FC Bayern Rondo: Reviewing Villareal, previewing FC Bayern Women
“It was a deserved loss,” Julian Nagelsmann said, clearly disillusioned after the 1-0 defeat at FC Villarreal: “We were not good today, had very little power in defense in the first half, didn’t really have any good ball wins and no scoring chances either.” It was not the first time this season that the coach chose such critical words about his team’s performance.
The frequent breakdowns in performance can be no coincidence. Or an unfortunate series of slip ups. Bayern have various problems this season that prevent them from performing at the top level. On good days, they are capable of beating any opponent. That must also be the aspiration. At the same time, the bad days occur far too often for anyone in Munich to still be able to harbour realistic dreams of winning the Champions League.
One very important factor is obviously Leon Goretzka. The German international has been missing for Bayern since the 3-2 win over Dortmund in the Bundesliga Hinrunde. The mere points per game tally does not at all suggest this: Without Goretzka in the starting XI, the Bayern side picked up 2.4 points per game in all competitions, with him 2.42.
The 27-year-old was on the pitch, for example, in the 1-1 draw in Gladbach and also in the 1-2 defeats against Frankfurt and to Augsburg. He also had a major share in the goals conceded in the 0-5 debacle in the DFB-Pokal. Then how does the impression arise that winning became significantly more difficult for Bayern without him? Probably because, especially in the Bundesliga, fluctuations in Bayern’s result are rarely noticeable.
Against SC Freiburg, however, he scored the important opening goal, and against Villarreal things went at least a little more smoothly when he came on. With Goretzka, the structure of the midfield is different. He is the only number eight in the squad who is capable of providing a balanced link up between Joshua Kimmich and Thomas Müller. Corentin Tolisso would be another solution on paper, but the Frenchman is almost never available.
Marcel Sabitzer could be someone like that, but so far he has not managed to establish himself as a dependable force at the level required at FC Bayern. Without blaming him for the changeable season, the Austrian is thus the tragic personification of the squad’s problems. Too often, the Bayern team lives in the subjunctive.
What if Sabitzer were to bring his actual quality to the pitch? He was a key player for Leipzig for years, and he has also proven on several occasions in the Champions League that the potential is there. But in the face of reality, such notions seem romantic at best.
Marc Roca towards the end of last year seemed to become a real alternative in the absence of several midfielders. Nagelsmann praised him effusively at the time. “Today he showed me that it was a mistake to bring him so rarely,” the coach said after the match in Stuttgart in December. In the following games against Wolfsburg, Gladbach and in Cologne, the 26-year-old was in the starting eleven each time.
Then he disappeared into oblivion again. Four minutes against Fürth, eight in Frankfurt, 24 in Salzburg, 15 against Union and the thankless substitution at Villarreal, which earned him an extra minute due to Goretzka’s head injury. About four months after Nagelsmann’s praise, it is becoming clearer that there was probably nothing more behind Nagelsmann’s comments than a short-term measure to build self-confidence.
And so, ultimately, all roads lead to Goretzka. The coach’s last attempt to replace the ex-Bochum player was the experiment with Jamal Musiala at the six/eight position. The 19-year-old was supposed to fill the number eight role next to Kimmich, but always played with a very offensive orientation.
Musiala did his job well in many games. His ball handling in particular is a big upgrade for the Bayern midfield, because he cannot only almost always be given the ball in good positions, but also knows how to break free under pressure. “Bambi” is an agile and graceful deer, yet he knows how to assert himself, especially with the ball.
But he is not a bull. He is not someone who can balance defense and offense. Musiala has his natural habitat in higher spaces and tries to offer himself between the lines. Thus, as an eighth, he acts like a second ten. Ultimately, this leads to many situations where Joshua Kimmich has to do the work in defensive midfield all by himself.
Over the years, Goretzka has developed a better sense of when it is right to push up and look for open spaces in behind. After all, he too often plays in higher positions. However, as a player type he is more suited to this role because he is more forceful in gegenpressing and thinks more defensively. His power and dynamism make him irreplaceable. Musiala makes an effort to stay active against the ball, but he lacks basic things like positional play and physicality.
Whereas Musiala played more of a secondary role in Freiburg’s 1-1 equalizer, where he let his opposing player pull away from him too easily, when Villarreal scored the 1-0, he was no doubt among the main culprits.
First, there was insufficient coordination with Kimmich in this situation. One has to ask why Kimmich is so high, but the run of Musiala is too impulsive too. If he had stayed in his lower position, he could have sufficiently delayed the opponent’s attack for others to track back and help out.
This scene, however, also highlights fundamental problems: hardly any Bayern player is able to close down whoever currently has the ball despite high pressing and a numerical superiority (5 against 4). Instead, Villarreal can play through six opponents with two passes. Unai Emery’s match plan also worked because he did a good job of dividing Bayern’s back four. Both attackers are positioned almost maximally wide, giving Bayern a seeming numerical advantage in the center. But just a few seconds later, the Spaniards cleverly outplay the now very spread out Bayern back line.
The actual superiority close to the ball turns into a 3-on-2 superiority on the wing. Musiala and Kimmich are left stranded, there is no holding midfielder who can pick up the player with the ball.
In the center, Hernandez, as the center back close to the ball, moves out much too late to provide support on the wing, which opens up space for the pass past Davies into the penalty area. However, this is only possible because Musiala stops and speculates on the movement of the player covered by Gnabry. However, he poses a much smaller danger, which is why the 19-year-old should have continued his run.
The second decisive mistake comes from Kimmich, who intuitively runs to the baseline and thus leaves lots of open space in his back. That Villarreal switches the play to the center so late is clever. Most of Bayern’s defenders did not have a clear target to cover until the last second, yet they allowed themselves to be drawn out of their positions in a way that opened up large spaces for the Spaniards to explore.
Both Kimmich’s unnecessary run to the baseline and Musiala’s checked run, however, really make this goal possible. Both defend purely based on intuition too often. Both actually need a player next to them who brings a better feeling for the right defensive action and can better read what happens next. Goretzka, when fit, is exactly that player.
With Goretzka on the pitch, the whole situation before Villarreal’s goal might have played out differently. After the out of form Thomas Müller came off, Musiala was able to play to his strengths in the offense without having to care too much about working back. The balance in midfield was much better and Bayern had their opponents better under control.
If one wants to compete for the Champions League title, you need either a fit top first eleven or a strength in depth in the squad allowing to adequately replace the key players. Bayern obviously lack options for individual players.
With Ryan Gravenberch from Ajax Amsterdam, a player who, like Goretzka, has a good feel for spaces is likely to join FC Bayern in the summer. With and without the ball, the 19-year-old brings a lot of dynamism and power. He may not be a deep-lying playmaker, which the squad also lacks, but he can take over Tolisso’s role immediately – and possibly be a much more reliable player at squad positions 12 to 15.
FC Bayern’s women have also had squad problems recently. After the bitter defeat in the first leg against Paris Saint-Germain, hopes were high that they would be able to carry over what was actually a good performance to the decisive week containing the return leg and the championship-deciding match against Wolfsburg.
Instead, a debacle ensued. COVID-19 hit the squad and so a very shorthanded team had to start in Paris. Then there was the case of Sydney Lohmann, who was substituted in the first leg because the medical department had advised against a longer playing time. Then she played 76 minutes against Essen (4-0) at the weekend and then 120 minutes in the return match against PSG.
It was another strong performance for which the Bavarian side were simply not rewarded in the end. Even shortly before the end, there were several finishing situations, including one for Paris, which could have decided the game. If the Bayern women had scored the decisive 3-1, the subsequent clash with Wolfsburg would probably have been different. Instead, however, the game went into extra time, where Ramona Bachmann clinched the victory for PSG.
However, the team cannot be blamed for anything. There are structural and tactical problems that run like a red thread through the entire Jens Scheuer era. Among them are the without alternative seeming constant wing play or the positional play in the center. There are also justified criticisms of the composition of the squad, as there was never an adequate compensation for the departed Marina Hegering, especially defensively.
However, both the 2-2 draw in Paris and the bitter 0-6 defeat in Wolfsburg are not the right occasion to bring them up. In the end, the team was simply too depleted to mount a serious challenge.
On paper, however, two title chances are now gone. In the league, Wolfsburg will not drop four more points with three games remaining. The international break will help Bayern nonetheless. While it is not a real break for the internationals, it does give the squad a chance to recoup before the cup semifinal against Wolfsburg.
Then on April 17 at 12:30 p.m. (yes, that’s not a joke), there is the last remaining opportunity to keep the chance of winning at least one title alive. However, it will be a difficult task against Wolfsburg, who are in good form – fortunately at home.