Miasanrot Roundtable: Mailbag February 2019
The first question comes from @andiminga and @bnceo on twitter. “Could anyone have foreseen the decline of Boateng & Hummels? Is there any hope for the Bayern defense against Liverpool or do we have to try to out score them?”
Manuel: I think this is an interesting question. Sooner or later all players decline but the pace in which Bayern’s defence has declined over the last ten months is breathtaking. That in itself suggests that it might not be just down to the players but perhaps also to the style of football that is currently played, or has been played over the last few years.
The one thing that has stood out to me when watching Bayern from the TV or press box is that neither Carlos Ancelotti or Niko Kovac have completely moved away from the high defensive line that was practiced by Pep Guardiola. That sort of system works with Manuel Neuer in goal and against teams that don’t have fast counter-attacking players.
Up until 2017 there were only a handful teams that could expose Bayern defensively, but then came the 2017/18 season and a fundamental shift in football. All of a sudden clubs played quicker transition football and in reality Bayern already struggled last year but were lucky that only few teams exposed them, the weakness was there, and exploited by Eintracht Frankfurt, interestingly enough under Kovac, and Real Madrid as well as later by Mexico and South Korea at the World Cup.
To answer the final question. Is there any hope against Liverpool? We discussed this on the Futbolgrad Network Gegenpressing Podcast this week and yes there is, simply because Liverpool also play a high press with plenty of defensive errors. The question is will Bayern score enough goals to cover for defensive problems?
Maurice: I think the rapid decline of the once dreaded duo Boateng and Hummels was further accelerated by the lack of defensive stability under Kovac. While the Croatian is always keen to remind everyone that this aspect of the game is his main focus during practice, this emphasis hasn’t shown on the pitch.
Consequently both Hummels and Boateng have both been forced into a lot more one on one duels with opposing strikers. With Hummels the main concern this season seems to be his positioning. He has never been the fastest center back, but one could always rely on his superb feeling for the game. However, starting at the World Cup he has adopted a rather strange habit of trying to stop the opponents counter attack in just the wrong moment. This creates a huge space for the attacking striker to exploit.
I think that Boateng, due to injuries, has kind of lost his personal edge which has always been his speed. His statistics aren’t bad at all as he is second among center backs in the league in the percentage of tackles won with 71%. Furthermore, he sometimes seems to lose focus during the match, which leads to some blunders. One must also assume that his confidence has taken a knock as he dropped out of the regular starting line-up.
Dennis: As Manuel already mentioned, the decline is too rapid to be only based on two players getting older (and slower (and worse)). It’s rather the missing “safety net” that their aggressive interpretation as offensive minded centre-backs requires. Their best games have not been while parking the bus, but while attacking the opponent deep into their half, supported by a system that prevented counter-attacks or Manuel Neuer sweeping in behind them. Both factors have regressed since their awe-inspiring World Cup performances in 2014, due to a lacking focus during the tactical training and Neuer’s repeated involuntary absences.
At no point will Bayern be able to out score Liverpool in a wild west (or rather heavy metal) type of game. Yes, Liverpool has not unsimilar problems in their defensive set-up, but in contrast to Bayern their vertical (counter) attacking game is based on orchestrated movements and an impressive trust to find the teammate, especially among the three strikers. That’s something Bayern is definitely lacking and has been for a while now.
Marc: I have to agree with the general sentiments here. It would have been difficult to project this type of decline primarily because there are too many factors at play. Individually, you could maybe have predicted several of the issues. Both center backs have lost a step. For Boateng that’s a huge adjustment considering it’s always been a strength for him. For Hummels, who was never fast, his positioning and ability to recover seem to be the issue. Kovac’s system and the duo’s strengths also do not necessarily align.
The part that I don’t think many of us would have predicted, at least in addition to those issues, is the general lack of cohesion and structure between the midfield and the defense. The squad is seemingly having a difficult time adjusting to how Kovac is attempting to position them. There appears to be a lack of understanding when it comes to where players are supposed to be. This has at times caused issues in finding outlets in the build-up play and also providing cover when the defenders get forward. Especially when the more disciplined Thiago is not on the six, it usually seems like just a matter of time before someone is exposed. All of this coupled with uncharacteristically simple errors, has been a recipe for disaster.
Regarding Liverpool, it may come down to who makes the least amount of defensive mistakes. There is still hope that we can organize ourselves well enough over two matches to pull it out, but the players are going to have to work extra hard and be very smart about how they position themselves and the risks they take against such a potent attack.
Our second question is combination of questions from @TaiReza, @bnceo and @AlexTruica on twitter. “Transfer questions: If Javi Martinez were to leave in the summer, who would you like to see Bayern bring in to cover the 6? What are the chances of James returning? Will Renato Sanches be around next year? Should Bayern be in the market for a backup striker? Will Bayern extend Ribery?”
Manuel: I think there is a good chance that Javi Martínez will leave. The rumours linking Bayern with Adrien Rabiot suggest this much. I also think that Bayern will trigger James buy-on clause. Against Schalke he was Bayern’s best player and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge is a big fan of the Colombian. Also Bayern need James’ social media presence and Kovac seems to have finally figured out how to get the best out of him. I also think Renato Sanches will stay as there is no market for him and Bayern can’t afford the publicity damage of Sanches’ being labelled a failed transfer. Finally, Ribéry’s time at Bayern is up.
Maurice: With de Jong and Rabiot both of the market, it will be tough to find a replacement for defensive midfield. However, ever since the departure of Alonso, Bayern has lacked that deep-lying and playmaking midfielder who is also a capable defender. Thiago has been great in that role, but his best position seems to be one spot further up the pitch as a central midfielder.
Central midfield is a loaded position at Bayern already and will only get more competitive when Tolisso will return later this spring. During his absence Goretzka has made a name for himself, which in turn led to very little playing time for Sanches. I still assume though, that the Portuguese will stay in Munich. Throughout the first games he has shown flashes of his capabilities and maybe with a new coach coming in he might find a role for himself.
Dennis: I would not change that much from my answer to the squad turnover question in the last mailbag. With the additions of Davies, Pavard (and eventually Arp) many potential open spots have been filled. If possible, I would clone Kimmich and Thiago to use in multiple positions on the pitch, but that still seems to be impossible. Damn. Betting on a healthy Tolisso and a permanent signing of James (Hassan, don’t blow that one!!!) and the further positive development of GOALretzka, I don’t see that much pressure to act in central midfield. Additionally, Pavard and James would already carve out a large chunk of 77 million Euros from the treasure chest.
Regarding Sanches, I still would like to see him as a right full-back a couple of times. His athletic and dribbling abilities could come in handy, and his decision-making would not be in focus too much.
In short. Buen viaje y muchas gracias Javi. Hola James. Mais um ano Renato. Moin Moin Jann-Fiete. Au revoir et merci beaucoup Franck.
Marc: I’m between two minds on the six and a lot depends on who the coach is and what system Bayern will use going forward. My recklessly optimistic side looks at the plethora of box to box midfielders we have and thinks it would be great to see them play together in a system that is more direct and in which they can just wreak havoc on opposing team. My more pragmatic side thinks that we will still need a six and as of right now we don’t have a great option. Javi has been great but father time is undefeated and I’m not sure he is a great first option at this point in his career. Like Maurice, I think Thiago is best suited as an eight. That leaves a rather sizable hole in that position. I was certainly intrigued by both de Jong and Rabiot. Rabiot in particular seemed like an ideal solution. I think ultimately we may see a combination of Kimmich and Thiago on the six next season with Pavard coming in and able to play right back.
While I think they would be crazy not to trigger James’s release from Madrid, I’m not convinced they will. If Kovac is gone, it seems more likely they will than if he stays. I think it’s likely that Renato Sanches stays another year. A lot will depend on his market and other transfers that may take place in the midfield but he’s had some decent performances this year and could still improve. While Ribery has shown some flashes of still being able to play at this level, it is time for both the club and player to move on.
The irony of the club claiming they do not need a backup striker a year after bringing in Wagner because everyone both inside and outside of Bayern knew they need one should be lost on no one. I am sure that Sandro was not happy with the lack of playing time and I certainly wish him the best, but we are once again in a position where we could potentially go into an important Champions League match with either Thomas Müller or an injured Lewandowski at striker.
Our third question comes from @Sam54707607 and @bnceo on twitter. “Does Brazzo have what it takes to remain sporting director at Bayern? How much should we make of his performance and general failures in this winter’s transfer window”
Manuel: I think his position is very weak. His attempt to protect Robert Lewandowski from Didi Hamann’s comments are a great example. If anything he made the situation worse. On top of that his winter transfer policy to aggressively pursue talents in the media was the wrong move.
I have worked in Russia for many years and someone like Roman Abramovich, or Marina Granovskaia, who runs the club for him, could have never been persuaded with money when it came to Callum Hudson-Odoi. The no, in the end, became a matter of principle, a matter of principle that was fueled by Bayern’s public interest in the player.
Maurice: As we can not evaluate whatever is happening behind the scenes, we can only judge him on his public actions. And Brazzo has been extremely poor in this regard. Whether it was his public announcement of the Pavard signing, that seemingly still isn’t a done deal according the Stuttgart’s former sporting director, or his display of public interest in Callum Hudson-Odoi, which eventually caused the deal to fall apart as Chelsea was clearly aggravated by this behaviour.
If – and this is a big if – Bayern should move on from Kovac in the summer, it might be best to clear the deck and start over with a new coach and a new sporting director.
Dennis: Hot take: Rummenigge and Hoeness are forcing Salihamidzic to take the centre stage, to put him in a make-or-break situation. Either he is actually getting the desired results or the board will have an open list of failures to justify sacking him in the summer.
From the outside it’s hard to assess Salihamidzic’s internal work. The image he has painted of himself to the outside via his interviews lacks a certain kind of seniority and composure. One gets the impression of someone desperately trying to fill very big shoes and not really knowing how to tie them. In his defence one has do add, that his mentors from the Bayern board are also currently lacking the desired self-assurance of leading a multi-million Euro company.
Marc: I think for much of the public it has been hard to view Salihamidzic as anything more than Uli’s lackey/future fall guy. I for one am not really sure he was ever the guy and that it’s now a matter of the higher ups saving face in one way or another. While that is probably overly harsh, we have not really seen any evidence to prove otherwise. In a sense I also do not hold Brazzo responsible. Much like Kovac, I think if he had more time at smaller clubs where he could have both learned and honed his skills, he could have perhaps been a good future option. However, he was thrown into shark infested waters while bleeding and was predictably eaten alive.
Our fourth question comes from @AlexTruica on twitter. “What do you think Bayern’s chances are in the Champions League against Liverpool?”
Manuel: I have written in the past for the likes of Forbes and Futbolgrad Network that Bayern’s chances are not good. I will somewhat stick to that position but also want to point out that Liverpool also have made significant defensive mistakes in recent weeks. For Kovac this will be a similar situation to when he faced Bayern with Frankfurt. If he can get that sort of fighting attitude going in this Bayern side, then die Roten will have a chance against the Reds from Liverpool.
Maurice: The odds are stacked against Bayern seemingly as Klopp’s vaunted Gegenpressing and counter attacks have always been a nightmare for the Rekordmeister. Especially this season the team has struggled a lot against opponents pressuring high up the pitch because of weakened positioning across all positions. However, if I’ve learned anything from the past, it is to never count out the heart of a champion and no matter how poor Bayern’s performances have been this season, the team has always shown great effort and put up a fight. It remains to be seen, whether that will be enough though on the biggest of stages.
Dennis: The chances are dead even. I’m curious to what extent Kovac will try to park the bus against Liverpool. Especially considering the history of Klopp being the kryptonite for possession based teams (looking at you Pep Guardiola). So maybe Kovac will chose an extremely defensive set-up and try to give Liverpool as little chance to counter as possible and pray for that one cross by Kimmich that Lewandowski will put into the back of the net.
My last hope lies in the possibility of Liverpool prioritising the Premier League title this year and thus lacking a few decisive percentage points against Bayern in the Champions League. Yes, I’m reaching for any straw possible here.
Marc: I think the chances are a little better than people think. Liverpool has had their own struggles of late and are not looking like the dominant side they were when the draw was made. There’s also a good chance that both Lovern (injury) and van Dijk (suspension) will miss the first leg, which will certainly have an affect on their defense.
I’m personally of the opinion that the English sides are generally overrated, but we know Jurgen Klopp, and Liverpool have a better track record in Europe than the rest of the English teams. Anfield is a tough place to play and will be a real challenge for the players.
Like Dennis, I am expecting Kovac to try to play defensively, though I’m not sure what form that will take. It is clearly not our strength and I don’t honestly think that we can “park the bus” against a team like Liverpool with the personnelle we have. I’m hoping to see a more balanced approach that errors on the side of caution. You can accuse me of being biased, but I think Bayern’s odds are somewhere in the neighborhood of 40% to go through.
Our final question comes from @Sam54707607 on twitter. “Do you think Niko Kovac will stay at Bayern beyond this season, if they only win the Pokal? Who would be a good replacement if he were to leave?”
Manuel: I think Niko Kovac should stay no matter what. After all, it isn’t his fault that he arrived at the club while Bayern were in a major rebuild. Furthermore, I think that Kovac’s personality has grown significantly in recent weeks and that he has the ability to make players better when given a long-term chance.
Maurice: While Manuel’s point is very legit, I still hope that the board decides to move on from Kovac in the summer. During his stay he hasn’t shown that he has a bullet-proof concept and has shown major flaws in in-game coaching. As for the replacement we will have to wait and see who becomes available in the summer. The most important aspect should be that he has a well defined concept for the team.
Dennis: I cannot live with the outlook of FC Bayern turning into the German version of Manchester United under Mourinho: a super wealthy club that does not have the self-expectation to play dominant offensive football. And honestly I find it hard to imagine how an extended Kovac tenure at Säbener Straße will move the club in the right direction.
It’s not that I see him as the only “problem” or that he is doing “everything” wrong. It’s the positive development that I’m missing. The self-critical handling of mistakes and learning from them, e.g. the missing in-game coaching. Of course, every coach has his weaknesses, but when your proclaimed strengths (man management) do require a squad that is so small that rotation is hardly possible and you fail to integrate one of the potential pillars of the Bayern team for the next years (James), that aspect cannot be counted to your advantage.
With the looming changing of the guards at board level it is hard to see in Kovac and Salihamidzic the two current figures that I would gladly walk with into a red Bayern future. The aspiration of “Miasanmia” has to be bigger, honestly.
Considering potential replacements Bayern have blown their chances with seasoned candidates (Tuchel, Nagelsmann) last year. Since then Marco Rose (and Rene Maric) at RB Salzburg, Erik ten Hag (former Bayern youth coach and now at Ajax Amsterdam), and Tim Walter (former Bayern youth coach and now at Holstein Kiel in the second division) have entered the list of names that could rekindle that fire again.
Marc: In general I am not a fan of the coaching carousel but that is different when you hired the wrong man to begin with. As the others have stated, I am certainly not pinning this season entirely on Kovac. There are squad issues here that he inherited from the inaction of management. However, there are too many problems that are glaringly obvious to expect Kovac to succeed in Munich.
Bayern are unlikely to ever be a counter attacking team or have the players to facilitate that style of play. Kovac has shown all season that he is not an in game manager, something that is arguably more important than the ability to set up your team tactically pre-match. Along those lines, his use of substitutions is perhaps the most glaring issue. His substitutions, or even lack thereof at times, often leave me feeling as though I’m in some alternate universe where the goal is to fail rather than succeed. Worst of all, he has not shown the ability to adapt or improve in these areas. I think the only way to justify keeping him another season is if he shows marked improvement over the remainder of the season.
As far as replacements, I’m at a loss. I think they’ll have to wait to see who is available in the summer and make a decision then. As things stand there is not really an option that screams out. Many have mentioned Zidane because he’s a big name who’s unemployed, but I’m not convinced he’s the right choice for a squad in the midst of renovation. Hasenhuttl is the primary German option that comes to mind and that seems unlikely as well. Perhaps Dennis is on to something and Marco Rose could be in line. He’s certainly done well with Salzburg and his system is much more in line with how Bayern would like to approach the game.
Thank you to everyone who submitted questions this month. We will be back again next month for another roundtable so get your questions ready!