The first question was a popular one on twitter coming from @SuedkurveTO, @bnceo and @mrrf1 regarding the youth. “Bayern has recently signed Lars Lukas Mai, Franck Evina, Adrian Fein, Oliver Batista Meier and Meritan Shabani to professional contracts, which of those players do you think has the best chance of making an impact on the first team? Is there another youth player you think could prove more successful?”
Jolle: I was most impressed by Batista Meier. The way he controlled the midfield, handled pressure with little shifts and turns and progressed the ball with vertical passes, was quite promising. Ironically, the best ballhandlers with most oversight play in central positions and thus have the least chance to actually get competitive minutes in the men’s team.
Maurice: Looking back to last season I think Lukas Mai left the best impression. The central defender got a couple of reps with the first team last year and showed his skill set. The former captain of the youth U-19 squad was more than stable in defense and displayed calmness going forward. Of course there is still a lot to do and unfortunately his injury will set him back quite a bit, but especially if Jerome Boateng leaves, Mai will get more minutes with the team this year.
Tobias H.: I think Batista Meier and Lukas Mai are the most promising players. Mai showed his qualities at the end of last season. He is physically strong, has a good passing technique and looks like he is the talent who is most Bundesliga ready. Batista Meier showed that he can develop into a regular starter for Bayern, however it will be hard for him to get any minutes this season considering the amount of players in midfield. That being said, Batista Meier showed promising signs with his behavior under pressure and his overall technical abilities.
Tobias G.: Apart from Batista Meier I really like Adrian Fein. He certainly has the quality to become a Bundesliga player. If that’ll be enough for Bayern’s first team is another question and won’t be decided within the next season. The past has clearly shown that it’s easier to make it into the squad as a left/right back.
Marc: For the coming season I think Mai is the player who could make an impact on the first team. He was impressive at the end of last season. His solid defensive play coupled with confident and comfortable ball distribution bodes well for him. Central defender is one of the thinnest areas on the team and most likely will require reinforcements at some point this year. Long term I’m torn between Batista Meier and Mai. I think Batista Meier may have the higher upside, but Mai is probably the safer bet. I’ll also give a quick shout to recent signing Alphonso Davies who has tons of raw ability.
Our second question comes from @originaldbb on twitter. “What are your expectations for Niko Kovac? Do you think he’ll have the fortitude to bench Robbery or will the front office (Uli) get in the way?”
Jolle: Kovac has a strong personality and is the most eloquent speaker I have ever seen on the job. Not only while talking to the media either as it also appears that he has good communication with the players. All of those reasons hint at his ability to handle the situation. The front office getting in the way when the pressure is on is always a realistic scenario, of course.
Maurice: We won’t see a revolution in Bayern’s style of play this season, but I expect Kovac to implement a few changes in several areas. For one thing I think Kovac, like Jupp Heynckes, is a good communicator, which is important for such a loaded squad. But it would do the Croatian an injustice to limit him to just this. Look out for small improvements playing counter-pressure against the ball. I would also love for him to teach Bayern’s young wingers those vigorous counter-attacks he used to run in Frankfurt.
Tobias H.: Kovac is not the type of coach who starts a revolution at a club. I personally hope that he can improve the team defensively, strengthen the fitness and brings in a few new ideas. Under Heynckes and Carlo Ancelotti the team wasn’t bad, however, they were not really flexible. They couldn’t adjust during a game. I hope that Kovac can add new characteristics to Bayern´s positional play. Maybe more vertical passing elements or different pressing schemes. Due to the fact that he was the choice of Uli Hoeneß he should have the power to bench Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery without getting into trouble.
Tobias G.: It’s THE advantage of Kovac that he’s a personal favourite of Uli Hoeneß. Because of that Kovac should have the necessary backing of the front office to bench even players like Robbery. I expect him to impose a less dominant, more “utility-based” approach on the Bayern team. The way he won the cup final against Bayern last season demonstrated that he knew how to exploit Bayerns vulnerability against counterattacks. Kovac will try to avoid getting a dose of his own medicine.
Marc: My expectations started very low at his announcement and have grown to be cautiously optimistic. It’s far too early to tell exactly what this team will look like under Kovac. We can’t even say for certain what general system he will prefer. However, all the signs this preseason have been positive. He appears to have brought an energy to the team and the players seem to be responding. That bodes well, although we all know how quickly things can change. His ability to deal with Robbery will likely be one of his first big tests as a manager for Bayern. Whether he can ultimately quiet that squeaky wheel will tell us a lot about his level of support from inside and his ability to handle pressure.
Our third question comes from @marwanbouraad14 on twitter. “If Kovac were to switch Bayern to a 3/5/2 who is more likely to occupy the wing positions? David Alaba and Joshua Kimmich or Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman?”
Jolle: Tough one. I’m trying to not weasel myself out of the question while pointing to a long season, possible injuries, different types of opposition and squad rotation. So let’s get real. Champions League quarter final against Real Madrid – as Bayern can handle Bundesliga opposition most of the time. Even though Alaba has proven to be an offensive weapon circling Ribery from the outset of the leftback postion, I think he is more critical for the team as the left halfback of the three at the back. Kimmich on the other side produces more in terms of goal contribution and has greater defensive shortcomings. Kimmich is my right wingback. Question is, if Coman finds his position drifting between wing, box and left half-space to really utilize on his pace. Ribery struggled with that more central position under Guardiola but seems to read the situations much better now late in his career. So my 3-5-2 could look something like this: Alaba Hummels Süle – Coman James Martínez Tolisso Kimmich – Lewandowski Müller.
Maurice: This totally depends on the situation. On a Saturday evening in Allianz-Arena versus a deep-lying opponent such as Hannover you can easily throw in Gnabry and Coman to overwhelm the other side. However, if we talk about the biggest stage, then the defensive approach has to be your choice. Too often in the past Bayern has struggled against top-notch opponents defensively, something that a back-three plus Kimmich and Alaba might very well counteract. I wouldn’t rule out a back-three with Alaba and Gnabry as a winger though either.
Tobias H.: I think if Kovac chooses the 3-5-2 he could probably go with an asymmetrical choice. So Kimmich on the right and Coman on the left side could be a useful choice. Especially, in the Bundesliga Bayern doesn´t need five defenders on the pitch. With Kimmich on the right side and Alaba as a left center-back, Bayern could quickly switch the system. Furthermore, the occupation of the left side wouldn’t be a problem if Coman moves higher because Alaba is physically capable of covering the left halfspace and the left wing. The defensive approach would make more sense against stronger opponents in the Champions League because you have an additional player at the back. With regards to Serge Gnabry, I think Kovac would use him as a second striker when he chooses a 3-5-2, Gnabry played that role last season at Hoffenheim and was quite successful.
Tobias G.: I think he’ll prefer the defensive approach whenever something is at stake, especially when playing abroad. Alaba on the left, Kimmich on the right and if it’s necessary, you can still replace either one or both with Gnabry, Coman or Robbery as substitutions. I have to admit, this is kind of a “Magathesque” strategy and I sincerely hope that I misjudge Kovac completely in this regard.
Marc: This is both simple and complex. I’m not sure we’ll see a 3/5/2 per say, though I would like to see them play with three at the back. As the others have said, in a big Champions League match against Europe’s elite, we will almost certainly see Kimmich and Alaba. In the Bundesliga we will probably see a combination of both. Alaba and Kimmich may both see time at left and right center back, respectively, over the course of the season if Kovac does play a back three. Kimmich is the more likely to stay wide however, as he provides another dimension offensively compared to Alaba. The one thing I am most convinced of with Kovac, is that Bayern will be more stable defensively. Whatever shape that takes, I expect this team to be much stronger in terms of pressing and counterattacks.
The fourth question comes from @alhamar_maryam on twitter. “Which player(s) do you think will have a breakout season? Which player(s) do you think may struggle this year?”
Jolle: I’m curious to see if Thomas Müller gets back on track. His World Cup performance was terrible. Being one of the top goal scorers with a certain carefree attitude seemed to be a crucial part of his identity and that fell apart in the last two years. His numbers with Bayern after Ancelotti were more than promising, but then that tournament happened. His willingness to dig himself back out of that hole is not in question – but will it work out in this season with a new staff already? I don’t know. As for the breakout – I am rooting for Sebastian Rudy. Good teams should get the best out of good players and with Rudy at Bayern that has not happened at all.
Maurice: I am all in for Gnabry. If he gets his playing time, and trust me he will with the injury record of Robbery, he is a weapon unlike anything Bayern has on their current squad. The young German international combines Coman-esque speed with deadly Robben-like finishes and will be a lot of fun for the supporters in Munich. As for a player struggling I can see Müller, who has just looked out of form. Despite that, I am going with Javi Martinez. The Spaniard has yet to prove that he can be as vital to the team in central defense as he was in defensive midfield. And let’s not even get started on his build-up play…
Tobias H.: If Kovac wants to master the replacement of Ribery and Robben he has to hope that Coman and Gnabry develop. Both showed promising signs last season. Coman for instance was the clear starter on the left wing until he got injured. I think Coman will continue his development. Compared to Ribery, he can use mismatches with his speed and quick body feints. Furthermore, his crosses are a dangerous threat for many teams. Still, he has to work on his goal scoring. If he can improve in that area he would be hard to stop.
Considering the fact that Kovac prefers a strong player in front of the centre-backs he will probably prefer Martinez. As a consequence Rudy will be the player who could struggle this season. Under Carlo Ancelotti, Rudy showed that he is capable of playing for Bayern. However, Heynckes and Kovac both used him as a high playing central midfielder. So, he had to play between the lines and only got touches in tight spaces. His strengths of balancing and controlling the possession phase of a team aren’t in demand in that position. Julian Nagelsmann and Joachim Löw both used Rudy in a deeper role where they were able to utilize his strengths. If Kovac does not want that type of player in a deeper position, Rudy won´t have an impact on the team and will struggle to get playing time.
Tobias G.: If Kovac is going to rely more on speed and vertical play, then this should be great news for Coman & Gnabry obviously, whereas Robben & Ribery could become very aware of their age and decreasing speed. I’m still in doubt that this strategy will really work in the Bundesliga, but since Coman & Gnabry are also more than useful when it comes to opponents parking the bus, they should do well nonetheless.
I’m confident that Müller will return to being his old self and I think he will be much needed as a link up player in the centre (not on the wings). I’m not convinced that Leon Goretzka is the kind of player Bayern was looking for in the midfield. He needs someone in the DM to even out his verticality, someone playing a true 6. Those in the squad who could do that lack creativity, the ones with enough creativity lack defensive stability. Since many have been comparing him to Sami Khedira, I’d say: He’ll need a Bastian Schweinsteiger, who has his back.
Marc: The player I look to have a big year is Gnabry. I think he could be in line to have a coming out party much the way Coman did last season. His versatility offensively, and his speed should allow him to get opportunities. Judging from the limited time he’s had in the preseason, I have been impressed with his work rate and overall play. Those things combined with a very good, powerful, shot make me very excited to see what he can do with Bayern.
The player I’m concerned about is a tougher question. There are a few players that I’m not quite certain how they’ll fit in. Rudy and Juan Bernat for instance may struggle to get any kind of playing time given how many expect Kovac to line up. The midfield in general could see a lot of players struggle as spots in the starting eleven will be difficult to come by. Goretzka, Rudy Renato Sanches and Corentin Tolisso may all find it difficult to get any regular time in front of Martinez, Thiago, Muller and James, baring injuries. It will be interesting to see how Kovac handles this situation.
The last question again comes from @alhamar_maryam on twitter. “What are your expectations and what do you hope to see from Bayern in the 2018/19 season?”
Jolle: I am not expecting much. The once so innovative front office seems to have lost its visionary zeal. Spending wisely could be the perfect Mia san Mia strategy to handle business, but the bosses’ tidbits on Özil and the appointment of Brazzo make me doubt even the footballing competence of those running the club. Their position on social media and gaming make no sense business wise either. What they add to the political conversation in our society is outright irresponsible.
As for the team, they will compete for the two national titles and can hope for the Champions League quarter final. My hope is, that this season will be used to give minutes and experience to the future generation instead of dragging team “Mid-Thirties” along. Let’s utilize Robben and Ribery as this huge treasure of experience and competitiveness who help and pressure the youth into professionalism. Let’s bring them onto the field as jokers when opponents’ legs are tired. But as for regular starters? I don’t even understand why we are still having this conversation. I thought having it was too late three years ago.
Maurice: I want Kovac to try different formations and give the young players like Coman, Gnabry and Sanches a fighting chance in order to ignite the fire that was missing at times last year. The Bundesliga title has to be considered a given and maybe, just maybe, a more defensive-minded and calculated approach, like Kovac used to play with Frankfurt, will prove to be just right in the big Champions League matches.
Tobias H.: I think Bayern won´t have such a dominant season as last year. Kovac will change some things which will need time. Furthermore, Dortmund, Schalke and Leverkusen all look stronger this season. I personally hope that the Bundesliga is more competitive this season because it would challenge Bayern and force them to play on a high level every week. I do not know if the team is strong enough to win the Champions League. However, similar to last year there is no clear favourite for the Champions League title due to the changes in Paris and Madrid. I hope to see a Bayern team which is more flexible but still wants to dominate the game. Although I am sceptical about Kovac, I am curious how he will develop the playing style of Bayern Munich.
Tobias G.: Bayern will finish the Bundesliga season with 70++ points. In 3 or 4 out of the last 5 seasons that would have been enough to secure the title. And unless Dortmund etc. have an outstanding season, it should be enough to win the championship again. However, I think the distance to the elite teams in Europe will grow. Maybe it will even become harder for them to win against Bayern in a knockout round due to a more cautious minded approach, but the days of Bayern dominating Barca, Real or the teams of the Premier League should be over for the foreseeable future.
What I hope to see is courage. Whether it’s about fielding a youth player instead of a star in important games or about playing for the win instead of parking the bus as an underdog in CL games.
Marc: My expectations in terms of trophies are similar to last seasons results. I would expect Bayern to win the Bundesliga title, reach the DFB Pokal final and make it to the Champions League quarter or semi-finals. In the cup competitions, so much comes down to luck (health, draws, form…etc) that I don’t consider not winning a trophy an unmitigated disaster. However, this squad should be good enough to at a minimum reach the quarterfinals. What happens from there, who knows? They will clearly be the favorites for the DFB Pokal, though last season proved how meaningless that can be. I also don’t see an overwhelming favorite in Europe this year for the Champions League, so I do think it is reasonable to assume Bayern have an outside chance.
More importantly however, I really would like to see the team develop. While I, like most supporters, enjoyed the play under Guardiola, I’m not convinced that Bayern is equipped to play in this fashion any longer. There is reason to believe that any team not under Guardiola is incapable of playing that style successfully. That being said, I would like to see Bayern become a little more flexible in their approach. It would be nice to see them play a little more comfortably when out of possession. Obviously, they are still going to have the ball the vast majority of the time, especially in the Bundesliga, but they shouldn’t have to sacrifice their defensive security to do so. Finding that balance will be key.
Links of the Week
World Cup Bayern-watch. Russia 2018, the final chapter | Rick Joshua | Red Ramblings
The Kovač era begins in Klagenfurt | Rick Joshua | Red Ramblings
A History of the Best Young Players at the World Cup Since 1990 | Billy Munday | These Football Times
A Statistical History of the World Cup’s Golden Boot Award | Karan Tejwani | These Football Times
The sensational stats of Bayern’s wonderkid in waiting | Martin Laurence | WhoScored?com
Bayern Dominate Possession with Wing Attack System | Adin Osman | Spielverlagerung
The Ringer Soccer Watchability Rankings | Zach Kram | The Ringer
Bayern vs. Paris: Strong 2nd half secures victory in test cup | Christopher | Marc
World Cup-Blog: What does the World Cup mean for Niko Kovac? | Justin | Sam
Hoeness Doesn’t Get it | Justin | Bettina & Sam
Scout Report: Alphonso Davies | Steffen | Sam
Bayern beat themselves against Juventus | Justin | Dennis
Bayern Women’s Season: A digest in numbers | Jolle | Bettina & Sam
Will Renato Sanches manage to break through this season? | Tobias | Sam
Deserved Bayern victory over Manchester United | Felix | Marc