MIASANROT-AWARDS 2021/2022: FC BAYERN – MOMENT OF THE SEASON
The late counter-attack by the visitors from Spain sealed Munich’s elimination from the fight for Europe’s crown and marked an informal end to the season for the Bavarian team led by coach Julian Nagelsmann in his first season at the Isar.
The back story to this moment begins rather early: There were the missed contract extensions of Thiago and Alaba, the botched transfer summer of 2021 or the short pre-season preparation in the wake of the European Championship. These and other factors leading to FC Bayern having a rather disappointing season after a furious autumn.
On the plus side there was the signing of Julian Nagelsmann, who came with a lot of praise and huge expectations for a hefty sum but had a hard time restoring the defensive stability of the team that it had lost under Flick while at the same time maintaining the offensive output of his predecessor’s daredevil attacking football. At the beginning it seemed to work but the early gains were quickly lost. Not least due to the prolonged loss of key players such as midfield leader Josh Kimmich and perennial midfield dynamo Leon Goretzka, he lacked the central foundation, especially after Kimmich’s SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Time and again, the Bayern team lost possession quickly and failed to protect the ball, leading to hair-raising counterattacking situations in which the defence was forced to play shorthanded. There was a sore lack of speed in the last defensive line, especially when Alphonso Davies was sidelined with a case of myocarditis and after his return could never again match his past form. Various ideas by Nagelsmann to conceal this weakness failed.
At the same time, the Bayern team lost more and more of its offensive firepower as the season progressed. In the first two quarters of the season, Bayern blew their opponents off the park with frightening ease and scored an outstanding, and ultimately unsustainable, 3.6 and 3.0 goals per game respectively. In the third quarter of the Bundesliga season, the output declined to 2.3 goals per game while 2.9 expected goals per game remained at about the same level. In the fourth quarter, along with the goals the number of expected goals also dropped to 2.4 per game.
At least statistically, this confirms the trend: First, the team lost its touch in front of the opponent’s goal, and finally, it also struggled to create chances.
This brings us to 6 April, when the Bayern team played Villarreal in the quarter-final first leg. After the draw, also dubbed as a feasible opponent by sporting director Salihamidžić, the Spaniards showed their claws. Villarreal took the lead after just eight minutes through Danjuma. A cleverly played out attack that does not even exploit Bayern’s biggest weakness – the counterattack. First Musiala decides to attempt to block the pass instead of staying with his opponent and after the latter’s low cross Upamecano is too far away from Parejo before Danjuma, outpaced by Pavard, sticks out his foot and puts the ball over the line.
An early shock in La Cermica, which now positively turns into a cauldron of fire. Although the Bayern team improves in the second half and finishes the game on 22 shots, very few of them are dangerous. At the opposite end, Bayern are visibly shaking with every ball the team in yellow-blue drives forward. In the end, the German record champions can count themselves lucky to lose only 0-1 that night.
In the second leg, Villarreal parked the yellow and blue submarine on the field of the Allianz Arena. Bayern looked for the finish again and again, but mostly only were able to create half chances. Only after the half-time break, with their backs to the wall, the Bayern team played more courageously and attacked the Spaniards earlier during their build-up play. Coman was able to profit from a forced mistake and initiate a quick counter-attack, which Lewandowski finally converted.
At that moment, the season could have gone in either two directions. In the past, other opponents of the Bayern team were literally overrun after conceding a goal. But this evening the stars were aligned differently. Instead of going for the jugular after the opening goal, the Munich team lacked consistency. There were no more transition situations and although they continued to dominate the game, only Müller had a real chance to score. Soon, Villarreal had suffered and survived the worst phase and the game was seemingly firmly on course towards extra time.
What follows is our moment of the season, which is also in a way symbolic of the season as a whole. Parejo plays a space-opening pass in midfield under pressure from three Bayern players. Suddenly, Villarreal is breaking and flooding forward in numbers. Lo Celso is able to beat the rushed back Coman and passes to Moreno, who is suddenly all alone against Upamecano with Kimmich having pushed out. The Frenchman does not manage to show Moreno out far enough, the Spaniard can thus play a pass into the path of Chukwueze, who is completely free, as Davies defends neither pass nor opponent. A shot and a goal duly follow.
Deadly silence falls over the Arena. Deadly silence descends on the couches at home. The game is over. The 2021/22 Champions League season is over.
The judgement of Nagelsmann’s first season is a mixed one. His fans’ hopes for Guardiola-style football were disappointed for the time being, and yet, in retrospect, not everything was as bad as it was made out to be by spectacle seeking media crowds.
Nevertheless, the tasks for Nagelsmann in his second season are clearly named. First of all, he needs to stabilize the defence, especially in transition. Furthermore, the team must become more effective in gegenpressing in order to prevent high ball losses more effectively. And finally, solutions must be found against deep sitting opponents like Villarreal in the second leg.
However, not everything is down to the coach. Several players have to up their game considerably: Upamecano, who has been more of a liability rather than stabilizer in his role as head of defence so far; Kimmich, who always has to have the ambition to be the best man on the pitch; as well as Sané, Coman and Gnabry, who all lack consistency.