Preview: VfL Wolfsburg – FC Bayern
On Tuesday evening Manuel Neuer had to explain the defeat against France. After a somewhat disappointing match against the Dutch, the German national team were able to call off a decent performance against the World Cup winners. Nevertheless, the goalkeeper is searching for the right words. He is clearly struggling for an explanation that puts his team in a positive light. It was a step in the right direction. His gaze wanders around the camera, but never into the eyes of the interviewer or directly into the camera.
It is symptomatic for the current situation. Neuer has no reason at all to add a restriction to his statement. Germany has indeed shown a committed and courageous performance against France, but ultimately lost out due to details. This is normal in football. But the last experience of success is a long time ago and every further defeat is a successful start for general discussions.
The obligation to explain is currently the result of an expectation that appears to be self-evident. Large teams should be able to be at eye level with large teams. Therefore, there are no excuses for clear defeats. The concession of losing a game has long been used up. In many places, however, it is ignored that the current negative series can also cause mental difficulties for world-class players. Thiago lost 2:3 against England during the week, Lewandowski’s Polish and also the German national team will most likely relegate from their Nations-League groups.
Hummels, Müller, Boateng and many other FC Bayern players are struggling not only with their own form, but above all with a chain of negative experiences. Since September 22nd, the 2-0 victory on Schalke, they have not been able to win a game. That’s almost four weeks. Many questions are being asked in Munich at the moment. But the most important question might be: Can Kovač be used as a shrink??
During the week we analyzed the tactical problem areas of the record champion. The construction site build-up play has accompanied the Reds since the departure of Pep Guardiola. Especially in the center there is often a lack of presence, which over the past years could be absorbed less and less by the offensive outside players.
Kovač must get the heads of the players free now, question his past tactical approaches and provide for quick experiences of success, in order to bring out the self understanding of this team again. It is the early test, whether the coach is up to the job at the Säbener Straße. In the coming weeks he will have to prove that he is able to turn the tide in spite of the multi-faceted problems which have not been caused by him.
Against VfL Wolfsburg nobody should assume that Bayern will set off fireworks. A victory is obligatory – that is clear. Also the manner will be crucial, in order to come back in the next games step by step to where one was at the beginning of the season. The first step would be a sovereign victory, in which the team of Niko Kovač creates a variety of chances again and allows little themselves. That would be important for self-confidence.
The fact that Bruno Labbadia just won two of 17 matches as coach against FC Bayern and lost the rest certainly plays into the hands of the German champions. The last 13 duels between the former striker’s teams and the Munich team all went for the FCB – with 39 to 12 goals.
The Wolfsburg team also plays a football under him that clearly bears his signature. Labbadia likes speed in transition situations, partly man-oriented pressing and aggressiveness. With a lot of willingness to run, his teams are characterized above all by high-speed attacks. Actually, this sounds like something that could cause FC Bayern problems. In the league, VfL has made a good impression so far, especially against teams that are stronger on paper.
Crisis situations, a lack of individual quality, tactical coordination errors, too large a gap, too few relief phases – the reasons for the coach’s many defeats against the serial champion are complex and can be explained individually in each game. In Wolfsburg, however, Labbadia now not only has a squad that is well staffed individually, but also a team that has been able to build up a bit of self-confidence in recent weeks.
On paper, the last victory of the wolves (3:1 in Leverkusen on 1.9.) was even longer ago than that of FC Bayern, but the evaluation of the last appearances is much more positive. Against Bremen they lost a game with 0:2, in which they went for a long time engaged, motivated and aggressive into the duels. Especially in the initial phase, VfL was the better team.
With man orientations in the centre and fast passes to the front, the Wolfsburgers achieved some good opportunities. The strong Werder attack hardly got a chance. However, the team lacked an idea in the last third to get playfully into good finishing positions. Often, the attacks were wasted with crosses in the void.
But Labbadia will have taken a close look at the last games of t Bayern. With man orientation in the centre, a lot of running work and some luck in counter and finishing situations, he will try to emulate the Hertha. His team will have to show great efficiency in front of the goal.
On Saturday you will see if Niko Kovač finds a solution against this tactical means. Before the international break, he announced that he would have to change things. So far these changes hardly went beyond personnel changes. But especially in the tactical area it would make sense to balance the high eights, to increase the centre presence between the lines and to strengthen the centre structure of the game as well as the integration of the wings.
The many turnovers were not only caused by the players’ understandable insecurities, but also by group tactical deficits, which the coaching team needs to work on. How does the team position itself to let the infamous counter-pressing snap shut again when the ball is lost? How does Bayern get back into the penalty area dangerously? How do they manage to take advantage of their opponent’s man orientation for themselves? These questions are decisive.
Wolfsburg is only the first step on a path that is currently made more difficult by many factors. The primary goal is to score three points. Secondarily, it is important to make progress in all areas. On paper, the next six games seem to be good opportunities to get out of this crisis step by step. But whether the team will again nervously and helplessly look for explanations in interviews at the end or whether it will soon regain its Bavarian self-image does not depend on its opponents but above all on FC Bayern itself.