Preview: Hanover 96 – FC Bayern

Justin Separator December 15, 2018

If you want to take a look at the situation of FC Bayern, you only have to look at the statements of those responsible after the match against Ajax. While Salihamidžić again visibly worked hard to find the suitable words, Niko Kovač was nearly euphoric. The coach paid his players a “big compliment”. “We saw today a sensationally good game. (…) That was advertising for football”, the Berlin-born coach continued.

Salihamidžić, on the other hand, saw no reason for joy. “We didn’t have a good game today. We are first in the group. But that’s the only positive thing about the game,” said the sporting director. It is a contradiction that is significant. The two people who are supposed to actively help shape the transition to a new era seem to be overwhelmed with their roles.

After all Kovač radiates a basic sovereignty, which Salihamidžić completely lacks. But it is also not the way the coach says something. It is much more what he says. If one listens to it exactly these days, then there is cause for concern.

Bayern as a very eager underdog

For as understandable as it is that the coach stands in front of the team and defends his progress as group winner, it is also absurd how clearly he shows his satisfaction. Is that really FC Bayern’s ambition?

Against Ajax, Kovač deliberately let his team drop deeper. The Dutch should have the ball, Bayern wanted to counter. That worked out quite well at first. Almost never did the Munich team fall into passiveness. They started off deep, but very aggressively and sometimes pushed up at the right moments. In this respect, the initial phase was quite impressive.

But Ajax adjusted to it more and more, adapted little things and became safer in their own game. At the latest in the second half they took over completely and took the lead deservedly. Bayern did not manage to maintain the activity and aggressiveness in the pressing. On the contrary. They let themselves be pushed back with increasing playing time and thus also lost control to the opponent. Kovač’s Bayern acted like a very eager underdog who was dependent on the necessary luck.

The progress does not happen

The team was quite willing to win this game. But even during the results crisis, it was clear that the players wanted to win. The attitude is right. What’s missing is a structure that not only gives the team stability, but also order. Kovač presented many good approaches in the course of the season. The direct game into the last third and subsequent counter-pressing from the beginning of the season, but also the deeper and lurking staggering from Wednesday evening – he varied quite a bit in some details and tried a lot.

And yet the right balance is missing. In longer phases without the ball, his Bayern fall into passiveness, in longer phases with the ball often lack the decisive idea to combine into the penalty area. Only in the transition moments after winning the ball are Bayern strong at the moment. However, when they try to deliberately provoke these situations, they often lose control of the game. Against Ajax, too, it was once again possible to observe that phases in which the focus was on direct play when winning the ball quickly lead to chaos. That’s not fitting for the players in the squad.

Kovač is anxious, but does not find the right balance.
(Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Playfully the Kovač-Bayern lack above all accuracy. Passes are too inaccurate or lack sharpness. The 4-2-3-1 gives the Munich players a better basic structure, but at the same time the player with the ball lacks passing options in too many situations. As justified as the criticism of some single players may be, it must be noted that there is no progress to be seen in group tactics.

Individual errors

In football, individual errors are often invoked when it comes to justifying a loss of points. Jérôme Boateng and Franck Ribéry in particular are currently susceptible to this and are rightly criticised in many places. And yet you have to be careful with individual criticism. The instability of the entire team means that even opponents like Fortuna Düsseldorf are allowed to play significantly more attacks to the end.

This in turn means that the burden, especially for the central defenders, will be much higher than in recent years. The more attacks that get through to the back-four, the more likely it is that mistakes will be made. Conversely, this means that Boateng, who in principle does not play a bad season at all, suffers above all from the group tactical weakness of his team.

A few numbers support this thesis. No central defender of FC Bayern has as many successful tacklings per 90 minutes in the league as Boateng (1.6). With 1.5 interceptions he is at eye level with Süle (Hummels comes to 2.3). Also counting fouls Süle and Boateng are equal (0.5 – Hummels with 0.3). 2,4 clearances are after Süle (3,3) the best value of the whole squad. In the Bundesliga Boateng has a duel quota of 70% (Süle 71%, Hummels 62%). And despite these remarkable figures, it’s the catastrophic errors by the former World Cup winner that lead to conceding goals.

Quarterback at FC Bayern? Ungrateful!

In the Champions League he has only won 54% of the duels, a much worse value. 0.7 times per 90 minutes he gets dribbled by in the league. These are still no nightmare numbers and yet Boateng lacks some normal form. However, these numbers also show that he cannot have completely forgotten it. This is the case with many players of the squad.

In principle, it’s easy to determine the missing percentage of single players. Ultimately, however, it is the trainer’s responsibility to analyse the cause of these mistakes. If you look at some mistakes of the last games again, you have to come to the conclusion that the Bavarians too often lack discipline against the ball. Uncontrolled moving out, which results from the hunger for ball possession and too large distances of the team parts are to be called here. It is not so easy to park the bus. Especially when your own team is the real favourite.

With ball the passing lanes are still too long in many scenes. Here, too, the supposed regression of players like Boateng or Hummels can be explained in more detail. A pass usually consists of two essential components: Pass giver and pass receiver. Boateng once called himself a quarterback under Guardiola. But if the other players don’t protect him by disturbing the opponent’s pressing and it takes too long for a passing opportunity to arise, the ingenious passes are increasingly missing. Being a quarterback at FC Bayern is therefore the most ungrateful of all roles.

Escaping into the winter break

This means that the Bayern game also suffers from the last line of movement. Müller made it a little better. And yet opponents are much quicker than in the last few years. If you add a few man orientations, the chaos is perfect.

At the moment the FC Bayern team is simply too dependent on individual actions and standards. Without Coman’s (world) class and Thiago’s courage in midfield, the game against Ajax would probably have turned out differently. Ajax also weakened themselves in a phase where they were about to overturn the game completely. To top it all off, Kovač also helped by taking out his fastest and most effective offensive player behind Lewandowski and pushing Müller onto the wing.

It is just the sovereignty, which goes off not only Salihamidžić in interviews, but also Kovač with his decisions and the Bavarians in their play. If there would be a basic structure, which gives Bayern support, security and more options in ball possession as well as more stability without ball, then the situation would be clearly less tense. You can’t blame Kovač for not looking for them. Only he doesn’t seem to be able to accomplish that. Thus the feeling arises that FC Bayern can and wants to only escape into the winter break. With Thiago, Coman, Gnabry and Lewandowski, there are at least a few players who can make the difference in attack by themselves and thus give hope. How dangerous would they be if they were even more structured and collaborative?

The next page is about the game on the weekend.

»Eier, wir brauchen Eier!«

— Oliver Kahn

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