FC Bayern Rondo – Preview vs. Hertha + What happened this week
This week was a rather quiet one for FC Bayern München. Headlines were made elsewhere because the bitter 0-5 defeat in the DFB-Pokal against Borussia Mönchengladbach meant that the team from Munich did not see action in midweek. Julian Nagelsmann took it in stride. At the press conference on Friday, he said: “[Our exit] didn’t affect me emotionally any more, at some point you have to let bygones be bygones.”
Perhaps he was also able to put the defeat to rest so easily because the ensuing week off came in quite handy at this point in time. As difficult as the year had started for Bayern with the personnel situation severely shaken up by SARS-CoV-2, it was probably just as well that Nagelsmann finally had some quality time for training with the players who had been gradually returning.
The match schedule should also be helpful. Gladbach was not necessarily the opponent they wanted to face for the Rückrunde’s opener, but the way 1. FC Köln played clearly suited the Bayern team. On Sunday, Bayern now travel to Berlin. There they will play the 20th matchday’s concluding match against Hertha BSC – a team that is currently in horrendous form and should not cause any problems, at least on paper.
A quiet week often means that there are few things to discuss. But FC Bayern would not be FC Bayern if they did not always offer some reason for discussion. In the last few days, there has been mounting evidence that Manuel Neuer is on the verge of a contract extension. Even if coach Nagelsmann did not want to or could not confirm media reports to this effect at the press conference, it would probably come as little surprise if the multiple world goalkeeper concluded his career in Munich.
“I don’t know if there are contractual issues being discussed right now. I know that he is under contract right now and that he is an outstanding goalkeeper,” the Bayern coach said. On Thursday, German sports news website Sportbuzzer reported that Neuer was about to sign a contract until 2025, i. e. he extend his current contract expiring in 2023 to 2025.
Uli Hoeneß also went out on a limb this week, telling AZ newspaper: “Manuel Neuer will end his career with us at any rate.” All is well, then. For FC Bayern, of course, the extension would be a no-brainer. Although there was a phase in recent years when Neuer seemed vulnerable due to injuries, the 35-year-old has regained his former strength and is as strong as he has ever been. Worries that his two metatarsal fractures in 2017 could have serious long-term deleterious consequences have not been confirmed.
Since then, Neuer has only been out for a noteworthy period once: in April 2019, he tore a muscle fibre, which saw him miss six games. In terms of performance, he is still one of the best goalkeepers in the world. The gulf in class between him and his rivals may have shrunk, but that is mainly because many goalkeepers have made decisive strides ahead in their development in recent years. If Neuer stays fit, he will be FC Bayern’s mainstay between the posts for a few more years.
That, in turn, is not good news for Alexander Nübel. The 25-year-old joined Bayern in 2020 with the view of one day succeeding Neuer. His ambition is great. But the news of the extension is unlikely to have been greeted with bouts of jubilation in the ex-Schalker’s camp.
Nübel is currently on loan to AS Monaco until the summer of 2023 – exactly when Neuer’s current contract would expire. In the current season, Nübel has played 29 games for the Ligue 1 side and is a regular in the Europa League. Monaco are not having an outstanding season, but this also means that Nübel can prove himself in almost every game.
In any case, it is not his fault that his team is stuck in mid-table. His performances are good and the loan seems to be helping him a lot in his development. But, and this is also clear, the road to FC Bayern is still very long. Especially when the benchmark is Manuel Neuer, who has 1.44 defensive actions per game outside his penalty area and whose clearances take place at an average of 17 metres in front of his goal. Nübel would have to improve a lot, especially here and in his outfield play, to have a real chance. He will probably return to Bayern in the summer of 2023. Then all parties will reassess the situation. But it is a perfectly logical step for the club to reward Neuer’s consistency.
Another perfectly logical move is also the transfer of Justin Che to TSG Hoffenheim. The 18-year-old was still on loan at FC Bayern in 2021, to where he originally intended to return. Instead, however, he is now moving to TSG Hoffenheim. An 18-month loan with an option to buy was reported by Sport1 and Kicker. And Bayern? Uninvolved. At least according to the news.
And what is logical about that now? A talent that Bayern had their hands on moves on to another Bundesliga club while the Munich side goes away empty-handed? Why was he not bought and then loaned to Hoffenheim? The answer is quite simple: the real transfer market is not a video game. There are often so many parties involved that it is difficult even for FC Bayern to retain talented players. Other youth academies can offer players like Che better prospects. In Munich, the competition is huge.
Nevertheless, nothing is lost for Bayern. The club still has close ties with the club from Sinsheim. Anyone who has followed the transfer business between both clubs in recent years will have noticed. Should Che really develop into a top class defender, there is a good chance that he will end up at Säbener Straße at some point after all. The precise details of the contract have so far remained unknown despite the sometimes very intimate news situation surrounding the record champions.
At the beginning of the week, Kicker reported that Corentin Tolisso might stay at Bayern after all. The club bosses would like to prevent a departure on a free as was the case with David Alaba, but are also said to have taken note of the World Cup winner’s recent improved performances. Alongside Marc Roca, the Frenchman was perhaps the player who benefited most from the numerous absences in midfield in recent weeks.
For Bayern, an extension could make perfect sense if Tolisso were prepared to accept a role as a squad player. But it could also lead to problems. For the midfield of the serial champions does not have the most solid structure. The absence of Joshua Kimmich recently revealed how dependent Bayern are on him. Bayern simply do not have a second playmaker of his caliber for the six and the eight.
The triple in 2020 was also in part a result of the flexibility Bayern had in midfield with Thiago and Kimmich, two deep lying playmakers at world-class level. They no longer have that luxury. If Kimmich is out, the technical and playing level drops notably. In the Champions League, that can prove decisive.
Currently, there are many rumours about Frenkie de Jong. The Dutchman’s contract with FC Barcelona still runs until 2026, but the Catalans are in dire financial straits. So far, it is all just rumours. But purely hypothetically, de Jong would be a type of player who could meet a need that Bayern might not even feel at the moment. There is a lot of discussion about the full-back positions, but in the centre there is a gaping hole both in terms of playmaking quality and technical ability in handling the ball. A hole that can make the difference between “very good” and “world class”.
Before they can concern themselves with transfer rumours, Bayern first have to get back into the rhythm on the field. Fortunately, the squad has seen substantial replenishment during the week. “The injury of Goretzka is well known but Stanišić is making good progress and should rejoin training next week,” Nagelsmann offered. In addition to the two Africa Cup participants Choupo Moting and Sarr, several players were also absent from training for load management reasons.
Tolisso and Neuer, for example, were afforded a break. The coach is also not yet sure about Leroy Sané. The winger has had a few problems recently, but Nagelsmann does not see any serious problems.
And so it is a competitive squad that is heading for Berlin. One that should also see Kimmich returning to midfield. “If [Lucas Hernández] and [Dayot Upamecano] don’t signal anything tomorrow, [Benjamin Pavard] will move back to the right,” Nagelsmann said.
For Bayern, that should mean more control of the game. Especially as Hertha BSC are not exactly in captivating form. Tayfun Korkut is trying to instill a more active game in the Berlin side, but he is reaching his limits with this squad. Good phases are followed by inexplicable spells of passivity. At Cologne, for example, Hertha found good solutions against the high press of Baumgart’s eleven for 20 minutes. But then they collapsed for no apparent reason, played one bad pass after another and made Cologne strong.
Korkut demands from his players that they build up with short, low, controlled passes. Although Nagelsmann correctly noted that Hertha “still play a lot of chip balls to Belfodil”, the focus is on getting into the final third in a technically controlled fashion.
In the centre, however, he lacks players who can make the game fast. Against Union, his team often cycled the ball back and forth through more than ten stations in defence. There was no space gained, no incisive runs made in midfield, no number six who demanded and distributed the ball. Darida is a player who runs a lot and has certain strengths in offensive play, but he is not a deep lying playmaker.
And so there will most probably be the odd very costly ball loss against Bayern as well. The fact that Hertha have two fast and technically good offensive players in Suat Serdar and Marco Richter could in turn hurt the record champions if they lose the ball themselves. However, Hertha’s attacks have rarely made the most structured and well thought-out impression in recent weeks, so there is much to suggest that Bayern will have a walk in the park tonight. This is perhaps Hertha’s biggest chance. In any case, not much is expected of them.