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.
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.
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.