FC Bayern: ten predictions for the new season – what to expect?
The format is as follows: One author makes a prediction, the other one replies straight away with each having five goes. So there is an immediate response to every claim. And at the end there is even a bonus thesis.
Prediction 1: Is the flood of goals over?
Maurice: For the first time since the 2015/16 season, FC Bayern will concede fewer than 20 goals in a Bundesliga season.
Nagelsmann’s primary focus in preparation was bringing stability to the defence. Even though this was not immediately obvious from the results, the games showed this as a clear trend. The very high and extremely ball-oriented pressing of the Flick days, which made the Bayern team so susceptible to long diagonal switches of the play behind the last defensive line, is over. In addition, Nagelsmann sometimes uses inverted full-backs during build-up to maintain a numerical superiority close to the ball in case it is turned over going forward. In the last five seasons, the number of goals conceded by Bayern rose continuously, and they conceded a grand total of 50 goals more in this period than they did in the preceding five years. Nagelsmann’s arrival signifies a reversal of this trend.
Justin: I completely agree that Nagelsmann stands for a turnaround to more defensive stability. I am convinced that given time he will be able to establish a much more stable defence than has hitherto been the case. That is partly due to him personally and the different tactical emphasis he brings, which will surely reflect in the results in the medium term. However, both the change in the coaching position and the loss of experienced players like Alaba and Boateng inevitably has led to a phase of readjustment that will still take time, especially regarding the defence. How much time remains to be seen. I also do not believe that the high and aggressive pressing is over. Rather, it will be supplemented by a broad variety of additional approaches. Bayern as a team will become much more flexible in their defensive play in the medium to long term. However, I believe that they will concede a few too many goals, especially at the beginning of the season. That is why I agree with the prediction in general – Bayern will concede fewer goals – but I would not go quite so far as you do: They will concede more than 20 goals but significantly fewer than the 44 they conceded last season. More specifically, they will concede fewer than 30.
Prediction 2: Youth surge under Nagelsmann
Maurice: Under Nagelsmann, at least three players will make their Bundesliga debut this season who last season played for the reserves or for one of the youth teams.
Two effects coincide here: First, Nagelsmann is an innovator and creative thinker who likes to give younger players a chance in unfamiliar positions. Even though Nagelsmann only helped four players to their debuts in Leipzig, he was an important mentor for Geiger, Akpoguma and Posch in Hoffenheim. On the other hand, he can draw on one of the most promising youth generations coming out of the Bayern academy in years with Sieb, Motika, Tillmann & Co. Especially against the backdrop of a thin, injury-prone squad, Nagelsmann will certainly give one or two of the young high flyers a chance this season.
Justin: Let’s keep it short: I agree almost entirely. For the reasons you mentioned, but also because Nagelsmann is expected to involve the FC Bayern Campus more anyway. I would like to add that the class of 2003 and younger is incredibly strong. That does not mean that they will all make a guaranteed breakthrough at FC Bayern, but I expect that in the next few years there will be players among them who are more than just fill-ins for the squad to pass the DFB squad composition requirements. Nagelsmann will already be able to benefit from this this season when he has to give the more seasoned players a break for regeneration. However, I am not so sure that it will be three players, as you think. I think it is more likely that one or two new youth players will celebrate their Bundesliga debut.
Prediction 3: The end of Thomassist?
Maurice: Thomas Müller will not again be the player with the most assists in the Bayern squad at the end of the season.
21, 21, 12, 16, 15 – transfermarkt.de lists a total of 85 assists for Thomas Müller over the last five seasons in the Bundesliga. Only under Niko Kovač in the 2018/19 season did the Munich veteran not top the club’s internal assist ranking. In the US presidential election, it is often said “as Ohio goes, so goes the Nation” – translated to FC Bayern this could read as “as Müller goes, so goes the coach’s fate”. It will be exciting to see how Nagelsmann integrates the “Raumdeuter” into his system and whether he can achieve the seemingly impossible: To have success even if Müller does not deliver top performances – because he is being replaced as the top assist maker at FC Bayern.
Justin: I disagree. It is true that under Nagelsmann there will probably be a more balanced distribution of scorer points, but Müller will still register a top return. And just out of defiance: He will once again be the top assist maker!
Prediction 4: Chris Richards surprises!
Maurice: At the end of the season, Chris Richards will have got the most game time out of Bouna Sarr, Omar Richards and himself.
Capable full-backs are a hot property in the transfer market at the moment and FC Bayern are no exception. After last-minute deal Sarr, they brought in second tier player Omar Richards this summer, which sounds harsh and does not do justice to either of the two players. But with Chris Richards (the other Richards), the club still has an ace up its sleeve. The US-American has improved considerably in the last two years and spent a very convincing loan spell at Hoffenheim last season. He could be a winner under Nagelsmann, as his experience in a back three means he can fill the role of an inverted right-back who supports his teammates in build-up play.
Justin: There are two things that speak against that: One, Chris Richards would have to improve even more, and two, he would have to stay at FC Bayern in the first place. I do not want to rule out either possiblity, but first things first: Richards’ half year at Hoffenheim was certainly good, but it was not very good. His decent performance there in my opinion is now often exaggerated as having been an exceptional step forward for him, which papers over the fact that he still has many shortcomings in respect to what is expected at Bayern. For example, his positioning, his build-up play, and his tackling still have room for improvement. Whether he as a player can ultimately rise to the levels that are required at an absolute top club is still written in the stars for me. I think it is more likely that Bayern will once more let him go on another spell on loan somewhere else or even sell him, perhaps with a buy-back clause, than that he will collect many minutes under Nagelsmann. Even if his versatility could theoretically help the squad, another spell away might be more advantageous for the club as well as his personal development. Therefore, I argue the opposite: Richards will collect less playing time at FC Bayern than Omar Richards and perhaps even less than Bouna Sarr – but definitely not more than both.
Prediction 5: A new king on the wings?
Maurice: Leroy Sané will become Munich’s most dangerous winger, scoring at least 25 scorer points in all competitions.
Leroy Sané was the bogeyman of the 2021 European Championship. Great things are expected of great players and, held to this standard, Sané, often portrayed as a wannabe world star, sorely disappointed the German football public. The many extraordinary moments when the winger shows his class seem to fade from memory very quickly. Yes, these moments have been rare, too rare for a player of his ability – not just at the Euros but also last season at Bayern. Nevertheless, Sané could blossom under Nagelsmann in a system that gives him more spaces and one-on-one situations than in the national team.
Justin: I am also strongly convinced that Sané will prove what an outstanding footballer he is under Nagelsmann. It is easy to forget what fantastic numbers he delivered at Manchester City before his terrible cruciate ligament injury – at a very young age, too. And given the circumstances last season (came off a long injury, new coach, new team, no real preparation, outside pressure, teammates running on fumes …) 22 goal involvements in approx. 2,600 minutes is not bad at all. It is only the transfer fee and his high salary that cause many observers to scoff at such figures. That is understandable. But I am convinced that from now on things are looking up for Sané.
Prediction 6: Bayern will not be “Herbstmeister”
Justin: Bayern will not be “Herbstmeister”, as they were in the 2018/19 and 2019/20 seasons, but in the end it will still be enough to win the title.
I think Bayern will have a bumpy season, especially at the beginning. Of course, one reason is that Julian Nagelsmann needs time to implement his ideas. Especially in the first few games, he will focus on making the defence more stable than it was last season. This, in turn, could lead to a lack of offensive power and goals at the other end of the pitch. But that is not the only reason for my prediction. The long holidays of the national players will also be noticeable at the beginning of the season. With a Bundesliga curtain raiser away at Gladbach and a match against Leipzig on matchday four, the start will be anything but a walk in the park. I expect the odd dropped point and once that happens, it will be exciting to see how the club will deal with the ensuing alarm among fans and the media.
Maurice: Father Christmas has never been the Easter Bunny. That is why I am not too worried that the Bayern team might be unable to rectify a perhaps weaker first half of the season further down the road. Having found their rhythm, Bayern would thus also be able to do way with bogey team Gladbach and title challenger Leipzig in late winter of 2022. The advantage of the tough opening schedule, however, is that out of the last eight opponents at the end of the first and second half of the season last year, only two teams were in the top eight of the table. By comparison, Leipzig will face five from the top eight during the same period, which could work in Bayern’s favour in a tight run-in. The only real headaches for me are the thin squad and if one of the two irreplaceables Lewandowski and Kimmich should be out with an injury for a longer spell. Nevertheless, I say that this season too Father Christmas and the Easter Bunny will be wearing a red and white jersey.
Prediction 7: The big eared trophy will be out of reach this season
Justin: In the Champions League, it will all be over for FC Bayern before the semi-finals. The repercussions of the new start will still be felt when it comes to beating Europe’s top teams this season.
My prediction #6 segues perfectly into this one. I am convinced that Bayern will improve steadily throughout this season, which once again will be a tight one. In the Champions League, however, the new start will take its toll and prevent Bayern from making the top four again. Against the first big opponent, but at the latest in the quarter-finals, they will be eliminated because either the somewhat too thin squad will come around and haunt them due to injuries, and/or little things like individual mistakes will make the difference.
Maurice: The knockout phase of the Champions League is always difficult to predict because, apart from the draw, the form on the day also plays a significant role in the outcome over 180 minutes. Nevertheless, I counter Justin’s assessment because last season a Bayern team that was running on fumes and without their world-class striker was only one goal short of reaching the semi-finals. In any case, a more stable approach under Nagelsmann should help the Bayern team not to invite their opponents to hit them on the break as much as in the past. In contrast to Flick, I also trust Nagelsmann to be able to make adjustments during a match through active coaching and to enable his team to cope with changing parameters mid game. This will be an asset and especially useful in big games when the opponent has devoted a lot of time to cooking up a perfect game plan for beating Bayern. However, winning the Champions League will probably be a step too far in the first season under Nagelsmann, but the semi-finals are definitely well in reach with the squad.
Prediction 8: One player stays, another one goes.
Justin: Leon Goretzka will extend his contract at FC Bayern, while Kingsley Coman will leave the club no later than in the summer of 2022.
The contracts of Bayern players are the talk of the town at the moment. Especially with Leon Goretzka, there is a lot of speculation. I am convinced that Goretzka will ultimately stay at FC Bayern. Not least because for him the club will stretch themselves in terms of salary. At Säbener Straße, they are well aware of the midfielder’s sporting value, but also of his stature as a human being. Goretzka has become one of the key faces of this club and his development will continue. In the medium and long term, it might be more expensive for FC Bayern to sign a replacement than to pay Goretzka a princely salary. The Bayern management will certainly not throw the club’s venerated fiscal conservatism over board just for him, but what they ultimately offer will be enough. I see things a little differently with Coman. If the Frenchman does not make another very big step forward in the coming months, I cannot imagine the club to be willing to elevate him to the ranks of the top earners in the squad. Similar to Alaba, the Bayern management will be rightly convinced that they can replace him on the pitch. Especially since they would not even have to let him go for free in 2022 but could still reap a modest transfer fee that could be reinvested directly. Coman has never managed to mature from a very good winger to a world-class player, not least due to his injury proneness. That is why I do not believe that the club will meet his demands and that, as a result, he will leave the club in the summer of 2022 at the latest.
Maurice: As much as I like to disagree with you, at this point your prediction is as likely as a rainy day in Seattle. Bayern are at a crossroads, much like they were with Kroos and Alaba, and must quantify the value of an individual player to the team. This value must then be thoughtfully set against the player’s salary demands. With Mr. Lisbon in particular, it seems unlikely to me that Bayern sees him in the top salary bracket. Although Coman scored that one important goal and has also put in many strong performances, following a significant step forward in performance in recent years, both his injury susceptibility and the role in the team speak against him. The latter in particular should not be underestimated in Goretzka’s case, which is why the direct comparison with Kroos is probably slightly misleading. Nevertheless, the likeable midfielder is certainly not as important for the game as his counterpart Kimmich. At the end of the day, it all comes down to how easy it is to find a replacement for the player in question and here, too, the role of a winger seems easier to replace than the role of a marauding box-to-box player. Thus: I agree. Goretzka stays, Coman goes.
Prediction 9: Tanguy dance with me!
Justin: Tanguy Nianzou will be one of the winners of the season with more than 1,500 minutes in competitive matches.
Throughout the preparation, Nianzou has indicated what he can do. His raw ability is enormous. In the Bundesliga in particular, he will therefore pick up many rotation minutes and possibly also benefit from the fact that Alphonso Davies and Lucas Hernández are/were injured right at the start of the season. But even if those two return, I think Nianzou has a good chance to get even more minutes. If Omar Richards does not improve markedly and quickly on his performances so far, Hernández will certainly start on the left and there will be room for the young Frenchman at center-back. Only his susceptibility to injury could stand in the way of my prediction and his success, but save for that I am convinced that Nianzou will collect many minutes – perhaps even more than 2,000.
Maurice: You would certainly wish him only the best after his difficult first season in Munich. For me, Nianzou is one of the big winners of the preparation, as he not only collected many minutes, but was also able to work with Nagelsmann from the start. The departure of Alaba, Boateng and Martínez will free up more than 7,700 minutes of game time, and even discounting Alaba there are still just under 3,900. The talented central defender should get quite a few minutes, probably even significantly more than the 1,500 you predict. So I am with you all the way.
Prediction 10: The “Gretchen Question” (Goethe) – Now tell me, how are you doing in attack?
Justin: Three statistics, three tips: In the 2020/21 season, Bayern finished with 99 goals in the Bundesliga, 17.1 shots per game (WhoScored) and 75.8 Expected Goals (fbref.com / StatsBomb). They will score fewer goals and have more shots in their debut year under Nagelsmann, while staying about the same in Expected Goals (range: 72-78).
99 goals scored is an incredible achievement! Bayern’s merciless offensive football last season guaranteed them many goals. Nagelsmann will be keen to continue his predecessor’s offensively immensly attractive football. Leipzig scored 65.3 expected goals last season – but scored only 60 not having a bonafide finisher up front. Now the coach can rely on the power of Lewandowski, Müller, Sané, Gnabry and Co. He will clearly exceed his Leipzig mark. It is doubtful, however, that Bayern will again be able to overperform their expected goals as they did under Flick. That is why my money says that they will finish below their 99 goals of last season, especially as I am also factoring in initial teething problems. They will even stay below 90, perhaps to make it a little more exciting. In terms of shots and xG, however, they will come in at about the same level thanks to a strong final. More shots and an xG value between 72 and 78 are my tip!
Maurice: Nagelsmann became “Expected Champion” last season with RB Leipzig – a title that did not buy him anything. However, it also means that Nagelsmann’s team did not manage to make the most of – supposedly – the best xG, otherwise the expected team would have become Bundesliga champions. However, the statistics from previous years show that last season was a slip-up. With 76 and 80 expected goals, Nagelsmann came second behind Bayern. The coach knows how to put his players in the best positions, and he will be able to do so at Bayern too. Nevertheless, the 99 goals seem an almost unattainable target, especially if Lewandowski takes only a miniscule step back. In terms of shots, last season was more of a slide downwards – here I think the Bayern side are more likely to return to the years before. So in the end, being the boring guy that I am, I once again agree with Justin …
Bonus prediction: Lewandowski is human after all
Justin: Robert Lewandowski scores over 30 goals again, but falls far short of the 40 goal barrier he broke last year.
Following on from my attacking statistics prediction, I would like to add that Robert Lewandowski will become that little bit more human. At least that is my suspicion. He will end up with over 30 goals again, but this time he will stay under 35.
Maurice: Regression to the mean is what an economist calls the effect when a series of measurements approaches the average again after an outlier. Now eliminating the outliers of his first and last Bundesliga season (17 and 41 goals, respectively) Lewandowski has still scored an average of 29 goals per season for FC Bayern. So a high 20s or low 30s season seems very likely. To oppose Justin, I say that the world-class Polish striker will not score more than 30 goals. One reason could be, for example, that Nagelsmann trusts Choupo-Moting even more often or even decides to play without a proper center-forward up front, as he commonly did at Leipzig – even if for lack of suitable personnel.
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Thanks for the positive predictions, it was enjoyable to read. Personally I would be very happy if Bayern manage to defend the Bundesliga, and get to the Champions League semi-final (that would already top Flick’s last season, result-wise).
In mid to long term I also expect improvement from the team: more stable defense but still unpredictable and well functioning attack, though the crazy attacking performance of Flick’s days might not be fully matched.
Squad wise, are you happy with the current state? Personally I feel a bit uncomfortable with the defence: lack of experience and question mark leadership in central defence, while the flanks are short: aside from Pavard and Davies, their backup are very unproven (Richards) or proven to be very average (Sarr). It’s unfortunate Bayern could not take advantage of the current vulnerable market, though I can understand that.
And what’s your opinion on the rumoured interest in Sabitzer? I personally like the player a lot and think he would make a very good signing for us.
Personally I agree with your assessment regarding the development of the team. I would expect that we will shift things ever so lightly to make us far more stable defensively while still being extremely dangerous up top, though slightly less so than under Flick.
Regarding the squad, that’s a tough question to answer. Personally I would say I’m pretty luke warm on what they’ve done. Sabitzer would be an excellent addition as I think midfield depth is still a huge concern. The defense as well is certainly a question mark given the lack of proven depth and losses of Alaba and Boateng.
I am a little cautious to really trash the transfer strategy at the moment for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we obviously know that the pandemic has severely impacted Bayern (and every club) from a financial standpoint. Secondly, we don’t know exactly how Nagelsmann is going to set up the squad. I think we all know/expect it to be quite different from anyone since Pep. I honestly expect that he might be able to find a better way to use certain players (Tolisso in particular) that make him a far more valuable squad player than he has so far in Munich (health obviously being a huge factor as well).
Despite his youth, I have much higher expectations for Nagelsmann’s ability to adapt to the players he has and get the most out of them then I did even with Hansi. As great as Hansi was, especially in setting up the attack, he often appeared to lack a plan B and was not particularly great at slotting in players who did not fit his system perfectly.
It’s going to be an interesting season. For me, I wouldn’t be shocked if they struggle a bit for the first month or two before really getting into their stride around November. This is going to be a much bigger transition in terms of how the team plays and I fully expect it to take some time for them to get used to it. The positive thing though is that the players should have finally had some time off to recuperate though injuries are still going to be a huge concern, as we’ve already seen. My biggest criticism at the moment regarding everything is that I think we are far too top heavy again this season. There are too many positions where if one player is missing, it is going to severely impact the quality of the team. Perhaps the young players and question marks will work out better than we could expect. I do think Nagelsmann will develop players well. But there are a lot of question marks out there and from my experience, more of those question marks will go bad rather than good.
I just couldn’t resist commenting on this statement regarding Goretzka and Coman:
“the role of a winger seems easier to replace than the role of a marauding box-to-box player”
Really!?! Seems like we’ve been trying to replace two wingers for at least 3-4yrs without huge success. Further, I think there are a multitude of box to box players who are at or near Goretzka level. I don’t think Sabitzer would be much of a drop off. That said, think you are on the mark with who stays and who goes.
Oh, and sooo happy to see you guys writing again! Always an excellent read.