The first question is from @Oncheedo on twitter. “With Rafinha’s injury what are the options if David Alaba or Joshua Kimmich go down as well?”
Maurice: I think if either of the two should get injured, Kovac will have to switch his system to a back-three and then use Gnabry or Sanches as one of the wingbacks. This will obviously be a dramatic change of schemes which might take time, but is necessary should either Kimmich or Alaba miss extended periods of time. Especially the game against Augsburg showed that no player has the capabilities on both offense and defense to replace one of the aforementioned.
Dennis: Maurice mentioned the game against Augsburg, in which Kovac already demonstrated his creativity in giving Alaba and/or Kimmich some time to rest. The switch to a back three is still a (wet) dream within the MSR slack, because it could be implemented with various different player combinations (e.g. go big with Süle, Hummels, Boateng) and also different roles (e.g. Alaba as the half-space libero in homage to the thrashing against AS Roma). Nevertheless Kovac opted for a “conservative” back-four, but with Goretzka as the unexpected left-back, creating that almost forgotten feeling of “guessing the formation” in the minutes between the communication of the starting XI and the kick-off.
Tobias H.: I think if one of those two get injured Kovac either changes the system or he tries to use one of the midfielders as replacements. Against Augsburg he already tested Goretzka in a back-four. Players like Sanches or Gnabry could play that position as well. But in my opinion those midfielders would work best in a system with a back-three. Then Goretzka, Gnabry or Sanches would act as wingbacks which would give them less defensive responsibility. Especially, Renato Sanches would fit in that role. The Portuguese has great dribbling abilities but his positioning and behaving under pressure is far from perfect. Playing near the sideline would help him because positioning and orientation is easier. Furthermore, Niko Kovac could pick one of the talents from the youth team. Against weaker Bundesliga teams players like Jonathan Meier could get some playing time.
Marc: As everyone else has already mentioned, switching to a back three and using Kimmich and Gnabry as wingbacks seems like the logical choice here. Apart from that you then start looking at either the youth team or wingers/midfielders already in the squad. Kovac’s decision here would likely depend on a variety of factors including how long Kimmich/Alaba/Rafinha are expected to miss and who their opposition is during that period. If something happens in late November and they have clinched the Group in the Champions League, he may be more likely to experiment with either youth players or playing midfielders out of position, assuming the players will be back after the winter break. If however these injuries coincide with the “business” end of the season, I think a back 3 is the much more likely scenario as it would provide more stability and require less players to be out of position. Obviously no matter what decision he ultimately makes, there will be some risk and transition with the squad this thin at those positions.
Our second question comes from @Sam54707607 on twitter. “Do you think any of the youth players will make an appearance for the first team this season? If so who?”
Maurice: It will depend on the way Bayern plays in the league. If they end up with a huge lead heading in to April, I think Kovac will definitely throw in one of the youth players that have impressed him either in practice or in the youth games. Right now I would put my money on either Winger Franck Evina or the skilled defender Lars Lukas Mai.
Dennis: The Bayern board gave Kovac a very tightly assembled squad for the season, when they let Juan Bernat and Sebastian Rudy leave on short notice. The game against Augsburg is again a clue as to how Kovac will handle the squad. Kovac adapted to the additional injuries within the squad and showed a willingness to rotate and move the remaining players around to fill those vacancies, while still having the luxury of Boateng, James and Lewandowski sit for 90 minutes behind him on the bench. Therefore, I don’t see any openings for the youth players to get minutes in the foreseeable future.
Tobias H.: I have to be honest, I don’t think so. The squad is still filled with topstars even when several players are out with injuries. Maybe Lukas Mai could get some playing time as a centre-back if Kovac tries to implement a back-three. Towards the end of the season Kovac could give players like Evina or Batista-Meier playing time, but they won’t play an important role in Kovac’s rotation.
Marc: I agree with the general sentiment of my colleagues but think there may be a few more opportunities than they mentioned. I tend to think Mai will at some point this season see some first team action and probably has the best chance to play meaningful minutes. If Boateng, Hummels or Süle pick up an injury, he will almost certainly come into the squad. That being said, the remaining players will likely only see time in competitions that are “over” to give the senior players rest. For instance, if Bayern have clinched first place in their Champions League group, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few players in the last game or two. The same is true for the Bundesliga, if and when the league has been clinched. Apart from that, it would take plague of injuries for anyone to get an opportunity.
Our third question comes from @harishb997 on twitter. “How has Kovac adapted to his predecessors tactics? What changes has he instilled?”
Maurice: I think the biggest change is the change of mind and attitude on the pitch. Kovac seems to push the right buttons and talk about the right topics in team meetings. The team has been on point in most matches.
Dennis: More verticality and a higher focus on the half-spaces in possession. More intensity in the gegenpressing after losing the ball. And being able to keep control of the game when getting some rest while dropping deeper without the ball. Willingness to rotate and be adaptable to the situation. I have to admit, that’s a whole lot more than what I imagined Kovac could implement when I heard that he’ll be the next Bayern coach. Chapeau.
Tobias H.: I think the biggest changes Kovac made were the mentality in terms of defensive work and the pressing. Bayern now looks well-structured when the opponent has the ball. They can variate the height and intensity of the pressing which makes them harder to overcome. Furthermore, in possession he implemented a more vertical style. Still, Bayern´s shape in possession looks good and helps them to counterpress. However, Bayern’s counterpressing hasn’t look perfect all the time. Especially, when they try to attack more quickly there is the risk of losing their good positioning which results in a worse counterpressing.
Marc: Kovac seems to have adapted his style to the squad he has and his predecessors formations thus far. While there was tons of speculation of a shift in system, probably an unrealistic task given the World Cup this summer, the overall shape is largely the same as the one being used in the recent past. The biggest differences to me seems to be the fitness of the squad, their directness, tenacity and passion. Comparing this team to the one that started under Ancelotti a year ago is night and day. The lethargy from that era have been replaced with energy and enthusiasm. While Kovac was known to be eloquent in the press box, many wondered how he would handle the players at a club like Bayern. While this hasn’t been completely answered, since they have not yet faced real controversy, so far he clearly has handled the players masterfully. To date, I think Nico Kovac has done as well as anyone could have asked and better than many expected.
Which player has stood out the most to you so far this season?”
Maurice: This pick might involve a little recency bias, but my choice would be Serge Gnabry. The newcomer from Hoffenheim showed flashes of everything that I loved about him last season. He has lightning speed, a tremendous finish and just a killer instinct for goal. While the youngster has only had a few opportunities to show himself so far, I think the Coman injury might help him the most. He still needs to develop a passing game and find his role in the squad, but the German international certainly adds some previous missing value to the team.
Dennis: Based on the few games and the high rotation I would not want to single out one player, but there are some players that have positively exceeded my expectations so far: Alaba has found his rhythm again; Thiago on the six is such a beauty (and a beast), James so often puts a smile on my face and Renato Sanches has found his smile again. Niko Kovac didn’t make every player better every day (not yet at least), but he seems to have a good influence on the squad overall.
Tobias H.: Easy, Thiago. I have always loved seeing Thiago play as the deepest central midfielder for Spain. Now he is showing his tremendous talent, his intelligence and his abilities to control the game for Bayern as well. Compared to Martinez, Thiago is more comfortable on the ball especially under pressure. With him it is harder to press Bayern´s build-up because Thiago finds solutions quickly even under pressure. For me, he is their most important player and Bayern would have a big problem if Thiago were to get injured. Apart from Thiago, David Alaba seems to playing at a higher level to the last two seasons.
Marc: I think the player that has surprised me the most is Sanches. So far this season he looks more like the player we saw in the 2016 Euro’s as opposed to the player that we saw the last two years. There are several players that have been very good so far including Kimmich, Alaba, and Neuer, however I’m going to go for a player that I wasn’t sure what to expect in Lewandowski. After a relatively dismal summer where he felt unreasonably blamed for Bayern’s Champions League exit, unceremoniously crashed out of the World Cup and saw his push for a move away come to nothing, I’ll admit that I was curious and a little nervous to see how he would play this season. Over the first month however, he has been his usual consistent self for Bayern with 5 goals in 7 games. Moreover his attitude seems to be generally positive which I think was a genuine concern for many supporters.
Of the squads/formations used thus far, what midfield do you think has worked the best? Who would you start in a big European match?”
Maurice: I think there is a difference between the line-up I like the most and the one I would put on the field on the biggest stage. My line-up definitely has Thiago in as a midfielder, who can create by himself and also be defensively stable enough to play him in that defensive midfielder slot as well. Next to him I would like to see James who has been an absolute blast to watch this season and last. Now for my favorite lineup I would go with Goretzka just because I love his box-to-box playing style which can blend in well with the rather skill-based duo of James and Thiago. However, I think the line-up for a European Cup night should feature Martinez as his values against the ball can’t be missed on those evenings.
Dennis: Give me Thiago and James and I’m happy. Niko Kovac can chose the third player based on the weaknesses of the opponent and the game state.
Tobias H.: That’s actually a hard question. I would say it depends on the opponent. Personally, I would prefer a midfield with Thiago, Goretzka and James. Then you would have two extremely pressing-resistant players with Thiago and James who could be responsible for the creative part. And Leon Goretzka who is more of a box-to-box midfielder whose biggest strength is the vertical movement in the box. But it really depends on the opponent. Against stronger teams I would also pick Martinez and drop probably James. However, with Martinez your build-up is easier to press. So, when Bayern wants to control the game even against stronger opponents then I would pick Thiago instead of Martinez as the central midfielder in front of the back-four.
Marc: I have to agree with my colleagues here that Bayern have looked their best with Thiago on the six. His versatility as both a defender and distributor is something sorely missing when he is not playing. James in the few games he has played has looked fantastic. Muller and Goretzka have both been decent so far as well. In the Bundesliga I would like to see Kovac tinker, as he has, a little. Thiago, James and Muller could be a very good option against deep lying teams. Likewise I would be interested to see a team with Thiago, Goretzka and Sanches or Tolisso. I’m not sure if it would work, but it would certainly be interesting to watch. Against Europe’s elite I have to agree with the others and say Thiago, James and Goretzka (Tolisso when healthy) would be my pick. The midfield I expect to see however is Martinez, Thiago and Muller. I think this is the safety blanket midfield for Bayern, though whether it is the best is certainly debatable.