FC Bayern Rondo: Preview vs. Cologne + what happened this week
Let me begin with a personal remark: For now, I will stop writing the customary preview format as you know it. I am going to face changes in my job situation this year, which means that especially during “English weeks”, producing two carefully researched and penned previews per week will no longer be feasible for me. Instead, the old format will be replaced by a weekly article in which I address several issues that have been and are relevant in an FC Bayern context in the respective week. The information used in the new format may be the same that would have been important for a preview anyway, but in other respects, it may deviate from the previous pattern. Let me surprise you. The provisional name of the format is ‘FC Bayern Rondo’.
As much as Bayern tried to downplay their predicament of having to cope with a host of absentees last week and approach the match against Gladbach as business as usual, a different mood prevailed after the first 90 minutes of the year. A slew of SARS-CoV-2 infections had forced the league leaders to field an eleven that, although it was able to exceed any dire expectations with ease, also lacked quality in many respects – be it due to lacking fitness, rhythm or players playing in unfamiliar positions.
The fact that the disappointment of the result did not result in greater frustration on the part of the Bayern officials about the DFL’s regulations, which stipulated that the match had to go ahead, was also due to the constellation in the table. Bayern still lead the Bundesliga by six points and there is no acute cause for concern yet. In addition, it is to be expected that the match against Gladbach will remain the low point for the time being – at least in terms of available personnel.
The returnees, an important contract extension, the Bayern’s upcoming opponents and an independent reappraisal of the club’s history are the topics of this week.
Against Gladbach, Julian Nagelsmann had virtually his hand forced in the selection of his starting eleven. He started the game with only ten more or less seasoned professionals. Among those were Sven Ulreich, the recently injured Niklas Süle, an unfit Joshua Kimmich, Marcel Sabitzer in an unfamiliar position and Benjamin Pavard, who played in his favourite position but had not been used there for a while.
For the match in Cologne, with Manuel Neuer, Leroy Sané, Dayot Upamecano, Alphonso Davies, Omar Richards and Tanguy Nianzou, many important players will return. Corentin Tolisso and Kingsley Coman have also been cleared from quarantine. Yet who will eventually make the squad or even the starting eleven is still unclear. According to media reports, at least Coman will probably miss the match against Cologne.
So Nagelsmann is not yet near out of the woods with his diminished squad, but the signs ahead of matchday 19 are much more positive than those of a week ago. The coach will probably make a few changes, especially in defence where the team looked anything but stable against Gladbach. In any case, there is reason for Nagelsmann to hope that the situation will improve soon.
His hopes will probably have contained that Kingsley Coman would soon extend his contract. His old contract would have expired in the summer of 2023 and the Frenchman would have had to be sold this year if generating a transfer fee had been the target.
The fact that Bayern had been pressing ahead on the Coman matter in recent weeks was also evident from the odd rumour that had made the media rounds. Bayern were again and again linekd with Ousmane Dembélé and Raphinha, for example. Now, however, Coman has extended his contract until 2027, which makes him the player with the longest contract at FC Bayern at present.
The case of Coman also sheds light on the strategy with which Bayern are trying to get through the COVID-19 pandemic. The auditing company KPMG recently compared the key figures of the eight champions in the most important European leagues. Among those, FC Bayern are the only club to have made a profit in the latest financial year, while Inter and Atlético Madrid recorded large losses.
How Bayern are getting through the pandemic financially is remarkable. In large part, this is because they have done a lot of things right in terms of long-term squad planning. After the era of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry, many around the club feared that a period of prolonged lack of success might set in.
Today, with players like Joshua Kimmich, Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman being tied to the club on long-term contracts (or in the process of being), Bayern can look back on another triple – and have spared themselves the trouble of looking for new players in times of a pandemic. The backbone of the squad is in place and extending it now is more a matter of adding reinforcements in select areas and, most of all, adding strength in depth than rebuilding it from the ground up. Accordingly, Bayern have put a premium on contract extensions in recent months.
Coman is a prime example of this strategy. Although he scored the winning goal in the 2020 Champions League final and his talent shines through in almost every game, he has not yet exactly been an exemplar of consistency so far. Paying such a player an annual salary in the range of €15 to 17 million may not seem like the most obvious decision to make at first glance.
Injuries and poor form have set the Frenchman back time and again. His rate of direct goal involvements is also an area where he can still improve. In 217 games and 13,062 minutes of competitive game time for FC Bayern, he has scored a goal every 133 minutes. In contrast, despite having had a rather mixed last season, Leroy Sané averages one goal every 101 minutes, while Serge Gnabry records one every 102 minutes.
In a way, Coman’s contract extension is also a wager on the future. One whose outcome will depend above all on whether the Frenchman can stay fit for a longer period of time than he was hitherto able to. For in individual phases of his Bayern career so far, he has shown that he is capable of delivering exactly what Sané and Gnabry do on a somewhat more regular basis.
In any case, FC Bayern can now be sure that they will have at least two potential world-class wingers in their ranks for quite some time to come. With Serge Gnabry, whose negotiations with the club are said to be on well on track, the third could soon follow.
Cologne are also on the right track. They are currently in sixth place in the Bundesliga and after three wins in a row, some fans are already beginning to dream of Europe. Especially as in Bayern they will meet an opponent at the weekend whose style of play could suit them. Cologne whip in an average of 25 crosses per game, which is significantly more than any other Bundesliga club. On paper, no team actually allows as few crosses as Bayern, namely 13 per game. Nevertheless, high balls from out wide is precisely the area where the Munich team is particularly vulnerable. 13 of the 18 goals they have conceded so far have come from corners, crosses, chip balls or from outside the box.
Against Mönchengladbach, it was again evident that Julian Nagelsmann’s team does not manage to defend crosses effectively. Especially without the ball, players switch off too quickly if they do not succeed in putting the provider of the cross under pressure immediately.
Cologne’s game is basically designed to overload the wings and either hit a cross to Anthony Modeste or force a counter-pressing situation. The two eights in particular actively support the offensive half-areas from their midfield position. 2.1 of Modeste’s 3.8 finishes per game are headers, nine of his twelve Bundesliga goals have come from them. If Cologne can hit a precise cross to him, it is usually already too late – even if he is closely covered.
Precisely because Bayern are so susceptible here, Cologne can certainly hope for a goal or two. In the reverse fixture, they also scored twice from crosses. But Bayern also have a good chance of scoring. Not only because they almost always score anyway, but above all because Cologne will offer them spaces.
It is true that Cologne are able to maintain a very tight and forceful pressing in some phases of the game, especially close to the ball, but as soon as an opponent breaks free, they tend to get disorganized quickly. Sometimes there are large gaps between defence and attack, which players like Thomas Müller or Sané can use to their advantage. Particularly Cologne’s offensive number eights repeatedly leave spaces for opposing attacking players at the back.
Bayern, however, have demonstrated several times this season that they have the quality to break free from high pressing. Nevertheless, for the game at the weekend a lot will depend on how much Nagelsmann will be able to rebuild the defence. With a hypothetical repetition of last week’s first eleven, it would probably become complicated against Cologne as well.
But it is not only FC Bayern’s sporting present that is complicated. Its past is also sometimes more and sometimes less dazzling. Above all, the role of the club during the Nazi regime has always been controversial. Only in recent decades has there evolved a greater commitment to coming to terms with this chapter of their history at the club. In 2017, FC Bayern commissioned the Institute of Contemporary History in Munich to start an independent research into the matter.
For this, the institute examined thousands of files, records and notes from dozens of archives. This week, the results were published, confirming some of what was previously known, but also shedding new light, or at least a new perspective, on other aspects. The results can be accessed here.
For example, one conclusion of the study was that “FC Bayern [in its entirety] could not serve as an example of a ‘liberal’ football club”. “Instead, it reflected characteristic conflicts of the Weimar society.” Until now, it was often assumed that the club was systematically disadvantaged, or otherwise harmed, because of its loyalty to Jewish members. However, there was “no valid evidence” for this interpretation.
While it is true that the loss of Jewish officials and supporters was detrimental to FC Bayern, they did not all leave as a result of coercive measures dictated by the regime, but in many cases out of their own volition as a result of what happened at the club itself. For example, there had been public anti-Semitic statements by FC Bayern. In addition, the study emphasises the heterogeneity of FC Bayern itself, but also of the Jewish members. Both non-Jewish and Jewish members ran the gamut from convinced Nazis to opponents of the regime, and the identification of the Jewish members with the club also varied widely.
An often-used narrative, however, is almost completely refuted: The pithy epithet Judenklub “is nowhere documented for FC Bayern before 1945 […]. Whether someone was Jewish or not played no role in the club”. Nevertheless, it is likely that the club was at least perceived as having “Jewish” connotations. However, “the results of the project can be summarised as showing that FC Bayern did not take on a special role in its relationship to National Socialism, but was more similar to other clubs than previously assumed.” The thesis that there was a fundamental dissent between FC Bayern and National Socialism “cannot be substantiated by the completed study.”
However, FC Bayern had still publicly acknowledged the names of Jewish members in 1934 and 1935. In the range of behaviour of individual members, however, there was nothing specific to Bayern during the Nazi era. The fact that FC Bayern has had its history examined by independent experts is an important step for the culture of remembrance around the honorary president Kurt Landauer and the responsibility that has arisen from it for today.