Mailbag Roundtable: Mailbag September 2019

Marc Separator September 10, 2019
Image: Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

Question 1

The first question comes from @dieBayernDerFCB on twitter: What are your early thoughts on the Coutinho move being made permanent factoring in the cost and his level of play prior to his move to Barcelona?

Alex: First off, his Bayern move has not yet been made permanent. He has joined the club on loan and Bayern have an option to buy him for €120 million next summer. Regarding his quality as a player, I am quite pleased with his move. He offers an element to Bayern’s offence that it lacked before. He is neither a classical winger nor a genuine number eight nor a straight-out forward. He is best used as a central playmaker behind the front row of attack. This position allows him to make best use of his technical skills in one-on-one duels, his ability to play the lethal pass in behind the defensive line, and his considerable ability at shooting from distance. In recent years, Bayern has not had a player quite like him, a genuine playmaker with a broad range of impressive skills – including James. I think the +/- €20 million loan fee including his salary is money well spent and certainly worth the risk of him not working out at Bayern. If, however, he should be able to settle in at the club and thrive as a player (as we all hope he will), his €120 million transfer fee next summer is certainly a very steep price but probably a commensurate amount for his qualities in the current transfer climate.

Justin: I think that the loan deal is a very smart move from Bayern. With Sané they tried to get a big name for the wings but we all know what happened. Also there is Havertz who is of course a big topic in Munich. To get Havertz this summer Bayern would have had to put at least 100 Million Euros more on the table. According to Uli Hoeneß the budget for new players was around 200 Million Euros. If you count revenue and expenditure together, Bayern has paid around about 90 Million Euros. The gap would’ve been filled by Sané. After James left the club Bayern needed a creative player for central midfield. The loan of Coutinho makes sense in both ways: you have a great midfielder, who can play multiple offensive positions and you have an alternative, if something with Havertz is not working. Also I would disagree with Alex that Coutinho’s best position is the central playmaker role. Of course he is really good at it, but he’s also a very strong connector in the half spaces. I really don’t care if he is playing the traditional number 10 position or as a number 8 in the left half space. All in all he’s a great deal for Bayern and can add many qualities, which were already described by Alex. Maybe I would add that he’s an exceptional team player, someone that is very good for Lewandowski. The polish striker needs players around him, who can connect him to the team. Müller can be someone like that, but Coutinho brings even more qualities into the squad: passing, positioning between the lines and great vision on the pitch for example. Lewandowski will profit from that. But still we don’t know if Bayern will sign him permanently. Havertz is the priority. If he somehow doesn’t come to Munich, they will think more about Coutinho. And even then it could be Bayern won’t pay the 120 Million Euros and instead try to negotiate a better deal with Barça.

Daniel: I’m highly sceptical of Philippe Coutinho as a player. Before any rumours around his transfer emerged I had privately mused that he’s probably the world’s most overpaid and possibly overrated player. A quality player that should’ve cost Barcelona even in the midst of swimming in Neymar-money little more than half of what he actually did. Now even after a lackluster to disastrous spell at Barcelona Bayern’s option to buy is still a whopping 120 Million Euros. Preposterous in my eyes.

Naturally, I’ve put my grievances with him aside and hope for the best outcome. Having watched him extensively at Liverpool, Barcelona and Brazil, my impression is that he should be a world-beating offensive powerhouse not far off a Kevin De Bruyne but is simply lacking in his decision-making. He has excellent dribbling skills that might actually be the world’s best compared to others in his position, quality passing skills and has a fantastic shot. Yet his decision-making is all too often absurdly lacking. He will beat the defender, open up the field for multiple passing options yet try to go the extra mile and curl it in the upper corner himself. Naturally, if he succeeds, that’ll land him on any goal-of-the-week highlights reel. But for every time he does succeed, there’ll be a dozen times when he should’ve just played the ball to Lewandowski or Coman.

A frustrating player that in my opinion will need to produce an earth-shattering season for Bayern to even consider paying his clause since they will be back for Sané and try everything to get Havertz. And while many people don’t seem to quite understand just how much money Bayern has, I don’t see them getting all three.

Rick: Let’s forget about the permanent thing for now. That discussion will take place at the end of the season once we have been able to make a balanced assessment. I think the loan agreement is a very nice situation for Bayern to be in, as the club can “try before they buy”.

Like everybody else, I am hoping that Coutinho finds his niche at Bayern, knuckles down, and shows what he is capable of on the pitch. So far everything seems to be ticking along, but my enthusiasm will start to wane should there be any signs of his using his reputation to make waves and turn into a potential FC Hollywood cast member. This was the problem with James, who like Coutinho had arrived on loan from a major continental rival.

Both on paper and on past results, Coutinho offers a lot more than James. He can slot into almost any attacking role seamlessly, and is the first genuine playmaker we have had in Munich for a good while. He is a player who could genuinely spark something big. If the loan deal proves to be a success, the 120 million Euros option to buy will be something of a bargain.

The upside is that if the Brazilian turns into another James, we will be able to cut our losses without too much of a debate or ceremony. A simple case of “as you were”.

Marc: There’s not much else to say here. One thing I think has been overlooked when discussing Coutinho since he left Liverpool is that he was really a man without a position at Barcelona. That transfer never made sense to me and this is more or less the result I expected from the start. Whether he can find his place in Bayern’s squad is yet to be seen but it certainly seems more likely to me here than at Barca. 

On the other hand, the only way I see his loan being made permanent is if he becomes one of the best players in the world this season. It’s a hefty price tag and I find that scenario to be very unlikely under Kovac. He obviously has a ton of talent, whether he’ll be utilized to the best of his ability remains to be seen. Sane and Havertz seem like the more likely signings next season.

Image: Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images

Question 2

Our second question comes from @andiminga on twitter: With Renato Sanches leaving, how does he rank, in your opinion, on the bad investment scale? Compared with Bayern’s previous signings.

Justin: I don’t think that Renato Sanches was a really, really bad deal. It can happen to every player that he doesn’t fit into the squad. And it can happen to every club that you pay too much money for someone who is not able to adapt to the coaches ideas. For me Sanches still is a great talent. I hope he’ll show that soon. In Munich the problem was very complex. On the one hand there was at first a hard first year. He wasn’t ready. When he came back for his second attempt, Niko Kovač gave him a real chance. He had good games like the one against his home club Benfica. But he also had bad moments. At Bayern young players don’t have the time to make that many mistakes. That’s why Kovač sorted him out after the crisis in autumn 2018. I was a little bit disappointed that this was the last turning point for Sanches. I think he has shown some good approaches – especially this pre-season. But the coach decided that he’s the weakest one out of three nearly similar players: Goretzka, Tolisso, Sanches. In terms of squad planning it was the right decision to sort him out. But my heart still says: Sanches can be a great player. Is he a bad investment? Maybe you can say so. I won’t because this is the way Bayern has to go in future. They have to sign young players early. Even if they cost 40 Million Euros. The risk is not as high as it sounds and you have a real chance to get great players who can evolve like Kimmich (8 Million Euros) or Süle (20 Million Euros) for little money – in proportion to the numbers they write every year. Sounds crazy, but it’s the truth in this crazy market.

Alex: With the benefit of hindsight you would have to say that, alas, Renato Sanches probably ranks rather highly on the bad investment scale. But that is the nature of the game. Players are human beings, not machines with a certain set of specifications they either realize or not. A player needs to feel well in his environment at the club, harmonize with the coach and his teammates and generally feel at home where he is. When Bayern signed him in 2016, Sanches was the acclaimed bright, young, up-and-coming star of a Portuguese national team who had just won the Euros. He looked like the real deal as a powerful, marauding end-to-end midfielder who could penetrate enemy lines with ease. He came for 35 million Euros, a fee that seemed more than reasonable for a player of his promise. If you are critically inclined, you could say Bayern was naive in signing a very young player from a foreign country with no knowledge of the German language and culture. But if you mean well, you would say Bayern took only a small chance in singing somebody who had already shown his metal in style, given their record of making players feel at home at the club and in Munich. It did not work out for them or for him, and I would ultimately rate Sanches a failed signing – but only knowing what I know now, I would not have thought so at the time.

Daniel: It’s a question of how much money Bayern has actually spent on Sanches. Because as you might recall, the transfer fee wasn’t just 35 million Euros, it was up to 80 million Euros. Now some of it naturally was bound to criteria Sanches didn’t fulfill. He didn’t win any Ballon d’Ors or got into anywhere near a FIFPro World XI. Yet if these clauses were tied to number of appearances, it could’ve easily climbed to anywhere around the 50 million Euros mark.

Now, if we just take the 35 million Euros at face value, it’s not too bad. Bayern paid 35 million Euros and got 20 million Euros back for a player that at least performed admirably in some games of last season. It’s a loss, sure, but you just have to take risks. Serge Gnabry cost them around 10 million Euros and if they were to sell him now, they’d easily get 6 times of that. Süle was somewhat a gamble and is succeeding here. And Kimmich’s success is honestly something for the movies. 

The more disappointing thing with young Renato isn’t the fact that he failed it’s how he did. It just seems so avoidable.

First season, sure that was a disaster. Then they don’t give him to a Bundesliga club, but loan him out to Wales in the middle of nowhere and even are so foolish to not implement a call-back clause so Sanches could never get the same medicine Doctor Heynckes so graciously gave his favourite patient Kingsley Coman.

Then he comes back and is miraculously in such good spirits that he helps win the team a few games (not just the Benfica game!) but still gets dropped like a hot potato when Kovač decides to abandon rotating players at all.

And the final act of this sad drama took place this summer: Other than Thiago, Sanches was easily the best midfielder in pre-season yet as soon as the competitive matches started, Kovač insisted playing and often times not even subbing out Tolisso despite him not playing well at all.
Sanches’ failure is fact but it just seems so avoidable.

Rick: I’ll be brutally honest here. When Bayern signed Renato Sanches, I never harboured dreams of signing a world-beater. I saw a young player with plenty of potential, whose price had been bumped up with a major post-tournament premium. In today’s bloated market, the 35 million Euros price tag was arguably on the steep side for a teenager, but not massively outrageous. It didn’t quite work out for either the club or the player, but from a financial perspective it was not the worst investment of all time.

What Bayern paid for was the potential and the promise, and while there was the occasional spark there was no sign of it ever becoming a consistent thing. A lot of people had based their judgement on a couple of bustling runs at Euro 2016, but the reality was a player who was unable to force himself into the reckoning in Munich. For every moment of brilliance, there were two fluffed passes or a frustratingly blind run straight into an opponent.

Renato Sanches left on a bit of a cloud, complaining that he had not been given a chance. The reality does not reflect this. He was given plenty of opportunities, but failed to grasp them. 

Marc: Once again there’s not a ton to add to the discussion. For me, while it is obviously not a successful transfer, I wouldn’t say it is one of the worst either. The total cost of the transfer net out to a 10 million Euro loss, which isn’t great, but is not a huge sum to pay in today’s game given the market and the potential that is still obviously there. In a lot of respects, I feel as though everything went against Renato in his time at Bayern. Ancelotti never gave him a chance and was not the right coach to develop him. Swansea sign him on loan, he gets hurt, they bring in a new coach and he never gets an opportunity. Kovac had a lot of high priced signings that are more developed so he never really got a chance under him as well. I’ll go out on a limb and predict that he’ll be one of the 10 best midfielders in the world within 3 years if he stays healthy. His attitude has improved dramatically, and if he gets a combination of game time and a good coach, he has all the potential in the world. I sincerely wish him the best and hope he has a special career.

Image: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images for Paulaner

Question 3

Our third question comes from @Sam54707607 on twitter: Is the squad both deep and good enough to win the Champions League?

Alex: It is. I have a rather principled view on the issue of squad depth and Europe. Within limits – and Bayern is well within these – almost no squad is either too small or too large to win a European tournament in my opinion. In contrast to a season long league competition, there are not enough games, especially interrelated games, in a Europa League or Champions League tournament to make squad size really count as a key factor affecting your chances of winning the title. For me, over a 90 minute leg or 180 minute tie, factors relating to a particular fixture such as current league form, injury situation, weather, stadium atmosphere, and so on will have a much greater bearing on the outcome than overall squad size.

As for Bayern’s squad composition and quality, here too I believe that now, after the signings of Perišić and Coutinho, on paper the team is sufficiently equipped on every position to enable them to win the Champions League title. The last remaining critical positions where they were understaffed were the two wing positions. In Perišić they now have a capable backup for Coman and Gnabry, and if worse comes to worst, they can still switch their formation to one without dedicated wingers now that they have a genuine playmaker in Couthino. In all other areas of offense and defense, they are manned strongly enough, at least in my view, to face up to quality international competition. 

The key issue I have with respect to Bayern’s quality is not their squad strength and depth but the team’s ability to survive a match without committing at least one crippling blunder in defense. But that is another question…

Justin: You can not plan the Champions League. Too many things can happen: injuries, bad performances of the referees, also bad performances of decisive players in your squad and even the match luck. If you ask me, if the squad could win the Champions League with the right circumstances, I would say yes! I think that the balance within the squad is better than last year. You have young and hungry players on the one hand and experienced players on the other. The ones who already won the Champions League as decisive players are decimated to Neuer, Boateng, Alaba, Müller and Martínez. Only Neuer and Alaba are undisputed starters. This is good. Even if we love Robbery, Boateng or Martínez, it was time for a change. I also like the balance of the squad in sporting terms. As I already said, the imbalance with Tolisso, Goretzka and Sanches was solved. With Coutinho you may have a better fitting playmaker than James, Coman and Gnabry are ready to take their next steps after Robbery are gone. Some weaknesses in the squad are that Bayern is missing a second deep-lying playmaker. If Thiago is injured you’re chances of success will evaporate very fast. Also the Perišić deal is still questionable. He’s experienced and can add some good qualities to the squad, but he’s not good enough to replace Coman or Gnabry in a Champions League knock-out match. With the unlucky Sané story Bayern were under massive pressure. The Croatian is a compromise and so are Coutinho and Müller if they play on the wings. That could be a problem but I understand why Bayern went all in with Sané. Also every squad in Europe has its weaknesses. However Bayern still has great qualities. My biggest doubt is that they can bring it on the pitch. I’m skeptical about Niko Kovač and his ability to make that ultimate difference when it comes to tactical matters. But as Alex said: that is another question…

Daniel: Gee, it’s the Champions League, everything’s possible! Gnabry and Coman could be at peak fitness for the entire Rückrunde, Thiago could have one of his rare injury-free seasons and still perform as consistently as he’s done for years now and Bayern could just play teams like Beşiktaş or Sevilla instead of Liverpool and Real Madrid.

You see, everything’s possible but how likely is it? For years Coman was sidelined for months in various crucial moments. Gnabry has been having injury problems his entire career now.

It’s the reason why signing another player like Sané was so important: If two of your starting wingers get injured that’s just tough luck but if you’re getting into hot water because a single one of your injury prone wingers can’t play, then that’s on you.

Perišić is the perfect joker to bring on when you’re trailing in a big game but as the lone back-up to two injury prone wingers?

And that brings me to the most annoying part of Bayern’s squad planning for years: The bench! How many games are being decided simply because teams just have more fire-power on the bench? I’m thinking about 2012/13 when Bayern could bring on Robben, Shaqiri, Gómez or Pizarro. Or 2015/16 when even with injuries entire ties were decided because the couch could bring on Thiago and Coman.

Right now Bayern’s bench really only has any fire-power when everybody is in peak condition. Then you can bring on Perišić, Müller/Coutinho or Tolisso/Goretzka. Games aren’t played with 11 but with 14 players and I’m already flashbacking to Heynckes being forced to bring on Javi Martínez on left wing because he simply didn’t have anybody else.

Rick: For all of the shenanigans that took place over the course of the summer, I do believe that Bayern now have a well-balanced squad that is more than capable of winning the big-eared trophy. By hook or by crook, they managed to get there in the end, despite all of the drama surrounding the failed signing of Leroy Sané. The conduct of the club was laughable at times, but everybody will forget this if we end up with a sixth Champions League title at the end of the season.

The Coutinho loan deal could turn into an inspired piece of business, and the signing of Ivan Perišić was both solid and sensible. The potential weakness on the flanks – and the hole that might have been left following the non-signing of Sané has been filled, and the offensive unit is pretty well set with plenty of available options.

Where Bayern’s problems will come – particularly against more testing opposition – will be in defence. I am yet to be wholly convinced by Benjamin Pavard, and for all his continued improvement Niklas Süle is still more than prone to the occasional gaffe. It is hard to say if the departure of Mats Hummels could have been avoided, but it leaves the defensive unit in a pretty concerning place, particularly with Jérôme Boateng being well past his best.  

Marc: In short, yes they have enough talent to win the Champions league. That being said, it’s unlikely. So much in the Champions League depends on luck. I think others have more or less listed those factors but the truth is, the best team in Europe does not always win the Champions League. Bayern have a squad that is capable of competing with the biggest sides in Europe if they stay healthy and have some luck.

That being said, I still find reason to be concerned. The biggest failure of this transfer season is the lack of an additional six. While Thiago has become an excellent option there, it is not his natural position leaving Javi as the only true six by trade. As Justin said, we are one Thiago injury away from having a crisis on our hands.

In reality, the six is not the only issue in terms of depth either. I believe we are too reliant on players whose primary position is somewhere other than the position they are covering. If we have injuries to two or three players, it could have a significant domino effect on the rest of the squad. I think this squad is missing a player like Rafinha, a reliable winger and another legitimate six. Then again, it’s hard to get that balance right as everyone wants playing time and there’s only so much available.

Image: Alexandra Beier/Bongarts/Getty Images

Question 4

It was a dramatic transfer window to say the least. While it’s still too early to give it an accurate assessment, what are your overall impressions? Where did they fail? Where were they successful? 

Justin: Like I said, Bayern were successful in creating a well balanced squad. They were also close to signing a big player like Sané which would have made the offensive part of the squad perfect. After the injury of Sané Bayern reacted well, but not extremely well. I have also talked about the weaknesses of the squad. With Roca Bayern could’ve added a great deep-lying playmaker. I understand that 40 Million Euros is a lot of money, but if you meet his agents in Paris and are in advanced talks, I can’t understand why you suddenly get worries about the defensive qualities of the player. This makes no sense to me. Bayern needs someone like him in addition to Thiago. Especially after the transfer of Renato Sanches there was a big opportunity to get Roca or at least someone who can bring some great qualities to the build up. I would like to see Thiago as a number 8 and if Kimmich is playing his position on the 6, Bayern has only Pavard left for the right back position. In summary Bayern did a good job, but they missed some opportunities.

Alex: I cannot say a lot about this because I have to rely on the little I have read and heard in the media. According to a number of reports, Bayern has often been late and rather non-committal in their efforts to sign new players throughout the transfer period. This issue has been brought up in relation to Hakim Ziyech, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Nicolas Pepe – and of course Leroy Sané. In the reverse direction, they let go of Mats Hummels rather quickly, which superficially looks like an ill-advised decision.

Based on this evidence, one would be justified in casting a damning verdict on Bayern’s transfer efforts. Their way of conducting and seeing through transfer negotiations appears fairly unprofessional. But if you disregard the process and merely look at the results, you would have to admit that things could have turned out far worse. Hummels allegedly was unhappy with his game time prospects for the new season and he has often been rumoured to be dressing room poison when he is unhappy. Add to that an oversupply of ambitious defenders in Bayern’s squad, and the decision to let him go does not look quite so stupid. Perišić was the much needed backup for the wing positions, the one area where Bayern’s squad was arguably the thinnest, and Coutinho is not just a proper international star but also adds a new dimension to Bayern’s offensive game.

All told, I am fairly sanguine about Bayern’s transfer window results even though they have followed a seemingly broken process. I think that they have assembled a squad that stands them in good stead for the new season.

Daniel: There are two sides to this story: The actual transfers and how Bayern seemingly acting during the window. For the latter, Bayern’s movements seemed clumsy to put it mildly. For instance if what Hakim Ziyech claims is true, then it puts a damning light on the sporting-director. You just don’t act that way. In the end the last-minute loans of Coutinho and Perišić seemed like Rummenigge using his Italian and international network to procure at least some players rather than Salihamidžić successfully getting the deals he had planned.

Be that as it may, looking at Bayern’s squad and I’m more relaxed. It was correct to pursue Leroy Sané for as long as they did and if he didn’t get injured, I actually do believe, Bayern would’ve signed him. So how damning can you be in such unfortunate and unforeseen circumstances?

While I would’ve preferred Perišić signing on top of another winger, in the end, if Bayern is still pursuing a strong relationship with Sané’s camp and will eventually sign him, I’m honestly perfectly happy with that. Sure, as I’ve pointed out previously, I doubt they’ll win the Champions League this season but Sané is that good a player and match for Bayern that it’s worth it to just put paper over the cracks and get the actual mechanic later.

Same thing with Havertz: Bayern has his eyes on him and not only is he worth the wait, in his case waiting for him might actually be in Bayern’s interest anyway. He can still grow, get plenty of game time and even more Champions League experience unter Peter Bosz and Bayern reduces the risk of getting him too early (see Renato Sanches).

So they signed Coutinho to hopefully bridge the gap between James and Havertz. And while I’ve pointed out that I’ve never been a fan of Coutinho before, this whole thing sounds very well thought out. I’m very happy they didn’t just deem James’ contributions to be so negligible that he didn’t need to be replaced at all.

So I’m cautiously optimistic in my wait and see approach to this transfer window. If come September 2020 Sané and Havertz are playing in a red shirt, I will look at this transfer window rather fondly remembering that they reacted intelligently in an unforeseen situation and didn’t break the bank needlessly.

That is except for the black sheep of Bayern’s squad planning: The defensive midfield. Bayern’s effectively one Thiago injury away from their season being over. Not only that but last season has arguably shown that Thiago -while being immensely talented in that position- needs some help there. It boggles my mind that they actively decided against signing a player like Marc Roca. Kimmich could be the solution here, but then you’re opening up another hole in the right-back position.

Rick: In all honesty, the transfer talk – for this, read ceaseless media gossip and tittle-tattle – leaves me a little cold. The process is beyond tedious, and in recent years I have made a concerted decision to switch off completely and wait until I see the actual squad list. There are better things to do than try keeping up to date with what sounds like an ongoing pantomime.

Despite my hitting the snooze button, I couldn’t avoid the ongoing saga over Leroy Sané, the failed acquisition of Callum Hudson-Odoi, and the names that flashed on the Munich radar only to disappear in a sudden blip and blur. At times, it read like a script from a Monty Python sketch.

It is fair to say that for all of the drama, FC Bayern are in a fairly tidy place right now. While the means were chaotic at best and at times even unprofessional, the ends are what it is all about. The cherry on top would have been one more quality centre-back, but the overall situation is a lot better than many of us were fearing.

Marc: Overall I agree with the others. The players that we actually brought in all make sense and were reasonable signings. I was sad to see Sanches and Hummels go but former needs more playing time and the latter was the easier defender to sell off between him and Boateng. Perisic leaves a lot to be desired as the only winger brought in this summer but if we had or do bring in Sane at some point, I have no problem with him as a 4th option. Justin hit everything concerning the 6 on the head. That is the biggest disappointment and failure by far in terms of players added. Finally, it must be said that Brazzo has once again tarnished his reputation. While I don’t believe every story I hear regarding these things, there is too much smoke for there not to be a fire at this point.

Image: Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images

Question 5

With three league games behind us, how would you assess the performances thus far? What has been successful? What needs improvement? Have any players surprised you positively or negatively?

Justin: Oh man … how much time do you have? I could write ten pages about that. Maybe I already have if we look at our recent articles. I’ll try to sum up the points as short as possible. Bayern have done very well against the ball. Since early 2019 they’ve improved in terms of positioning when they don’t have the ball. Out of their 4-1-4-1 they are very flexible. Sometimes they press high up the pitch, sometimes they lean back into a deeper midfield pressing. 4-3-3, 4-5-1, 4-4-2, 4-4-1-1 and some other hybrid formations – Bayern are adapting their formation very well to the opponent. The winger and the number 8’s have been decisive here. Unfortunately Bayern still isn’t as good with the ball as they are against it. They have major problems covering the important spaces in midfield. The gap between the number 6 and the 8s is too large. That’s why Bayern is playing very predictable football. First the ball is going very early to the wings and after that it goes forward to Gnabry or Coman. They are lacking any surprising moments through the middle. It seems that Kovač has a lot of problems managing the squad in terms of dominating a match with the ball. Bayern has great players but they are not able to create depth. If you want to win the big games in the Champions League, you need a better control in the middle of the pitch. Bayern lost against Liverpool and also against Real Madrid in previous years because they were not able to control the midfield. In pre-season I saw some good approaches in building up through the middle and find alternative solutions. Unfortunately Mainz and Schalke were big steps backwards. If Kovač can’t handle that problem this season, there needs to be a conversation regarding if he’s the right man for Bayern to achieve their highest goals. I like him as a person and I also think that he has already improved in Munich. But the demand at Bayern is very high. Maybe too high for him. We’ll see what happens. 

Alex: Generally, I am fairly satisfied with Bayern’s start to the season. I liked their performance in the first four competitive games (including the first round game of the DFB Pokal against Cottbus). Apart from the last 30-35 minutes against Hertha in the opening Bundesliga match, where Bayern played a really ponderous game and where they lacked any offensive punch, I generally felt well entertained and content with their level of performance. I mainly witnessed a Bayern team that was dominant most of the time, mostly in control of their games, scored profusely and seemed to find genuine joy in going about their business. On top of that, Robert Lewandowski is in a frighteningly outstanding early season form and a joy to watch.

The one thing I am really worried about is Bayern’s glaring vulnerability at the back when they lose the ball. A single simple mistake by any of their defensive players from the holding midfielder back to the goalkeeper is enough to turn the alleged defensive stronghold of Bayern Munich into a house of cards on the brink of collapse in the blink of an eye. I have observed this multiple times e.g. in the games against Hertha and Mainz. To say that they conceded goals out of nothing would be a massive understatement. This is an enormous cause of concern for me and needs to be stopped if Bayern wants to have a serious shot of going deep in the Champions League where one stupid mistake is enough to kill your chances of winning a knockout tie.

Daniel: I watched a number of Bayern’s pre-season games so I actually see many differences between pre-season Bayern and Bundesliga-Bayern.

It seemed like Kovač’s coaching team was dissatisfied with many of last season’s games turning into cross & go. It seemed like they intended for Bayern to now play more through the middle and to focus on positioning players effectively.

So imagine my annoyance that three Bundesliga-games in and it’s last season all over again. The number 6 is deserted, the wingers just get the ball and blindly cross it while the attacking players haven’t even arrived in the box yet.
Of course you’re gonna win games like that but keep in mind that Schalke was beaten with a penalty and a (fabulous) free-kick and Mainz will struggle to avoid relegation.

As for players, Lewandowski certainly started the season in God-mode. For a player that can’t possibly be at 100% fitness level yet, Hernández actually looks like 80 million Euros well spent. And I seem to be the one guy who thinks Pavard has done pretty well so far. Sure, the first half an hour in the Mainz game was terrible (as was most of the team), but other than that I would not be too shocked to see Pavard pushing Kimmich to defensive midfield more often this season.

Rick: There were the predictable howls of doom from some sections of the fan base after the Super Cup defeat – as well as some predictable crowing from some sections of the press. This was magnified following the rather lame 2-2 draw with Hertha BSC, which for many scribblers had handed Dortmund the title on a plate. Since then, however, there have been plenty of positive signs.

The win against Schalke was clinical, the cup game against Cottbus was an entertaining test, and the 6-1 demolition of Mainz showcased Bayern’s attacking flair. Robert Lewandowski has also got off to a flyer, which is no bad thing. Coupled with his extending his contract in Munich until 2023, we should see no further nonsense about his wanting to move to Madrid. Which is also a good thing.

Problems do remain in defence, and I was there to see it first hand against Mainz. The defence standing like statues, giving the opposition the easiest of chances to open the scoring against the general run of play. While Bayern were good enough to respond with six goals of their own, this will not be so easy against better teams.

Marc: For me the start of this season is the word “meh” incarnate. They have bounced back and forth between looking good and pedestrian in the extreme. The Mainz match is probably the best example of this you could wish for. For 40 minutes, we looked horrendous. Then Alaba puts in a phenomenal free kick right before half time and Bayern romps their way to an easy win in the second half. For me it was way too reminiscent of last season. Many of the same issues remain and the little hope I had of tactical growth are fading fast. 

Obviously Lewandowski has been phenomenal. He scored our first 5 goals of the season! I’ve been happy to see Gnabry put in performances that lead me to believe last season wasn’t a fluke. Pavard apart from his first 30 minutes has looked rather good. Hernandez has lived up to expectations for me as well. I don’t know that any one player has played significantly above what I expected, but there have been some solid performances from many. On the bad side, I feel as though Coman hasn’t been as sharp in his decision making process as I would like. But most of all, Tolisso and Goretzka have left much to be desired in their roles. They seem to be lost whenever they are on the pitch, going back and forth between being too far forward and too far back. They are never providing that outlet in the right location at the right time. This is something that is very concerning going forward and needs to be corrected sooner rather than later if Bayern have any chance at winning something this season. 

»Eier, wir brauchen Eier!«

— Oliver Kahn

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