matchday. In addition, we will widen our perspective and look at the bigger picture from time to time. Maybe there is a player who will be able to play himself into the limelight and thus suddenly become an interesting transfer target for FC Bayern in the summer.

Germany as the great unknown

After the debacle at the 2018 World Cup, scepticism is the predominant mood up and down the country. Coach Joachim Löw has lost a lot of credit and the preparation for this year’s tournament was anything but ideal. And so almost everyone who means well for the Germans clings to phrases like: “This is a tournament team,” or: “When it counts, the Germans are usually there.”

The squad is quite competitive, especially after Löw’s correct decision to bring Mats Hummels and Thomas Müller back into the fold. Especially in the midfield center, the coach is spoilt for choice. Toni Kroos, Ilkay Gündogan, Leon Goretzka, Joshua Kimmich – all of them world class without exception. In attack too the national coach has many different types of players at his disposal that he can use in a variety of ways. Müller as the leader, Kai Havertz, Leroy Sané, Serge Gnabry, Timo Werner, … Kevin Volland should be mentioned too. He often tends to be overlooked but could definitely become important with his runs – albeit from the bench.

Traditionally, there is not much debate about the goalkeeper position. Bayern captain Manuel Neuer has long been back in form and can rely on a defense in front of him that unlike 2018 seems quite stable this time. Antonio Rüdiger has had an excellent year for his club and is ready to prove that he can perform at a high level in the national team as well. Next to him, with Mats Hummels a lot of experience has returned to the team. The former Bayern player lacks pace, but this can probably be compensated for in Löw’s currently preferred three at the back setup. His abilities on the ball should be a substantial upgrade in build-up play.

The Germans have weaknesses in the wide defensive positions and in the center-forward position. The team lacks a clinical finisher as well as a right-back. Löw has unnecessarily created a major problem for himself by not nominating Ridle Baku. Baku might have got his money’s worth at the European Under-21 Championship, but he arguably would have been more important for the senior national team. Lukas Klostermann is simply a tad too ponderous in this role and not involved enough, especially going forward. The difference became apparent when Kimmich played in his stead against Latvia. It is possible that Löw will change his mind yet and use Kimmich at right-back because he sees the greater need there. On the other hand, that would leave a gap in midfield. None of the undoubtedly strong central players brings such a complete package of pressing intensity, accuracy, as well as technical skills as Kimmich.

At left back, too, despite the quality of Robin Gosens, it is not yet entirely clear how well the Germans are equipped there. If Gosens is integrated in such a way that he can make his offensive runs inside, he can definitely add value to the team – as he demonstrated in the goal against Latvia. But unfortunately he often has not been well integrated. Löw’s unresolved issues could be too big in the end. Especially since facing France, Portugal and Hungary in the group stage, the German national team will be thrown straight into the deep end.

A lot will also depend on whether the Germans finally find a structure in which their great individual players feel comfortable. Löw has not managed to do this in recent years. It is not so much a question of whether three-man backline or a 4-2-3-1 would be the better fit. It is much more a problem that individual players have not yet found their best role in the overall system. If Germany slip into long defensive phases out of respect for the opponent against such teams as France and Portugal, this could have fatal consequences. Especially with players like Goretzka, Kimmich or even Gündogan, a more aggressive style would definitely be possible. But whether Löw can find the right balance between control in possession, stability in defense, and sufficient dynamism in attack is highly questionable. The last few years have cast doubt on his ability to do so.

Prediction: The success of the German national team at this tournament will once again depend to a large extent on how the Bayern players perform. After all, eight Bayern players have been nominated. Löw is likely to rely on this block in his last tournament in order to have a stable axis. However, there have been signs recently that the national coach is going to use a rather passive mid block setup in some phases. Particularly among the Bayern contingent, there are some players who are not ideally suited to this style. The challenge of combining the different types of players to the best possible effect could be too great in the end. Nevertheless, Germany is in a better position than many believe and is certainly capable of going far in the tournament. Especially since the four best third-placed teams in the group will also advance to the next round. But when all is said and done it will probably not be enough for the title; the problems that have been apparent right until the eve of the tournament are probably too substantial for that.

France as the big favourites

The French squad is probably the only one in the tournament that on paper has no weaknesses to speak of. In fact, Coach Didier Deschamps’s squad has so much strength in depth that he has two equally strong alternatives available in almost every position. The quality of the team is almost frightening. Even worse, if you take a closer look at the Équipe’s youth teams, that is probably not going to change anytime soon.

With Corentin Tolisso, Kingsley Coman, Lucas Hernández and Benjamin Pavard, Deschamps has called up four Bayern players. Interestingly, Coman in particular has been on the sidelines lately, while Tolisso was given a start in the last two games. Deschamps has recently deviated from his preferred formation. He has twice played a 4-3-1-2 with a midfield diamond in order to add compactness and robustness to his midfield. He has also been able to integrate returnee Karim Benzema to feature alongside Kylian Mbappé. The results of the past years and the strength of the squad speak for themselves: The way to the title leads through the French.

However, other nations should not immediately become paralyzed by fear. Especially with respect to their tactics, the French have never really been able to convince entirely. Even when they won the World Cup three years ago, they were good but beatable. Despite the enormous quality in midfield and in attack, the French sometimes have great problems occupying the spaces between the lines. Instead, players sometimes intrude on each other’s space, hindering the flow of the game. If opponents manage to win the ball in these situations, the French can be caught off guard.

France’s offensive penetration is largely the result of the enormous quality of the individual players and less that of well drilled attacking patterns, which would be clearly indicative of effective training. This is criticism at a very high level, of course, given France are still the team to beat. But given how impressive the individual names read on paper, the French national team as a team leaves a little bit to be desired.

From Bayern’s point of view, it will be interesting to see whether and how often Corentin Tolisso gets a run out. The nomination of the midfielder came somewhat as a surprise considering that be was injured for most of last season. Since Bayern are apparently interested in selling him, the more appearances he has the better in terms of his opportunities to play himself into the notebooks of potentially interested clubs.

Prediction: France will go far and possibly win the title again, because in the end football is a players’ game. France becoming champions would not be so bad for FC Bayern, as they have several players in the squad of “les bleus”. Nevertheless, I think they will have been eliminated by the semi-finals at the latest because by then they will have faced an opponent who had a good day and was able to exploit the tactical weaknesses of the French.

Poland as a one-man show?

Whoever says “Poland” must also say “Lewandowski”. If you browse over the squad of the Polish national team, you will come across one or two familiar names, but you will probably not develop the idea that this side will be a able to spring a huge surprise at this tournament. But that could be a mistake. With Paulo Sousa, the Poles have a very interesting man at the helm who promises a lot of flexibility and entertainment.

Precisely because many national teams stand for stability, rhythm and a well drilled system, the Poles stand out. With Sousa, you can never be sure which formation he chooses to deploy on the pitch. And even when you know the numerical value (4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, …), the practical implementation is far from clear. For a Sousa team, a back three with the ball can sometimes become a back four without the ball and vice versa.

Sousa has only been working with the Polish national team since January 2021, which makes an assessment at this stage even more difficult. In the five games so far, Poland has always been set up differently with respect to their tactics. And strategically, too, the spectrum ranges from a defensive wait-and-see approach to a high block with aggressive pressing. What is most impressive, however, is what Sousa has done with the team’s positional play in possession in the very short time he has had available.

Poland is more than Robert Lewandowski.
(Copyright: xFotoxOlimpikx / Imago Images)

It will be difficult for many opponents to force this team to lose the ball at this tournament. Or more precisely: to make them lose the ball in a way which can be converted straight into a dangerous counter-attack. A key to the good positional play of the Poles is Grzegorz Krychowiak, who can be described as the most important player next to, indeed next to (!), Lewandowski. The defensive holding midfielder organises his teammates, positions himself cleverly as the first passing option during build-up, and is very skilled at distributing the ball further.

In general, the team’s dynamic style of play is a great asset. It can be expected that the Poles can play a good role at the European Championship. In any case, Sousa’s orientation could also suit Bayern striker Lewandowski, who in recent years has had to carry his country’s game almost all by himself. This year, he is once again the all-important superstar, but he may be able to rely on a stronger team to support him. Poland is perhaps something like the antithesis of France: tactically very strong and extremely versatile, but individually not very well equipped in most positions. Sousa will also have to work on the precision and structure of his team’s transition situations in order to go far. A high degree of flexibility requires a certain level of tactical cleanliness, especially when the ball is lost unplanned or during gegenpressing. This is not always the case with the Poles, not least because Sousa has not been there long. The fact that striker Arkadiusz Milik is out is also a major handicap.

Prediction: Poland will surprise many. The fact that a Polish national team can reach the quarter-finals of the European Championship is perhaps not anymore the left field tip that it once was, but also the “how” has the potential to excite many. It is quite possible that the French antithesis will face France in the quarter-finals. That would be an exciting duel. And maybe it will even be the Poles who have a good day and can exploit France’s tactical weaknesses. Who knows?

Austria as the Bundesliga offshoot

A lot has been written about Austria lately. One big topic has always been that our neighbours have a conspicuously large number of players from the German Bundesliga. Chief among them is David Alaba. Competing in a group with the Netherlands, Ukraine and North Macedonia, it is a must for the Austrians to advance to the knockout stages. After that, matters will become more complicated depending on the draw. They could already face Italy or France, for example, in the round of 16.

The mood among the Austrians is rather bad, despite an actually quite decent squad. Hardly anyone trusts them to achieve great success at the European Championships, and hardly anyone is convinced that this team will be there when it counts – the antithesis of Germany, so to speak? Anyway. Many Austrians fault national team coach Franco Foda for their despondent mood. The Austrians seemed too ponderous in their last international matches, there was too little dynamism to their game. Without the ball they are well organised, but with the ball they make too many simple mistakes.

At the European Championships, everything will depend on whether Foda manages to form a unit out of the many good individual players who can leave all their problems of the past months behind them. Rumor has it that there has been a lot of strive within the team recently. It will also be an important tournament for Alaba, who is still a Bayern player. Having been revered for a long time in his native country, his status at home has crumbled in recent years. With a good European Championship, he could certainly repair some of that. As the team’s key player he will have to lead the way. Something he has not always been good at in his career.

Prediction: Sometimes it is the obvious picks that do not work out. Nevertheless, I have little confidence in Austria. They might just edge into the round of 16, but that will be the end of the line. It is a shame, because their squad is chock full with many interesting players.

»Eier, wir brauchen Eier!«

— Oliver Kahn

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