Salzburg Stumble

Marc Separator February 17, 2022

Most fans were expecting a response following the shellacking they received over the weekend. After all, thats generally how things go. Bayern has a history of coming out and making a statement after a poor performance that tends to quiet critics, at least in that moment.

The Match

This match however proved to be anything but that. Julian Nagelsmann changed the formation to a back three again after the failed experiment at the weekend. Sven Ulreich, Benjamin Pavard, Niklas Süle, Lucas Hernández, Joshua Kimmich, Corentin Tolisso, Serge Gnabry, Thomas Müller, Leroy Sané, Kingsley Coman and Robert Lewandowski comprised the starting eleven.

This is of course an extremely attacking lineup which is very dangerous against a team like Salzburg who has a lot of fast players that are very good at getting in-behind defenses and look to hit teams on the counter.

The dangers of these tactics reared their ugly head nearly from the off. The game was very end to end with both teams creating chances early on. However it would be the home team who scored first. In the 21st minute Chukwubuike Adamu would find the ball on his feet just inside the box and he curled it into the far corner to make it 1-0.

Bayern for their part did play with far more energy and effort, however they really struggled to turn that into goals. The rest of the first half rarely saw the Bavarians challenge the Salzburg keeper and they went into the half down 1-0.

The second half saw much of the same as the first. Bayern did play with a bit more control and Salzburg seemed much more defensive in their set up but Bayern struggled to convert that into chances or goals. Worse, there were still those moments where Salzburg would hit them on counter and look extremely dangerous in the process.

Both teams would have seemingly golden opportunities to score. Bayern had the first as Sané hit a shot just out side the six yard box that was spilled near the line but neither Gnabry nor Sané himself were able to beat the Salzburg defenders to the ball and it was cleared out for a corner.

Four minutes later, Salzburg would counterattack again and force a decent save from Ulreich who could do nothing more than parry it to an oncoming Salzburg player who looked to have an open net. Luckily though, his shot was blocked by a backtracking Pavard who got there just in time.

It ultimately too until the 90th minute for Bayern to get the goal that they were looking for. Coman, who was easily the most dangerous attacking option on the day, put himself in a good position as Pavard played a long ball into the box where it was headed onto the waiting Frenchman who put it away 1-1 which is how the match would end.

Three Things We Noticed


Today’s match was not short on problems for the Munich team but the one that stood out the most to me was the lack of cohesion between the players. 2022 has felt like a regression, but honestly it probably started in 2021. Something seems to have slowly shifted in the club.

Whether it’s Kimmich’s controversial vaccine stance, the lingering contract negotiations, Süle’s impending departure, the litany of injuries and COVID cases or the change in system as a result of all the missing players, the team has looked less like a team and more like a collection of individuals.

Coming off of Hansi Flick’s tenure in charge of Bayern, perhaps this sticks out just a little bit more. That 2020 team especially seemed extremely close and cohesive. However I would even suggest that we started to see some of these cracks last year as tension rose around Flick and Brazzo.

Back to today however and all of those problems seemed to hit just a little deeper yet again. The entire night was littered with misplaced passes, miscommunications, poor structure and players seemingly unsure of where they’re supposed to be and what they’re supposed to be doing.

One particular moment that stood out in this match for me was an attack in which Coman dribbled around his defender at the touchline, looked up and found that his best option was Pavard coming into the box like Goretzka normally would. The likes of Sané, Gnabry, Kimmich and Tolisso where nowhere to be seen, but there was one of our three defenders in the box on a break providing a late running option in attack.

I tend to believe that the primary culprit is the back three being employed. As far as I’m aware, none of these players are particularly used to playing with a back three. There were even reported complaints a year ago when Löw was trying to play with one in the national team.

There are obviously different responsibilities and movements required when playing such a system and I think it’s pretty safe to say that these players are not comfortable with them. This problem is most likely exacerbated by the limitation in personnel, which is also entirely responsible for the necessity to play a back three to begin with.

I do think it’s possible for this team to learn a new system and play with a back three but it requires time and patience, something that football fans, teams and players (in other words: the entire sport) are not known for giving or having.

Blunt Attack

Probably the most disappointing part of the match was the lack of ideas in the final third. Both Müller and Lewandowski seemed invisible for most of the match. In fact, Lewandowski had zero shots. That is an utter failure for everyone involved.

It’s also laced with irony as logically you would expect more offensive potency with an extra attacking player on the pitch. However, the opposite was clearly true on Wednesday. While that extra player may provide more options at times, the bigger issue is that those players end up clogging up space in the box.

Both Lewandowski and Müller are very good at finding those little half spaces to work in that defenses leave open. However, that extra player seems to limit those spaces even further and often is simply adding another body in the box with little in the way of action or danger.

This five man attacking unit is not sustainable over the long haul, especially in its current incarnation. I do think that playing two of Sané, Coman and Gnabry with Müller and Musiala as the two central attacking players might work a bit better but even that is likely to cause challenges.


I have focused a lot on the structural problems with the formations being deployed in this match. I think if you were looking at this in a vacuum, you would logically conclude that the primary issue then is the coach and how he’s setting up this team.

However, this isn’t a vacuum and other factors have to be considered. Saturday saw him deploy the only viable option for a four man backline, given that players like Sarr, Richards and Stanišić do not appear to have proven themselves to anyone in Munich, including the coach.

Moreover, that match was a disaster. Upamecano looked bad and whether that’s because he’s still not fully recovered or something else, it seems unrealistic to expect Nagelsmann to put him back on the pitch three days later. I discussed the lack of fullback depth in the Bochum match report but suffice to say, playing four natural center backs is less than ideal and potentially disastrous.

Couple the lack of options and depth in defense with the others that were missing, specifically Goretzka and Musiala, and I’m not sure what options Nagelsmann really has. Tolisso and Sabitzer are not really direct replacements for Goretzka. Goretzka is far stronger against the ball than either of those players, has a better relationship and understanding with Kimmich and seems to have a better grasp of the responsibilities and positioning required of him.

While Musiala is not a starter yet at this stage of his career, he has been that spark off the bench that you need in games like the one in Salzburg. He brings something different and special to the pitch that no one else in this squad provides. His ability to dribble through impossibly tight spaces might have been just what Bayern needed but in his absence, Nagelsmann had only one first team offensive substitute available.

So while formation and tactics are certainly a problem, I’m not sure that there is an obvious solution for Nagelsmann until players get back from injury. Every option at this point comes with downsides. He could potentially deploy Kimmich as a right back again and put Hernández at left back, but then the midfield is much weaker, which likely would just make things worse.

Hopefully this is the wakeup call that Brazzo, Hainer and Kahn need to see that this squad is not good enough. The depth is not there. However that is moot until next summer when something can be done about it. For now, it’s up to Nagelsmann and the players to find a solution to at least muddle through the upcoming matches until they get a few more of their regulars back. Unfortunately, that might be a while though given the uncertainties surrounding Goretzka and Davies. So most likely, they’re going to need players like Tolisso, Sabitzer and Upamecano to really step up and provide the quality that they were brought in for.

»Eier, wir brauchen Eier!«

— Oliver Kahn

Support our project

Want to stay up to date?

Subscribe and get our most recent articles delivered to your inbox.

Follow us on your favourite social media platform:

  1. Was the match that bad, Marc? In my view it was an ok game, surely not great, but it was good enough considering the circumstances. As you already pointed out Nagelsmann had his hands tied for the game, or for current games to be precise. I think the current back-3 hybrid setup with 5 attackers is still a good choice, considering the fact that last time we played with 4 defenders, the result was catastrophic, and unless if Omar Richards suddenly transformed into the next Davies, it’s gonna be complicated. The players of course need time to get use to this tactic. We also have to mention Salzburg here, it was a very good effort from them, they played like a bunch of men possessed, and I think any team, especially without proper-equipped wing play, will have trouble at Salzburg last night. We managed to pinch them back for most of the match, especially the 2nd half, and of course a late draw is much better than a 0-1 loss to take home.

    The most disappointing aspect is of course fluidity and chances creation, and aside from less ideal positional game, our quick passing in the central area is too risky, especially facing a midfield diamond like last night. The missing of another technical midfielder who can bypass the pressing in central area and open up some spaces, or at least give more safety to the ball, is become more and more painfully obvious.

    Otherwise I’m still ok with the team as it is, and confident that they will get through this tie. Now here is the hope that we don’t face an elite team before getting Davies, Goreztka and Neuer back …

  2. Hi Hien. Thanks as always for the comment. This response got a little out of hand, as you will no doubt notice. My apologies in advance.

    Honestly, I’m pleased to see there is someone less upset with the performance than I was. I was trying to point out many of the same issues that you brought up throughout your response. I do think that it is natural for there to be questions about the formation and lineups given that this was the second not so great result in a row. However, I tend to agree that I ultimately don’t think things are as dire as they might appear at first glance.

    Salzburg as you said was very good. They hounded the Bayern players exceptionally well and made their lives difficult the entire evening. Tactically they did exactly what we expected and countered quickly and with precision causing issues with our already shaky defense. The more concerning issue was certainly the attack and lack of precision. Personally, I actually do think there is a bit of an issue here, though I also think that Salzburg played very deep once they got the opening goal and especially in the second half.

    Any time a team favored the way Bayern was goes down early to a team like Salzburg, that match is going to get infinitely more difficult as the less favored team almost always throws the majority of their players into the box defending. We have seen this countless times and I’m not sure why it’s always surprising to people. A big part of the reason that Muller and Lewy weren’t all that effective really had to do with the sheer number of defenders in the box. However, I do think there were enough opportunities where if they had been a bit more precise with their passing, they could have opened up Salzburg’s defense rather easily.

    That to me is the biggest issue in the match. Personally, I found the passing and buildup play extremely lacking. Yes Salzburg did well, but Bayern can and should be better than they were. There were far too many careless mistakes and on a better night, Bayern most likely would have come out of that match with 3-4 goals.

    I tried to relay that I agree Nagelsmann has no real choice in formation or squad selection and unlike the Bochum match, I don’t think you can question their effort/energy. However, he is going to have to find a way to get the team to play better under these tactics more quickly. Of the players mentioned being out, the least impactful to the system (Neuer) is the one most likely to be back any time soon. Goretzka’s injury is looking more and more like it could end up putting him out for months. Davies has recently passed the worst of his heart situation but he’s being very closely monitored and is apparently still expected to miss the better part of another month. That at the very least is going to leave them playing in this formation against Furth, Frankfurt, Leverkusen and the return leg against Salzburg.

    If they do not improve their play in that time frame, they could very well be out of the champions league and looking up at Dortmund in the Bundesliga. I still stand by my conjecture that adding Musiala into that front 5 instead of one of the wingers would likely provide a much better option. He brings in very different skills and style to their play that I think might suit this system far better. I think it also would lead to far less issues with players overlapping one another and giving much more defined roles within the formation.

    While I don’t suspect that they will ultimately lose to Salzburg or fall out of first in the Bundesliga, it is not completely impossible. Frankfurt and Leverkusen are two tough opponents that Bayern have struggled with at various times over recent seasons. It’s not much of a stretch to think that they will struggle to win both of those matches the way they are playing at the moment.

    Finally regarding the squad makeup which is really at the heart of all of this. For myself, I am at my wits end regarding the lack of action taken by the board in recent years to provide needed depth at key positions. I personally still have no issue with bring in Sabitzer. I think they were absolutely intending to sell off Tolisso (which still may happen) and Sabitzer was brought in as a replacement for him and thereby a backup for Goretzka. I think this can still absolutely work. However, the bigger issue is that they have ignored the absence of a backup for Kimmich since Thiago left. While Roca finally got the chance to prove himself this season, I still don’t believe that Nagelsmann considers him a real option. I especially don’t think he will consider playing Kimmich and Roca together which is a huge negative. Given these lineups with 5 attacking players, I think playing two less attacking options on the six might actually provide a bit more balance than we are achieving with Tolisso or Sabitzer next to Kimmich.

    And then there is the fullback situation, which I find even more ridiculous. I like Pavard. I like Hernandez. Both are good players that offer versatility and the option of playing both at centerback and fullback. However, neither should be our first choice at fullback and Pavard has been the unquestioned RB for almost 3 seasons now. I genuinely like Sule. I think that despite a few poor performances in the last few matches, he has actually been one of our most stable defenders this season. However, I was kind of ok with him leaving if it meant moving Pavard to CB and finding a legitimate RB. But now we’re hearing reports that they’re looking for another CB as a direct replacement for Sule which most likely means they have every intention of keeping Pavard at RB and doing nothing once again which I also suspect is the plan regarding the midfield this offseason.

    When everyone is healthy, the starting 11 and first 2-3 bench players are all very good. However, there is far too little depth at key positions within this squad. If they were to bring in a fulltime RB and a legitimate midfield option whose strengths were in passing and against the ball, I would have almost no problem with the make up of the team. Having Pavard and Hernandez as the backups for RB and LB respectively is completely fine. Even if they did end up having to use the two of them at the same time for a game here or there, I think I could get over it. The bigger problem is that instead of being two injuries away from that at the moment they’re one. The same goes for the midfield where I think either Tolisso or Sabitzer is going to have to be sold, most likely Tolisso. I think if you were to bring in a midfielder who could fill in both next to and in replacement of Kimmich, the squad depth would be just about perfect. But those two missing players are a massive problem and I’m not sure they have any intention on replacing Tolisso even if they do sell him. The news yesterday was that Bayern want to make Musiala a “Thiago” type of player. Personally, I don’t care for this as an option at all but even if you think that’s his future, his physicality is going to prevent him from being that player for at least a few years. he doesn’t have the strength that Thiago has. I don’t really think Bayern are or should be in a rebuilding phase, but based on reports like that, I can only come to the conclusion that the board does.

  3. I don’t see anything wrong with the setup. Maybe, Omar Richards or Stanisic can come in for one of the wingers just to have a little bit of defensive stability which is missing with the absence of Davies.

  4. […] talked about the lack of space in and around the box following the Salzburg match, but today it was obvious that the biggest issue was where Sane was playing. Every time Bayern […]

  5. Great stuff as per usual. I have a different take. I put this mostly on Nagelsmann. The system he prefers puts us at a disadvantage and rather than acknowledge that, move forward with a system he prefers less until he can get the squad to perform his preferred system, we look like we do- and that is a team that would be lucky to win one trophy. Complaints about the squad are an easy out and don’t really stand up as the team is not significantly different than the team that dominated Europe. And these poor showings aren’t in matches against Europe’s best, these are games against lower level talent. It’s his lack of confidence in the squad that we see, not a squad of players without class. There is nothing that I’ve seen to suggest Roca can not provide quality minutes. While Richards hasn’t looked great, he has clear qualities that actual game time might help develop. I’ve seen less out of Upamacano who we’ll continue to trot out there every other game, but Richards is too poor to start more than once a year? I believe most of our issues lie at Nagelsmann’s feet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.