Since the system conversion of coach Niko Kovač from the rather offensively aligned 4-3-3 to the supposedly defensively more stable 4-2-3-1, Leon Goretzka has secured his place in the Munich starting eleven. After the weak 3:3 against Düsseldorf on the 12th matchday he has played all seven subsequent league games from the beginning and was only changed once.
Goretzka is thus certainly the biggest benefactor of this transition. Meanwhile with 1,208 minutes, the summer newcomer is ranked seventh of all Bayern field players. That means he is now only 300 minutes behind the time Sebastian Rudy played for the Munich team last season. This could hardly have been expected before the season. However, Goretzka also benefited from the injuries of World Cup winner Tolisso and midfield director Thiago.
Searching for a role in the system
At the beginning of the season it was not yet clear in what role Niko Kovač would see the new addition in his system. In a packed central midfield, the individual places were fiercely contested. In addition to Goretzka, the youngster Sanches, who had returned from his loan, also registered demands for more playing time.
For Goretzka it was both a curse and a blessing that he can be used as an all-rounder on all roles in midfield. Though he can be used flexibly and play the formative role of ten as well as the classic box-to-box number eight and even the defensively oriented six, he could not enhance his profile. Against Gladbach, the Bochum native was tested as a left wing player, against Augsburg he was even tested as a left wing defender.
With the transition by Kovač, what is likely Goretzka’s most fitting role became available. As the second six, he is not the only anchor in the defensive and can concentrate on his excursions into the attack and filling gaps. In addition, the responsibility for building the game does not rest on him alone.
At the start of the second half of the season, however, Kovač pushed him one position higher to the ten. With Martínez, the Croatian wanted to offer additional protection against the counter-strong Hoffenheimers on the defensive. Goretzka also offers the ability to disrupt the opponent’s game structure in higher zones.
Memories of Vidal
Goretzka’s game inevitably brings back memories. After the departure of the Fußballgott, the Chilean Arturo Vidal found himself in a similar role as the prototype of a box-to-box player. The “warrior” rotated again and again through all positions in midfield.
In fact, Goretzka showed in January that he had similar offensive approaches to the man who made the Mohawk cut socially acceptable. Again and again, the 23-year-old managed to overload the penalty area by delaying his advance from midfield, thus creating a mismatch in the defense of his opponent.
His goal against Leverkusen last matchday is a prototype for this. After he had disturbed a Leverkusen counterattack over Brandt only a few meters before his own penalty area, he arrived exactly at the right time in the attack. Müller held the ball on the wing to cross. However, all attackers were covered at that time. In this static situation, Goretzka emerges unnoticed from the rear, creates a certain dynamism, and then actually comes to the header in front of the goal completely free. A Chilean player sitting on the couch in Barcelona would certainly have been proud.
He also scored with his head against Stuttgart – where his 1.89 metre height helped him. Against Hoffenheim he also showed qualities in the counter when he finished a cross from Alaba powerfully. In general, the 2017 winner of the Confederation Cup is often seen taking large strides through the midfield in counterattacks.
On the Precipice
Despite all the praise for his danger in front of goal, not everything is going well for Goretzka. The primary reason for this is that the game sometimes seems to run completely past him for several minutes.
In the last three games – against Hoffenheim, Stuttgart and Leverkusen – the midfielder played only 120 passes. For comparison: His team-mate Thiago played 128 passes against the Swabians alone.
In the editorial chat, the critical commentary by Christopher on Goretzka’s involvement in the game has almost reached cult status, as the latter usually scores only a few minutes later.
The problems Goretzka is experiencing are certainly system related. In the former 4-3-3 system and even now in the new 4-2-3-1 system, the positioning of the midfielders is poor. The gaps between the individual players are sometimes very large, so that the game structure quickly deteriorates to the dreaded “U”, since for the defensive midfielder only a pass back into the defense is possible.
Goretzka has to take an active part in the build-up of the game even more frequently and let himself fall back into the gaps. Only then can the connection between defense and attack be established. Alternating with the second eight or the ten can help here to pose additional problems for the defense.
Against the background of Tolisso’s imminent return and James’ insistence on playing time, it will be interesting to see whether Goretzka will be able to keep his regular place through the upcoming important games and the end of the season. The Colombian in particular promises to be more creative in the game, while Tolisso could challenge him for a place in the double six.
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