Miasanrot Roundtable: Mailbag October 2018

Another month brings the first “crisis” of the season. It has been a tumultuous four weeks for the reds going winless in four consecutive games prior to the international break capped off by controversial presser by Uli Honess and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.

Joining me to break down your questions this month are ESPN’s Mark Lovell and Miasanrot’s Maurice, Rick, and Dennis.

(Image: Christof Stache/AFP/Getty Images)

The first question is from @me_unplugged20 on twitter. “How much of the “mini crisis” do you think is down to Kovac? What do you think are the reasons for the crisis and what is required to get out of it?”

Maurice: Kovac took over Bayern at an uneasy time. Most of his key players missed at least part of the preparation and when they came back were unsatisfied because of their rather poor performances at the World Cup. It must have been a tough task for a young, rather unaccomplished coach to win over that locker room. Yet, it is something Kovac managed to do. What he failed to do was adapting to opponents changing their game plan on the fly and fixing some of the tactical problems that lay within that Bayern team, e.g. the distances and positioning in midfield.

Rick: The coach is always the first target in situations like this. Kovac may have coached the Croatian national team and Eintracht Frankfurt, but Bayern was always going to be a major step up. He has to be allowed to find his feet a little. For what it is worth, I believe that many of the “problems” between the players and the new coach are the products of media fiction. Yes, he has made mistakes. But injury problems have not helped.

Mark: Kovac was left in the lurch a little, taking over an ageing group and losing useful squad members like Arturo Vidal, Sebastian Rudy and Juan Bernat. Don’t forget Kovac started with 7 straight wins and was chasing Carlo Ancelotti’s record before things turned. As Ancelotti knows only too well, players get you the sack and sadly there’s no Jupp Heynckes to save the day this season. Furthermore, Bayern are still overly reliant on Robert Lewandowski’s goals, this is nothing new.

Dennis: Currently one can get the impression of a common development between Kovac’s first weeks in office and the team’s performances in the first phases of the games. Both start off pretty well and with good energy only to get out of rhythm for no apparent reason. One major area of improvement for Kovac will lie in a in-game management that can give his team a second positive push. If this impact from the sideline is missing, his days in Munich will continue to be criticised for a lack of development.

Marc: Certainly some of the blame lies at the feet of Kovac. The inconsistent play, lack of cohesion, fundamental mistakes and lack of in game adjustments are issues that Kovac has to figure out. While everything eventually comes down to the players, he has to inspire and demand enough respect from them in order for the team to get better. We are currently in, at least a “mini” version of, the scenario that many questioned how Kovac would handle when he was hired. It is obvious that Bayern is struggling both tactically and to find their form. Kovac’s ability to navigate these type of situations by adapting his tactics and improving areas of weakness will ultimately decide how successful the team and his tenure in Munich will be.

(Image: Sebastian Widmann/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Our second question comes from @harishb997 on twitter. “Should Bayern have started the transition from the older generation to the younger sooner? How can the coach find the perfect balance between the two generations, especially when both expect to play?”

Maurice: The transition of generations has been going on, but not at the pace the club might have needed. The task of keeping both parties satisfied will be a tough one for Kovac and can only be accomplished, if he has the support from the guys upstairs. Because only then the Croatian can make unpopular decisions like benching Ribery in big games, which – let’s face it – might be way overdue.

Rick: I think they’ve tried, but circumstances have not helped. At nearly every opportunity, the replacements have broken down or failed to fire. At some point, we were all ready to see Robben and Ribéry eased out by Kingsley Coman and Douglas Costa. One spent most of his time on the treatment table, while the other was not really a great fit for the team. The result was that the old order was restored. I think it is perfectly possible to find the perfect balance, but the old stagers need to be phased out in a constructive manner.

Mark: Kingsley Coman’s injury was a major blow so early in the season. That meant an extended run for Bayern’s longest-serving player Franck Ribery, close friend of Hoeness and always the first to run to Uli about the coach when things are not going well. It’s easy to forget Ribery last CL goal was in March 2015 and his best days are long behind him. Man-of-the match against Athens, Gnabry will only improve but needs to score more goals. While Arjen Robben has a little bit more left in the tank than his veteran teammate Ribery, both stalwarts though are one serious injury away from the end of their careers. Originally, I didn’t think Alphonso Davies would be given an immediate shot but judging by the YouTube links (same methods used as Hasan Salihamidzic) the classy Canadian looks like he could help Bayern in the short-term.

Dennis: Just as Maurice mentioned, the overall squad management has already started towards a transition. Injuries and lacking personal development have hindered the official changing of the guards. Nevertheless a stronger willingness to either give the young guns more minutes (at least in insignificant Bundesliga games) or to alter the overall strategy to focus less on the wings hasn’t gained enough momentum. Gnabry and Coman will have to step up their game (or regain their level) very quickly, to diminish the reliance on the aging Robbery.

Marc: I don’t think Bayern are as old as some people make them out to be. The obvious exception to that is on the wing where we are about two to three years past the time where we should be relying on Robben and Ribery, especially given the inexperience of Gnabry and the injury history of Coman. Bayern will need to either adjust away from a wing based system (as Dennis said) or purchase some reinforcements. I am doubtful that Davies will be able to have an immediate impact at this level which means it will probably be a difficult year out wide.

Central defense is the other area that looks like it will be an issue soon. Sule is both young and improving but Boateng and Hummels have both shown some regression so far this year. The only other alternative in the squad, Javi Martinez, has always been somewhat slow, isn’t any younger and is not a natural central defender. I’m hopeful, but not optimistic, the club will start to integrate Lars Lukas Mai and perhaps begin looking for other players around Europe to solidify the defense going forward.

(Image: Stuart Franklin/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Our third question comes from @M_Friedrichs on twitter. “How do you explain Friday’s press conference? Do you think it was an attempt to distract from Kovac and the players?”

Maurice: I think the main thought behind the presser was to set an example and prove that the club has the back of the coach and the players. Something that was recognized and pointed out by Kimmich for example. While this certainly was the intention, it turned into something else rather quickly. There are just too many instances were Hoeness and Rummenigge have contradicted themselves in the past and the members of the press were eager to point those instances out to them. It was at that moment that both chairmen failed to apologize for previous statements and show some self-reflection.

Rick: There was hyperbole. Rummenigge invoking the Grundgesetz, for example. There was contradiction, with Uli then laying into Juan Bernat. But the main intention in my view was to call out some elements of the media for promoting their own agenda, which is to whip up gossip and create FC Hollywood where it does not exist. Stories of player spats, disputes over post-match cycling sessions and so on. It may go against many informed opinions, but in spite of cringing a little I am still happy to stand beside Kalle and Uli.

Mark: It was definitely an attempt to take the heat off Kovac and a momentarily-misfiring team, yet it was ill-advised, embarrassing, pathetic, unbefitting a club of Bayern’s stature. Anybody wanting to go into comedy, should watch the news conference closely for tips. Instead of being a show of strength, it exposed Bayern’s current frailties and nervousness both on and off the pitch. Using “Abteilung Attacke” approach is nothing new but this might have been better timed after mighty Wolfsburg, AEK Athens (x2), Mainz and Rodlinghausen have all been disposed of. After six Bundesliga titles in succession, surely the hierarchy should have a thicker skin? After their struggles in recent seasons and with Hoeness and Rummenigge always ready to put the boot in on BVB; I expect Aki Watzke and co at Borussia Dortmund will have especially enjoyed the epic comic show. On the pitch, BVB have been empowered, taking strength from Bayern’s bizarre show of weakness with their two strongest performances of the season against Atleti and VFB following. Bayern’s game in Dortmund in two weeks time looms large.

Dennis: There is a German saying “Das Gegenteil von gut ist gut gemeint” (literally translated “The opposite of good is well-intentioned”) that summarises it neatly. The initial intention (support coach and team) and the main people attacked (Springer Press) did make sense, but somehow the show got out of hand. The contrast of blaming Bernat and requesting respect for the Bayern players from the media was the most poignant image. The bosses disserviced themselves.

Marc: As the others have said, I think the reasoning was multifold; shift the attention of the media, show support for Kovac and the players and address some issues they’ve had with certain journalists. The method they chose to achieve this however was truly bizarre. The whole press conference felt like a meme that culminated in Uli’s tirade on Bernat. Classically, he preceded this by admitting his choice of words when discussing Bellarabi and Ozil were poor, while in the same breath insulting them again. Regardless of the intentions, they presented themselves as petulant children who are not only crass but incapable of handling the current climate and criticism with the slightest amount of dignity. I expect more composure from the leaders of this club.

(Image: Sebastian Widmann/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Our fourth question comes from @kingston_elenwo on twitter. “Given the relatively thin player count at fullback, do you think Bayern should be in the market for someone to challenge Alaba and Kimmich or merely a backup for them this season?”

Maurice: I don’t think Bayern should or will invest in another fullback this season. There has been a poor track record for including players during a season, as they need quite some time to adapt to the new system. For next season, however, Bayern should definitely be on the lookout for an extra fullback.

Rick: I think it might be worthwhile looking at an option at left back, for two reasons. First, David Alaba is not as consistent as he used to be, and could do with a genuine challenger for the spot. Second, the Austrian has been prone to injury over the last couple of seasons. I do think an extra man is the answer, but a genuine challenger who can be used in a sensible squad rotation. We tried the “extra man” approach with Bernat, and that did not end well.

Mark: After the summer sales, the treasure chest is overflowing…reinforcements will definitely be on the way next summer. In their search for the next big thing, Bayern will be looking to be one step ahead of the PL elite, as they often were under Sammer / Reschke. You can expect Salihamidzic to have been ever so busy on Youtube, while head scout Laurent Busser (ex-Leverkusen) has obviously close links to the top French talent. Bayern very rarely buy during the winter break, Luis Gustavo from Hoffenheim was the last big purchase if I recall correctly during the last months of LVG’s tenure. Don’t forget (oh you have?) Marco Friedl is on loan at Werder Bremen and could return at some stage, while the likes of Chris Richards impressed at the ICC in the States. Who knows, maybe Kovac will switch Alphonso Davies to left-back (insert ironic smiley.)?

Dennis: Bayern is between a rock and a hard place here. When everyone knows your war chest is overflowing and you’re in need, every possible transfer discussion will be very unpleasant. This is especially problematic given the left full-back position is one of, if not the position with the smallest pool of talent worldwide (just ask Jogi Löw). Without someone like Michael Reschke and his global net of scouting expertise I think Bayern’s chances of finding a better replacement than Bernat are almost zero, which makes his departure even more bizarre.

Marc: There are very few scenarios in which I can imagine Bayern purchasing a full back in the winter. The integration issues, high prices and lack of availability seem insurmountable in the short term. Long term, I am of the opinion that a younger player that is capable of slotting in on both sides is probably the best option. What is really worrisome however, is that Rafinha’s contract is also up at the end of the season. What is an undesirably thin position could become even more alarming if they are unable or do not want to bring him back.

(Image: Christof Stache/AFP/Getty Images)

In 10 competitive matches since the start of the Bundesliga season, Bayern have allowed 10 goals and have managed just 3 shutouts. Who is primarily to blame for this dismal defensive record? Kovac, the back line or Manuel Neuer?

Maurice: It is tough to single out one particular player and blame him as this was certainly a team “effort”. The center backs, especially Boateng and Hummels, seem a step slower this year. Neuer has also been quite error-prone after returning from his injury. Furthermore the defensive stability has been off for quite some time now, especially on the left flank. This last area should be a major concern and therefore a big working point for Kovac.

Rick: I think we can look at Neuer for the Augsburg goal. Apart from that, it has been a mix of the backline and being susceptible to the fast break. Against Berlin, Boateng was at fault for both the penalty and living space open for the second goal. Against Gladbach, we were ripped apart. Even against Wolfsburg, Hummels was too slow and Kimmich was woefully out of position.

Mark: Despite the late gift to Augsburg which derailed Bayern’s 100% winning start, any talk of Neuer’s demise is very premature. Kimmich is devastatingly brilliant going forward, a fantastic crosser as well but is a very average defender when put under pressure. He could be better used in midfield (see Germany) but obviously due to the naive squad-planning Bayern are massively short of manpower in defence, especially when the inevitable injuries strike. Boateng and Hummels’ bodies seem to be increasingly creaky with age, both will need to step up their game to shake off the challenge of the reliable new rock at the back Sule.

Dennis: Bayern continue to look weak in the moment of defensive transition. This has been an issue for a couple of seasons. Either by Guardiola’s positional play and his Gegenpressing or by the world class performances of Boateng and Hummels, these issue were mostly under control. Currently the dip in form by the two centre backs in combination with the “open midfield” (created by the high positioning of the eights) is unable to close down the opponents. It’s on Kovac to alter Bayern’s play accordingly.

Marc: It would be very unfair to put Bayern’s defensive woes on any one party. There have been a lot of mistakes in the build up play that have led to simple counter attacks for the opposition. All of the defenders and several of the midfielders have been prone to errors when put under pressure so far this season. This is something that should be correctable by Kovac and his team in practice. The midfield is culpable here as well. They have largely done a poor job of moving off the ball and making themselves available when the defenders are put under pressure.

Personally, I’m of the opinion that the criticisms of Neuer are way overblown. The one goal people legitimately point to is the one allowed against Augsburg, which to me was an aberration where his own player undercut him in his attempt to gather the ball. The bottom line is that Kovac has to work with the players on ball security and improve movement off the ball to create triangles and situations where they won’t make so many mistakes. If they can do that while more effectively pressing the opposition, they will improve defensively
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