MSR player of the month of December: Kingsley Coman
Two tired draws and two razor-thin victories in the Bundesliga, garnished with two completely irrelevant games in the Champions League. December 2020 reads exactly like it has been. Exhausting.
And so has been the game of the record champions. Their midfield hardly existed, at the back our player of the month November was needed in his best world goalkeeper form to spare his team’s blushes, and in attack only thanks to goal scoring machine Robert Lewandowski the team usually managed to score one more goal than they conceded. But as clinical as the finishing of the now official FIFA best player might be, the goals were created by someone else.
The story of Kingsley Coman’s season seemed already written before the first ball was played. After years of relying on him as a first team regular, the club finally seemed somewhat disillusioned with his progress in the summer. They still espoused their confidence in Coman, but for the first while he has been at Bayern, in Leroy Sané the club signed a quality alternative in his position harbouring regular first eleven ambitions himself.
Coman was always apt to deliver bedazzling performances on single occasions, be it in the 2019 DFB-Pokal final or the Champions League final in Lisbon, but those highlights had become rare.
Serge Gnabry in particular, who joined the team in 2018, emphatically showed what could be expected from a Bayern winger who was not Franck Ribéry or Arjen Robben. Gnabry collected 37 scorer points in the treble winning season, while Coman managed only 15. Time and again Coman was set back by injuries, but in the end Gnabry played just under 1,000 minutes more than him, certainly not enough to explain the difference in effectiveness between the two players.
Even when Coman was on the pitch, if not physically, his injuries often seem to hinder him mentally. He often checked his dribbles just before an opposing player would challenge him, making a potentially painful physical contact. Fear inhibited his game.
When the chips were down in the Champions League, his ostensible back-up Ivan Perišić was given preference. The Croatian veteran was seen as the harder worker who could better protect Alphonso Davies’ offensive runs. On the opposite side, Serge Gnabry impressively confirmed who was the number one on Bayern’s wings with his goals against Barcelona and Lyon.
In the final, however, history changed as Coman significantly outperformed his teammates. However, everyone also noted that it was the clear exception of the season. For all the gratitude heaped on “Mr. Lisbon”, FC Bayern supporters in particular were in joyful anticipation of new arrival Leroy Sané. I was mostly at peace with the injury-prone Frenchman, but it was Gnabry’s impact in big games that by the starkness of the contrast showed Coman’s limitations for many. They had simply had enough of what they saw as “blind” crosses, inconsistent finishing and constant injury breaks. Now, with Sané on the team, the question of who would play did not even seem to be up for debate. At most, the discussion revolved around whether the new wing duo would be called “Sanbry” or “Gnané”.
But with his header in Lisbon, everything changed. Serge Gnabry ultimately had to pay tribute to the energy-sapping season. Since the start of the season he has completely lost his former effectiveness, not having scored in over 50 days. In Sané’s case, on the other hand, by now some may have to admit that they perhaps underestimated what a whole season without football actually means. Plagued by the after-effects of his injuries and having joined a completely exhausted team, the newcomer still needs time to adapt.
Other building blocks of Munich’s attacking game are also currently suffering from a busy schedule, with Thomas Müller’s performances faltering, Leon Goretzka having to help out in defensive midfield, and Joshua Kimmich’s body giving out altogether, forcing him into a month long break from playing.
In these bleak times, however, a rather unexpected ray of hope suddenly appeared. Everyone knew that Kingsley Coman could light up the scene when he was on fire, but for the first time in his career he has been doing so without intermittently disappearing in the shadows. Gone seem the days where good and bad actions seemed to balance each other out. Gone are the days when other players were preferred to him because they defended better. Up front he makes the difference, at the back he helps out diligently.
Over a longer period of time he has only ever made a consistent impact under Jupp Heynckes, but even that time was ended abruptly by an injury. All told, Coman’s career at Bayern had left a bit to be desired. Now, four matchdays before the midpoint of the season, he has already set a personal assist record.
Five of these seven assists he gave in December. All five of them consecutively. Lewandowski’s winning goal on 16 December against VfL Wolfsburg was the first Bayern league goal in December without direct involvement from Kingsley Coman. He had three assists in the top match against RB Leipzig alone.
This game against Leipzig was a microcosm of Coman’s impressive recent development. Had he perhaps still been tempted to force his luck not too long ago, this time he did not overcomplicate things before setting up Musiala’s equalising goal. Sometimes less is more. Like playing the cross for Musiala after drawing two opponents towards him.
And sometimes more is indeed more as the second goal shows. A defense splitting pass at the right time and the possibly best defense in the league is carved wide open. And to round out the picture of the evolved Coman there is another perfectly aimed cross for the final equaliser. Coman’s way of outplaying opponents only to blindly whip a cross into the center has sometimes attracted ridicule from fans. Jupp Heynckes used to work with him on this problem, but he could not get it completely out of his system. The bad habit has not yet disappeared entirely, but the two crosses, one for the 3-3 against Leipzig and the other for the 1-1 against Wolfsburg a few days later, show Coman’s progress.
Kingsley Coman is the first player to set up five Bayern goals in a row, the highlight of which was probably his fourth assist for the 1-1 leveller against Union Berlin. The Frenchman gets the ball out on the left wing and ultimately manages to create a goal out of what began as a seemingly harmless situation. He easily leaves two opponents in the dust, goes to the goal-line and cuts the ball back. The sequence is strikingly reminiscent of the best Bayern assist of 2020, Alphonso Davies’ now legendary dribble against half of FC Barcelona. Now, Union is not Barcelona and Coman’s dribble was not quite as dazzling, but that is not Coman’s fault. Without Joshua Kimmich, Bayern played practically without a midfield, leaving the offensive impulses to be provided from somewhere else. The Frenchman took responsibility.
In fact, taking responsibility is the big difference in this season’s Coman. Gone seem the days when he was merely a rotation player for a few bright moments. For a considerable period of the first half of this season, including the whole of December, he was practically Bayern’s most important offensive player. Yet he has become much more than just a nimble sprinter. His assists came from purposeful dribbles, passes and crosses, not because he simply ran away from his opponents.
In a season where in light of the stellar names in Bayern’s wide positions, his place somewhere further down the pecking order seemed already cast in stone, he comes up trumps in a big way. Maybe Leroy Sané’s transfer will yet become a success in its own right. But maybe it already has been as the final injection of motivation Coman needed to explode.