Robert and Niko Kovač seem very calm. Transfer rumors, the Coman injury, discussions about the superstars on the wings – there was quite a bit of unrest in Munich. During the shooting for Paulaner the brothers looked each other in the eye and smiled. As if they wanted to congratulate each other for their first weeks.
You have to be able to “always react to certain situations”, said Kovač during the last training camp of the preparation. Flexibility was one of the words the coach used most often to explain his plans. He had the squad for it and wanted, for example, that the team can quickly turn a back four into a back three.
Already against the TSG Hoffenheim it showed up in the initial phase of the game that Kovač is not a just a talker At the half time break the guests could consider themselves lucky that it was only 1:0 for the record champion. Intensity, willingness to run, discipline – the 46-year-old demands these values.
But especially in the first away match of the Bundesliga season, Kovač revealed that he can be much more than a “Quälix” who leads his players to the physical maximum. There were doubts that his time in Frankfurt was overestimated.
Even then he was known as a coach who reacted to match situations, changed the system and proved flexibility in strategic orientation. But would all that be enough for the big FC Bayern?
First signs by Kovač
The question is definitely too big to be answered after only four competitive games. Kovač just took the first step into everyday business in Munich. So far, he has not had to cope with many setbacks and there is no unrest in the team.
But that’s exactly what the coach deserves so much credit for, because in his first few weeks he radiates an incredible self-confidence. With his statements about Jérôme Boateng he put his bosses under constant pressure. A sale of the central defender would have been a slap in the face for the coach. In the end, he got the upper hand and Hoeneß told kicker: “We also wanted to do our coach, who absolutely wanted to keep this player, this favor.”
With his manner he seems not only to impress the bosses, but also to have the squad under control. He nipped in the bud the first small signs that Robben and Ribéry could cause trouble with their ambition. At the same time, however, he sent clear signals that the two stars had no privilege whatsoever to take up a permanent position. Already in the first game Robben sat on the bench, because Coman made the stronger impression.
James and Gnabry alone, who are back after injuries, now offer Kovač even more possibilities to rotate. He has already announced that he intends to take full advantage of all the possibilities his squad has to offer.
Against Stuttgart, Javi Martínez rotated to the bench for two obvious reasons. On the one hand, the Spaniard hadn’t been in top form lately, and on the other, the coach saw Goretzka as an option that could bring more punch against a team he expected to be very deep.
Kovač was right. His players have so far accepted these decisions precisely for this reason. It will be exciting when the coach makes the first wrong decisions. Then it will become clear how much his calm and charisma are worth. But it is in this area that his strengths lie. It is particularly important that he takes the time for each player to explain his decisions. And so it is to be hoped that Kovač is also in more difficult phases the correct man, in order to maintain the positive team dynamics.
More tools for the strategy again?
If you want to build a tree house, you need boards, nails and a hammer. If you’re talented enough, you’ll be able to handle it and create an end product that’s satisfactory. Carlo Ancelotti was a craftsman who succeeded for a while in formulating his instructions in such a way that the crew built a proper tree house.
Under Pep Guardiola, however, they were used to having a saw, other types of wood and nails as well as an oil for impregnation available in addition to the normal tools. With Ancelotti as construction manager, the tree house quickly came undone again, because on the one hand it could not withstand all circumstances and on the other hand it was not sufficiently cared for.
Heynckes glued it together again somehow, but in the end it didn’t look really nice either – just functional. Now comes Niko Kovač and he already indicated in Stuttgart that he will provide his players with more tools again.
In the first four games the counter-pressing of Bayern was good to outstanding. But also in longer phases without ball the team looked very stable. This is due to the fact that the positional play under the new coach has gradually improved so far. The pressure in the offensive is well structured and planned.
If Bayern do not see a situation in which they can win the ball, they drop into a higher midfield press. Everything looks trained and the coach’s handwriting is already visible. Already under Heynckes the pressing became more variable and better again, Kovač continues exactly there.
At first there were a few problems with the ball, which will return. With Ribéry and Robben a certain basic speed is missing, especially on the wings. It was particularly problematic that Ribéry could not win one of his 13 duels in Stuttgart.
He gets stuck, loses balls and opens spaces for his opponent. Especially when Bayern, as in Stuttgart, take a lot of risks in their positioning. In the first half, the eights were so high that they needed better protection.
Usually, Javi Martínez is responsible for defending this area with a width that is unique in world football. But Kovač chose Thiago because he is the better playmaker. Without Thiago it would hardly have been possible this evening to find the long way to the target players on the eight.
In any case, the focus in Bayern’s game continues to be on the half-spaces. Müller even moved to the Goretzka side a few times in order to overload it. But it is important that these processes are well thought out. The coach’s first ideas are already visible as to how the lack of speed can be absorbed by combinations.
Thiago’s advance after the initial pass was also an outstanding example of such processes. Thus the Spaniard offered himself directly behind the five offensive players in dangerous zones, and had the game in front of him after lay-off passes to him.
The problem with the security was solved by Kovač in the course of the game with his full-backs. When the situation was right, they secured it a bit inwards. Not only did the ball circulation work better, but the counter-pressing also gained pressure. Stuttgart could not free itself in any situation and stayed away from the goal of the guests with it.
Positive underlying mood
Despite all the justified euphoria, a small “but” must still be expressed. It was just Stuttgart who lacked the solutions and the necessary form completely. After the Coman injury against Hoffenheim, Bayern suffered a major setback in their own game. Only with the substitution of Goretzkas and the debatable decision of the video assistant referee did a little stability come back.
Niko Kovač nevertheless showed the first signs of his handwriting. Especially against Hoffenheim he brought his team back on track in a difficult situation by clever changes. His players are already praising him for the good preparation in video analyses and his match plans also varied in detail. Against Leverkusen and Schalke there will be two more challenges for the new Bayern coach.
Then they will come a bit closer to the question of whether FC Bayern can “always react to certain situations”. Kovač promises flexibility, which it could supply so far in the tactical range. Paired with his calmness and his great self-confidence this is positive for the next weeks, which the coach rightly rang in with a beer at the Paulaner-shootings – even if it was perhaps only alcohol-free.