Rating the FC Bayern Hinrunde
Brazzo went on a big shopping spree in the summer. In the first half of the season, there was a lot of rotation, partly due to the tight match schedule. What do you think was the strongest first eleven that was on the pitch in this first half of the season?
Justin: I don’t see FC Bayern as having a certain strongest first eleven. But that’s not just because of the particularly strong squad this season, but because football as a whole has developed in a different direction in recent years due to the many games. There is usually a small number of players who play almost every game. At FC Bayern, depending on their fitness level, these are Manuel Neuer, Alphonso Davies, Joshua Kimmich, Thomas Müller and, since the beginning of this season, Sadio Mané, if you look at his playing time. Lucas Hernández, if he stays fit, should also grow into such a candidate. As for all other names, there tends to be regular rotation. There is no other way to do it with this workload. The supposedly strongest eleven also changes due to factors such as form, fitness and, above all, the opponent. My strongest eleven against a deep-lying Union Berlin would look different than against an offensively-minded Liverpool. But taking the games against PSG as a starting point and ignoring the factors of form/fitness and taking the first half of the season as an indicator: Neuer – Mazraoui, Upamecano (de Ligt), Hernández, Davies – Kimmich, Goretzka – Gnabry, Musiala, Mané – Choupo-Moting.
Maurice: For me, Bayern’s strongest eleven has yet to play a game together. But the team that knocked Bayer Leverkusen out of the park in the Allianz Arena at the end of September is the closest to it. Neuer in goal behind a line consisting of the offensively strong Davies and the safeguard Pavard, with De Ligt and the very confident Upamecano this hinrunde playing in the middle. In front of them is the permanent double pivot of Kimmich and Goretzka. In attack, the variable Sané, Musiala, Mané and Müller are my first choices. In my ideal eleven, Gnabry still takes the role of Müller, since the tea pot stirrer in his current condition would be a crime to exclude from any current Bayern eleven.
Which tactical development in Nagelsmann’s team particularly caught your eye in the first half of the season and did it work?
Daniel: Often tried, always failed: Bayern plays down the wings. That was the imperative during the last decade. Even Guardiola had given up trying to play through the middle at some point. It’s amazing how well Nagelsmann has drilled this into Bayern’s heads this season. In his City days, Leroy Sané was once said to only be able to break through on the outside, but his best performances this season have through in the middle.
The combinations in the half-space, the positional rotations. This has never before been seen in this quality at FC Bayern. Speeding down the flanks, delivering a cross, header on goal – this game has become very rare.
Justin: Without Lewandowski, Nagelsmann was able to return more to the central focus Daniel mentioned. That took some time, but now it works very well. Bayern have further modernised their tactics under him. Many coaches around the world have adopted an idea of the game in which the centre is becoming more and more important. Another “change” is certainly that Nagelsmann no longer changes his formation as much. The difference between the 4-2-2 and 4-2-3-1 was not as big as it was sometimes suggested. Bayern have played relatively similarly throughout the season and Nagelsmann has limited himself to adjusting details. Interestingly, this is a similar process to Pep Guardiola, who also tinkered with many things for a long time and in the end relied almost constantly on a steady 4-1-4-1.
Which player surprised you the most in the first half of the season and who did you expect more from?
Georg: Dayot Upamecano surprised me positively. The starting position made this not at all clear: The €70 million man Matthijs de Ligt would join the €80 million man Lucas Hernández in central defence. The signing of Noussair Mazraoui would also add Benjamin Pavard to the rotation. No more room for Upamecano? That was the tenor before the season. In our Twitter voting, only 3% expected it to be him who would collect the most minutes from the defensive line. But that’s exactly what he did. And impressed with consistently good performances.
On the negative side, Kingsley Coman stands out a bit for me. It was clear that Lewandowski’s output would be spread across several shoulders. In his first game of the season, Coman seemed to join the ranks of the heirs to the throne and impressed with a goal and three assists against Bochum. Alas, this should remain his sole exclamation mark. After that, Coman managed almost nothing. While five Bayern players have already scored in double figures, the Frenchman’s tally stands at one: too few for his talent – and his contract.
Dennis: Time for a look at the data from our resident analytics expert Lukas. The question was how consistently the offensively strong Bayern players have collected scorer points over the last two seasons. It will surprise no one how phenomenal the output of Jamal Musiala and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting has been in recent months (right side of the chart). They are currently delivering with a consistency that Georg misses in some other players. Roughly speaking, the more “black phases” a player has, the longer his dry spells have been. It is noticeable that Gnabry, Sané and Coman do not differ greatly in their consistency over the entire period of observation at first glance, and each has taken his involuntary time-outs. In the non-peak phases, Leon Goretzka is even on the verge of overtaking them in terms of scoring points. Mané, on the other hand, does not reach the rash of a (not depicted) Robert Lewandowksi (basically a continuous red line), but apart from a short dry spell, he has delivered continuously in the FC Bayern shirt so far.
Not only missing from this representation, but certainly more often than he would have hoped on the lineup sheet, is the name Ryan Gravenberch. The “Golden Boy candidate” currently has a long way, or rather a few players ahead of him, towards regular playing minutes.
Daniel: I hadn’t written Marcel Sabitzer off as much as others, but how well he played at the beginning of the season was a nice surprise. For me, Sabitzer was a kind of lesser Schweinsteiger clone during his time at Leipzig, and I mean that in a positive way. In Goretzka’s absence, he was able to plug Kimmich’s holes, kept the game going and even scored from time to time. His offensive strengths have not really been seen at Bayern yet, but Sabitzer is finally a real Bayern player after a year’s delay. And along the way, he was able to push his competition with his strong performances. How good has this competition done Leon Goretzka, please? He had to perform straight away to get back into the team and he did. That’s exactly how you want a football team to be.
Someone I wouldn’t have expected to be so criminally strong either would actually be Matthijs de Ligt. Yes, I also cheered the transfer, but more because the club desperately needed reinforcements at centre-back, less because I saw in de Ligt the talent that others described him as. For me, de Ligt was one of the many very good centre-back talents, but no one who so blatantly outshone others in his talent class. I rather attributed that status to his Ajax colleague De Jong. But I was wrong. He is always correctly positioned, his anticipation is fabulous, he simply never loses aerial duels, plus he also makes his colleagues better. Georg’s Upamecano nomination is justified and he too was made better by de Ligt. De Ligt is simply a better defensive organizer than Hernández.
Which game of this first half of the season best describes the current state of this team for you?
Justin: The 3-0 win at FC Barcelona. Very mature, very experienced, but also far from the end of the line. This game indicated where the journey can go. But it also showed that little things are crucial.
Maurice: For me, Bayern’s 6-2 win over Mainz is the ideal metaphor for a thrilling first half of the season. First of all, Bayern started like the fire brigade. Three clear wins in the league and two goals up after half an hour. After that, they lost some of their form and struggled despite many good chances. This was symbolised by Mané’s missed penalty and Mainz’s follow-up goal. This was followed by a brief dip, which turned into a full blown Octoberfest crisis in the league with the four games without a win in a row, and a conciliatory end. In addition, six different players scored against Mainz, all of whom wrote their own personal first-round story: Newcomer Mané, golden bambi Musiala, Lewa-2.0 Choupo-Moting, the reliable Gnabry, the long-injured Goretzka and striker Tel.