Mailbag Roundtable: February 2020
Our first question comes from @MrMustermann99 on twitter: Would you purchase Coutinho? What players would you target next transfer window? Do you think we should have a bigger squad next season?
Katrin: I think a lot depends on how Coutinho will perform during the second half of the season. So far, his performances have been somewhat of an emotional rollercoaster, from “this man is an absolute genius!” to “what the hell is he doing now?!” If only he could show more of the former, I would obviously buy him in a heartbeat. At the moment, however, I don’t really see it, although I still hope that this will change over the next couple of months.
Which brings me to the next question: if we are still keen on getting Kai Havertz in the summer, as well as Leroy Sane, buying Coutinho on top of these two might result in a price tag that is too hefty. I think we have seen over the past two seasons that our squad could have used a few more players, especially with the many injuries we have suffered. Having said that, I would love to see one of our youth players rising through the ranks and making it into the first team permanently.
Daniel: I wouldn’t sign Coutinho. Not because he’s too expensive, I wouldn’t sign him because he’s not good enough. I have all but given up on him at this point. Granted if you’ve been a regular reader of this roundtable you might remember me being skeptical about Coutinho from the moment Bayern announced the deal and, well, to quote that popular internet meme: My expectations were low and I’m still disappointed. He had about three good games in December against the mighty Werder Bremen, Freiburg and Tottenham’s C-team and… that’s about it!
Since the winter break has ended he was terrible in all games but the Hoffenheim-match where him only having a few lapses was enough for me to praise him. That’s the state we are at with Coutinho. If Bayern’s option to buy were three times lower i.e. the equivalent of James’ 42m€, I’d still think that’d be too much money. And we’re not even talking about his through-the-roof wages! I never turn on a player of my team but I’m definitely at a point with Coutinho that I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be better to just cut your losses with him and give Zirkzee his minutes, different positions be damned. Sure, maybe now he’ll start to perform week in, week out for the rest of the season, but even then I’d wonder about all the time it took him to get there and would not pay above that James clause.
As for players to buy, it’s the elusive two as always: Havertz and Sané. I have followed Havertz’ career since his debut in the Bundesliga rather closely and honestly, I’d buy him for 150m€ if that’s what it takes to get him. That’s how good I think he is. Now sure, I’d much rather prefer not to pay in the triple digits but I’m very certain not signing Havertz would come back to haunt Bayern when he goes to another club and becomes unreachable for them. Don’t let his current season fool you, he alone is basically the reason Leverkusen got Champions League football in the first place this season.
Then of course there’s Sané. Bayern needs another winger. Sané’s contract is running out in 2021 and he’s not looking like signing another one at City. Bayern should sign Sané, it’s really that simple. On top of that, Bayern needs a new right-back. I don’t know if Ajax’s Dest is good enough, but a technically gifted, attacking-minded full-back, certainly is the right type of player Bayern should be looking for.
As for squad-size, I do think Bayern needs a bigger squad in general, but I’m wary of Bayern forcing it right now as they did in 2012 when they drastically increased the size of the squad by means of signing lots of players. Bayern built that fancy Campus for a lot of money and it seems, the group of players born around 2003 would be the first batch of talented kids who would try to break through at the same time. And you absolutely mustn’t block these kids with signing lots of different Perišićs and Rafinhas.
Alex: No, if I were Bayern, I would certainly not sign Coutinho on a permanent basis. The official release clause at Barcelona is €120m, but they would allegedly be willing to let him go for around €80m. Even that is still way too much for what Coutinho actually has brought to Bayern in my opinion. Although he has featured in every game so far this season, except the one against Gladbach in the league last autumn, he has hardly been any more than a marginal figure in Bayern’s game. After his arrival last summer, he adapted surprisingly quickly to life at Bayern and the Bundesliga. In his first few games, it seemed as if he could become the crucial linchpin in Bayern’s attacking midfield that everyone was hoping for on the basis of his passing skills and and strong shooting ability from distance.
Unfortunately, the initial spark he added did not last long and already towards the end of Kovač’s rein and even more so under Flick, he has increasingly become a fringe player. Along with his contribution to Bayern’s game, his game time successively diminished. By now, he mostly comes from the bench and when he does, he looks like a misfit who does not link up well with his teammates and too often tries to take on more than he can handle all by himself. In doing so, to me he rather hampers than facilitates a smooth and fluid attacking game at Bayern. All in all, I believe that his time at the club will come to an end this summer when his loan deal expires. I would fully endorse this decision not just for sporting reasons, but also because considering all the other high caliber transfer targets Bayern is alleged to have in their sights (Kai Havertz and Leroy Sané first and foremost), the supposed €80m Bayern would have to part with to secure Coutinho’s ongoing services would be much better invested elsewhere.
As for possible transfer targets, I think that Bayern’s squad on the whole is fairly competitive, even going by top-class European standards. To me, there is enough strength in depth in almost all positions, particularly in goal, defense, and attack. The one area where Bayern could potentially improve in my view is in midfield: Here I see upward potential by adding a second deep-lying playmaker to support or replace Thiago and Kimmich long-term, as well as a powerful offensive midfielder, who has sufficient passing skills to productively link up with the wingers and be able to release Lewandowski, and is also able to make late, effective runs into the penalty area.
Similarly, I also do not think that Bayern should increase the size of their squad, give or take a player. Whenever I am asked about this, I quote Uli Hoeneß who once said that he always preferred a squad that was slightly too small to one that was slightly too large, because having too many unhappy players on the bench who spoil the mood was much more problematic than occasionally being a man short. I agree with him. As I have said, I think that there is enough strength in depth in all positions and when push comes to shove, Bayern can still call up a player from their second team or make an emergency half-season loan like that of Alvaro Odriozola this season.
The second question comes from @me_unplugged20 on twitter: With more games under his belt, has your opinion on whether Flick should remain changed?
Katrin: No. When we just look at the results, it is obvious that the team performs much better under Flick than under Kovac. Of course, there is always room for improvement – especially the last two matches against Hoffenheim in the DFB Cup and against Leipzig in the Bundesliga have shown that Bayern have to work on their consistency. Both times, they had a great start into the game and were the clearly better and more dominant side, but then we quickly saw a drop in performance, and it looked like Flick didn’t have a Plan B (granted, with the many players who are still injured or not fully fit yet, it’s not really easy). But if he works on that and as a result, Bayern shows more consistent performances, I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t stay. Additionally, Flick seems to have a great connection with the players on a human level – something that is equally important, especially in a team with many top-level players where the competition is fierce and unpopular decisions are bound to create a bit of turmoil.
Daniel: I’m still decidedly undecided. Bayern has performances like in the first half against Hoffenheim when I’m ready to give Flick the contract at half-time but then we get three consecutive drops in the second half in a row and Flick once more worrying me with his lack of in-game coaching. That at least was better against Leipzig. I absolutely think Bayern should wait and see if he fixes the mystery of the second-half slumps and how he’ll deal with Chelsea.
Alex: Yes, it actually has. Not too long ago, I was still somewhat doubtful as to whether Flick would be a proper choice for head coach at Bayern long-term. I was particularly concerned about his lack of star power and that he was not the kind of radiant, auratic personality as I thought befitted a global brand like FC Bayern. However, I have come to change my mind. What has brought me around especially was a statement of his after the recent game against Schalke when he said that he liked how his team pressed high as a unit and defended from the front, and particularly pointed out that he liked how everyone took part in that without exception: “That’s what we want to see.” At that moment I realized that he has a clear idea of football that is comprehensible enough for every player to understand and carry out, and that he also enjoys a strong enough rapport with his players that they are actually willing to do so. So unless anything major happens in the coming weeks and months (e.g. a total fallout of Flick with his players or a prolonged losing streak), I am all for retaining Flick beyond the end of this season.
Our final question also comes from @me_unplugged20 on twitter: How should Bayern approach the Chelsea tie in the Champions League?
Katrin: Oh, the Chelsea trauma, even though it’s been years, that lost final in 2012 has sure left its scars. But let’s try to look ahead, shall we? Currently, Chelsea is fourth in the Premier League, and the Blues have had a patchy season so far. They have a relatively young squad, which could be both an advantage and disadvantage on the international stage: on one side, they have nothing to lose, on the other, they simply lack the Champions League experience that many Bayern players already have. Bayern will need a fully fit Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman for their pace (although in the case of Coman, that’s probably wishful thinking as the first leg might come too soon for him) and to support the attack from the wings – because the Blues’ defense has looked quite shaky at times. It’ll also be interesting to see who Flick will rely on in defense – with Lucas Hernandez back on track, the back line might get another shuffle. I’m cautiously optimistic that Bayern will progress if they are able to dominate the game; they must not lose focus and cannot be complacent.
Daniel: Go to London and go at them. But use your head and keep in mind that you still have a home game. Chelsea is inexperienced and Bayern should make use of that. If Chelsea chooses to attack Bayern from the start, Bayern must stay vigilant, knowing it’s perfectly fine to just score in the 70th minute and if their inexperience comes through with them getting nervous, use that time to attack and possibly win the tie then and there. Respect them but don’t be self-conscious. Games against Dortmund and the first-halfs against Leipzig show how good Bayern can be when they’re brimming with confidence, how opponents crumble at the sight of that. Chelsea is not Liverpool and won’t become Liverpool if you don’t allow them to be.
Alex: Just like any other competitive match: Go out. Play your best football. Win.
On a more serious note, though, Chelsea usually play in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation in which they like to press high, usually including their full-backs. They also allow their offensive players to interchange their positions fluidly all the time. The high press, unpredictability in positioning, and the unbridled desire, energy, and quickness of a very youthful offensive line is something of which Bayern must be constantly wary in defense. All it takes is one lapse of concentration, one ill-timed pick-up, one bungled challenge, and one or several of Abraham, Mount, Pulisic, or Hudson-Odoi supported by Willian and Azpilicueta on the wings and fueled with passes by Kante and Jorghinio in the center, are able to conjure up a threat on Bayern’s goal immediately. At the same time, Chelsea either by design or by mistake often fail to keep the space between their attacking unit and their two centre-backs compact. This means that if Bayern manage to win the ball in pressing when Chelsea is fully committed in attack, there is a void in the center of midfield through which they can comfortably execute their counter-attack, for example by one of Kimmich or Thiago advancing with the ball at their feet before e.g. playing a through ball to Lewandowski, or playing it out to the wide players lurking in the gaping holes on the wings left behind by the pushed-up full-backs. This should present close to ideal working conditions for such fast-paced players as Davies, Gnabry, and Coman on the wings, and passing machines like Thiago or Kimmich in the center.
Conversely, when Bayern have the ball and are on attack, they can capitalize on Chelsea’s young and relatively inexperienced defense, which is susceptible to leaking goals especially towards the end of a game when energy levels are down and tiredness sets in. If they manage to bypass or otherwise cancel out first-rate interceptor Kante in the center, Bayern’s aggressive attacking and gegenpressing game should be able to fashion them with enough chances to score at least one or maybe two vital away goals. And if they in fact were able to do this, I am more than confident that they will have no problems completing the job in the second leg in the Allianz Arena a few weeks later.