Mailbag: November 2020
@SoumitraPeshave: What is your take on the Alaba situation with the latest developments in the saga? For how long will it drag on? Could both parties have handled it better or could they have done things differently?
Katrin: Phew, this is very hard to answer. David Alaba has always been one of my all-time favorite players, and therefore it’s especially difficult to say something about this unfortunate situation without a) being slightly biased and b) being overly emotional. I will say this, however: I do think that both parties could and should have handled the contract negotiations differently – not so publicly, at least (and this also happened earlier this year with the contract extension of Manuel Neuer)! One party says this, the other says that, and for me, as a mere observer and fan, it’s hard to determine if A or B is lying. Frankly, I find it exhausting at this point. While I personally still hope that Alaba will stay, I’m afraid that he may have reached the point of no return.
I would also like to add one more thing: I understand that some fans are disappointed in Alaba and the antics of his agent, and if they would like to voice this disappointment on social media, of course they are welcome to do so. But criticism should always be constructive. The hate and online abuse against Alaba on social media in the last couple of weeks have been obnoxious. It’s easy to hide behind an anonymous Twitter handle and spew out hate-filled statements. But words matter. They always matter. It’d be great if we could take a step back and think about that before hitting the “send” or “post” button.
Alex: First off, I want to second what Katrin says in her second paragraph. Twitter is often a cesspool of bile and hatred, especially when other people are judged not to live up to one’s own (inflated) moral standards or don’t share one’s own worldview. I know that for many football players social media is an important avenue for promoting their brand and interacting with fans, but I can only hope that they don’t read all that’s written about them online all too carefully, especially in times of conflict. It could be depressing.
As for the question itself, I think that the Alaba transfer will remain an ongoing story at least until the coming spring, and be it only for the fact that the media will milk it for all it’s worth to fill their back pages and air time. By the end of December at the latest, first media outlets will start speculating if Alaba could leave already this winter and not stay till the summer (if they have not begun already), and such rumors will continue at least until the window closes in February.
I am pretty certain at this point in time that Alaba will indeed leave Bayern next year. However, I would be greatly surprised if that happened already as early as January 2021. Alaba would be stupid to not to sit out the remaining half year of his contract at Bayern and have a club pay a transfer fee for him in January. From his point of view, the fee for him would be dead money that he could at least partly negotiate as a sign-on fee for himself at his new club if he waits until his current contract expires.
Of course, looking back now, both parties will probably admit they could have handled the whole negotiation process differently over recent weeks and months. Not everything that has become public should have become public. Not every accusation that has been made should have been made. But sometimes one word leads to another and, before you know it, an originally benign argument escalates to the point where things seemingly become irreconcilable. Bayern and Alaba would be well advised to put everything that has happened behind them and see out the final months of their working relationship in a professional manner, if only so as not to give the press any more fodder for their stories.
@me_unplugged20: When Alphonso Davies comes back, would you play David Alaba or Lucas Hernández as our left center back?
Tim: This should be fairly straight forward considering Davies should, in theory, have a lock on the starting position. In my opinion, the most reliable back-line we could have would include Niklas Süle, Lucas Hernandez and Alphonso Davies. The defensive security that Hernandez seems to offer – the never-say-die mentality to being on the pitch and the swashbuckling desire to win tackles would almost be a complete upgrade on the way that Alaba has played the left centre-back role. But there is something intangible that Alaba offers the team. It’s the same thing that Thomas Müller offers even on his worst days. Leadership, determination, composure – call it what you want, Flick likes it. And that is why he has continued with him playing centrally with Lucas out wide. On paper it does not seem to make sense but in principle, there is obviously something. As for what that means for Davies, there was not a better left back in the world last season and when he is back from his injury, we would all hope he continues on the path that he was on. But that should not mean he instantly benches Hernandez who has put in some fantastic performances recently. I would be disappointed to see Alaba relegated to the bench before eventually leaving the club – especially considering the manner of which this appears to be happening – but from a purely football-focused view, I do not see him as the best option for any role in our defence. The solution, surely, is sensible rotation but that is on Flick to make happen.
Daniel: It’s simple math for me. The David Alaba of last season is better than the Lucas Hernández of this season but the Hernández of this season is considerably better than this season’s David Alaba. I do not rate Alaba’s current season at all, I think he was subpar in almost all matches we played. I even suspect that had Alphonso Davies gotten injured, Flick would have been forced to make the difficult decision to drop Alaba in key games. He nudged the media away from Alaba to focus on Davies having problems this season, but honestly in the limited time Davies played, I liked what I saw more than what Alaba has been offering this whole time.
Alaba really has to get his act together, nobody would pay anything close to the things he’s demanding for this version of David Alaba.
@me_unplugged20: Hansi Flick recently mentioned that Leroy Sané and Marc Roca, who joined the club in the summer, both need quite a lot of work and time to adapt. How would you rate this comment? Do we need to be concerned?
Marc: I think the obvious eye raiser here is Sané. For Roca it makes much more sense. He is not as familiar with the other players or Hansi Flick. Roca also plays a much more tactically demanding position in the midfield and therefore it makes complete sense to me that he would need some time to adjust and learn a new system. Sané however has some experience with both and not to minimize Sané’s role on the wing, but the transition time seems like it should certainly be less extensive than Roca’s. That being said, Sané certainly has not been at his best much this season. A big reason for that is the injury early on and then having to play his way back into shape while having very little time with the first team. Part of me wonders if Sané was thrown into this comment so as to distract from Marc Roca, but I’m sure there is certainly some truth in it as well. Personally, I’m not overly concerned. Roca has some time to learn without a ton of pressure, though that may have changed to a degree following Kimmich’s injury. Sané has less time to adjust, but I find it unlikely it will take him an extended period. Sané staying healthy and getting regular match time should set him on the right path much sooner than later.
Tim: Playing centrally and being the metronome in midfield, linking defence to attack and dictating play is a nuanced and challenging role which varies from club to club. For example, the way Fabinho plays for Liverpool is totally different to the way Busquets plays for Barcelona. Even in the same team, the way Goretzka plays as a central midfielder is vastly different to how Thiago interpreted that role. It requires more focus and intelligence that that of roles further up the pitch. In this regard, I can totally understand someone like Roca needing more time to adapt. Considering that Bayern were interested in him last transfer window as well as this one, I cannot see them giving him the same treatment as someone like Michaël Cuisance who arrived with seemingly no prior warnings and was never given opportunities on the pitch. It is still relatively early in what promises to be a long and frenetic season, not seeing him so far is not necessarily cause for concern.
As for Leroy Sané, the injury that he sustained at the start of last season took him out for nearly the full footballing calendar. Rushing him back and getting him to play 90 minutes every 3 days would be ill-advised and would only run the risk of the same injury happening again or even something worse. We are fortunate that we have great depth in Coman, Gnabry, Costa and also Thomas Müller, Bouna Sarr, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Alphonso Davies are all capable of filling in out wide if totally necessary. More so this year than in previous seasons, our attacking depth is the best it could be.
Speaking about signings: Which new player has stood out the most so far?
Katrin: Out of all the new signings this season, I was most excited about Leroy Sané – especially after the drama that unfolded in last year’s transfer period – and I still am. He obviously still needs more game practice to reach his full potential, but he often has an impact on the pitch when he comes off the bench, be it by scoring Robben-esque goals or providing assists. His brilliance shines through. I hope that in time, he’ll be the player we all know he can be. After all, that’s why Bayern wanted him in the first place.
Daniel: Everybody has been mocking Bouna Sarr but I’d go for him. As I have confessed in the podcast we’re doing (please listen to it!), I did not know a thing about Sarr. I never gave much attention to the right-back of Marseille so I just had to rely on outsider’s information and they really dampened my expectations. So seeing him actually burst to attack with courage, not hiding in behind and just playing sideways-football, was really exciting for me to watch. He’s not had much success with his attacking outbursts, but the way he’s playing, I’m optimistic that he’ll give us really standout moments.
After the injury to Josh Kimmich in the Dortmund match: How, if at all, can Bayern replace him?
Maurice: The injury to Kimmich is the one thing that just wasn’t allowed to happen. With Thiago gone and Roca not yet ready, Bayern doesn’t really have a backup plan for this injury. One outside of the box possibility would be to field Alaba in central midfield. While I don’t think he necessarily has all the skills needed for this position, he regularly plays it for the Austrian national team and has even filled the role for Bayern this season although only for fifteen minutes. This would enable Davies to get some more playing time and Roca to take his time in getting adjusted to the Bayern game. In the end I think that’s not the way Flick will go and Tim will probably talk some more about that, but special times – sometimes – call for special measures.
Tim: This will be what could cement Flick as one of the best managers in the world. As Kimmich has been such a consistent fixture for the team not just this year but more or less since he became a regular starter in 2017, not having him on the pitch will be unusual. But it is in moments like this that others players will be looking to step up. As the pairing of Goretzka and Kimmich looked to be Flick’s favourite, players such as Corentin Tolisso, Marc Roca and Javi Martinez were unlikely to get any reasonable time on the pitch. This is now their opportunity to showcase what they can do and make a play for the starting role. It is unlikely that Kimmich will be relegated to the bench when he returns as he is such an influence in the team – his absence was notable in the hour Bayern played without him, over 90 minutes is going to be the biggest challenge – but this is a chance that the other players should relish. The caveat of this means everyone in the team will up their game. It is a challenge that Bayern are perfectly positioned to overcome.
Lastly, we’ve seen Bayern destroy opponents in some matches and then struggle in closer games. Which of them is the team’s true face and what can Hansi Flick do to bring out the good side more often?
Alex: I believe that the all-conquering, all-battering Bayern are the true Bayern. I think with their aggressive high press and unrelenting hassling of the opponent in all areas of the pitch they play the currently objectively best system in world football and they also have one of the best, if not the best, squads in the world to do so. Consequently, whichever opponent they face right now, they should be able to knock them out of the park with goals to spare at any time. Their performances last season post shutdown including the tightly scheduled Champions League tournament in Lisbon proved that to me beyond doubt.
The main reason why they currently struggle in games at times is because they have started to believe their own propaganda. In my opinion, it’s purely a mental phenomenon. People everywhere in football can’t stop pointing out the packed calendar and how taxing it must be on the players having a game every three days, no winter break, no rest between Lisbon and the beginning of the new Bundesliga season – yada yada yada. Knowing a bit about how the mind works, it is clear to me that the players will not keep hearing this on a daily basis without it leaving a trace on their minds. They will start believing that they are tired or should play more economically to save energy even though they are still far from reaching the physical limits of their bodies. The mind is a tricky thing. If you believe you are tired, you suddenly feel tired and running the extra yard becomes that much harder.
On top of this general baseline of perceived tiredness comes the actual tiredness from the frequent traveling that the team has had to do in recent weeks. A game every three days is not a problem in my opinion, but playing on Saturday in the Bundesliga, then traveling to Moscow in midweek for a CL away game, then returning to Germany to play another Bundesliga game at the weekend before traveling to Salzburg a few days later for another CL game again, before returning home and playing in the league at the weekend again, will no doubt take a heavy toll on the mental freshness of the players. Considering both these aspects combined, some of the performances we have seen lately should not come as too much of a surprise.
Marc: Can both be true? We’ve discussed it in the pod some but I think we will see both of these sides at times. Bayern are not going to be able to play like they did last year. The schedule won’t allow it. So Flick is going to have to rotate. A lot! And that is going to cause some issues, both for the regulars and the substitutes. However, I think the world beaters are still in there as well. The real question is if they will be able to raise those levels when they need to. Hansi has to find that balance where it’s not so much “flipping a switch” like they tried to do with Ancellotti but more kicking it up to that next gear. They need to be able to coast in 3rd for matches like the ones against Lokomotiv, Koln and the first 80 minutes against Salzburg and then smoothly transition into 4th and 5th against teams like Dortmund, Leipzig and Atletico, for instance. So I guess, I still think they are the destroyer of worlds by nature but may have to tone it down a bit to make it through this season.