Sané delivers and Tuchelball takes shape
When it comes to transfers worth hundreds of millions, the stakes are enormous. Despite unprecedented amounts of money in professional football driving up the price of players and FC Bayern’s more than generously filled savings account, every transfer of this magnitude is still a risk. That makes it all the more important for FC Bayern that Harry Kane doesn’t give cause for criticism.
The Englishman has so far succeeded in doing so. In his first ten competitive games, he scored nine times himself and set up five other goals. That corresponds to 1.6 scorers per 90 minutes. To put this in perspective, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have scored a total of 1.4 for FC Barcelona and Real Madrid (1.3 and 1.2 in their careers), while Robert Lewandowski has scored 1.2 for FC Bayern.
Kane is unlikely to maintain that rate. For a start with a new team, this is an exceptionally good figure. His general impact on the game has also been remarkable, particularly on Leroy Sané. Kane provided four of his five assists for the 27-year-old. Lerry Kané is born.
Especially in the game against SC Freiburg Kane was able to show the value of his playmaking qualities. Time and time again, he would drop into the middle of the park, tying up opponents and creating space for his quick and agile outfield teammates. Finally, Kane provides a focal point in attack who can add structure to the attack as well as dynamism when required.
Even more than Kane, Leroy Sané has been an obvious positive development for FC Bayern. The first glimpse of his excellent partnership with Kane came just four minutes into the season. Against Bremen, Sané timed his deep run perfectly for Kane, who had dropped back, to play the ball in behind the back line. The link between the two has remained, but Sané has also shone on his own. He has become a reliable source of outstanding performances.
According to Kicker, he is currently the Bundesliga’s highest-rated player, ahead of Serhou Guirassy and Alejandro Grimaldo. Whoscored ranks him second among all players from the top 5 leagues, behind Guirassy and ahead of Jude Bellingham. This is the company Sané currently belongs in when it comes to the in-form players. Not only because of his drive for goal, but also because he travels a lot between the lines and takes on responsibilities he used to be happy to shove off.
His dribbling before the one-two with Kane and his goal to make it 2-0 was outstanding. The offside goal after he made a large part of the Freiburg defence look old was even better. Sané still has to prove that he can deliver this kind of performance on a consistent basis. But his start to the season was impressive.
Against Freiburg, it seemed for the first time that Thomas Tuchel had FC Bayern exactly where he wanted them: in total control of the game for 90 minutes, defensively allowing nothing and offensively sufficiently dangerous to score two, three or four goals. Otto Rehhagel coined the term “controlled offence” 35 years ago. He used it to explain the rather defensive game of his Bremen team, which became German champions at the end of the season with a goal difference of 61:22.
123 seconds of Tuchelian perfection: After 22 minutes and 37 seconds, Kimmich and Müller win the ball as a team.
After more than a dozen further passes, the ball comes to Davies on the left. He passes to Sané. Sané cuts inside, dribbles around a defender, passes to Kane, whose through ball is intercepted. No goal yet. Freiburg’s clearing effort goes straight to Ulreich.
After more than a dozen more passes, the ball comes to Davies on the left. He passes to Sané. Sané cuts inside, dribbles around a defender, passes to Kane. Kane passes back to Sané and the ball goes through: 2-0 FC Bayern after 24 minutes and 40 seconds.
Before that FC Bayern had played the ball patiently in their own ranks, not by way the dreaded “U of Death”, but always with a view to gaining space, always waiting until they could get Sané into the desired position.
Even before the Freiburg game, a clear upward trend was visible. In twelve games under Tuchel in the 2022/23 season, FC Bayern scored 1.7 points per game. In the eleven games of the current season, it is 2.4 points.
The control over the ball and the opponent that Tuchel wants is different from what the players were used to under Flick and Nagelsmann. Slowing down with the ball, not always defending forward (almost) without exception without it. This means a change that must first take hold in the subconscious before the players can intuitively carry it out in the corresponding in-game situations. Especially in the beginning, this sometimes led to uncoordinated scenes: When one player defended forward and the other backward, the holes that had been haunting FC Bayern’s defensive efforts for so long appeared. Tuchel seems to be slowly plugging these holes.
The upward trend and the results are there. But not all that is gold glitters yet. In their three encounters with top sides Leipzig and Leverkusen, Bayern were clearly the inferior team at times. Seven goals conceded in those three games cannot be Tuchel’s ambition.
There is still room for improvement in the squad and Tuchel’s plans with some of the players. He is still working on the ideal solution for his “holding six”, and the coming winter transfer window will probably bring the permanent answer.
And there is another problem that has gone almost unnoticed so far: Jamal Musiala. Tuchel has yet to find the perfect way to integrate the Bavarian crown jewel. In Tuchel’s more defensive style of play, Musiala has rarely been on the ball in the positions and situations where he can best play to his strengths: Musiala needs contact with the ball in the penalty area, preferably with many opponents and teammates in close proximity.
Then, with his dribbles and one-twos, he can cause danger from tight areas from which there seemed to be no productive way out. But he rarely gets into these situations. His ball contacts in the opponent’s penalty area have more than halved under Tuchel compared to Nagelsmann.
Tuchel must develop a plan for Musiala that suits his strengths. If on the 10 he does not get into the situations in which he can shine, a switch to the eight or to the wing would be an option.
He came with high expectations. He fulfilled them. Miasanrot voted Matthijs de Ligt our player of the season.
Football is a fast-moving business. And so it was that de Ligt suddenly found himself a substitute at Bayern. Injuries in pre-season and during the season have not made his situation any easier, but should not be used as an excuse for a demotion. Tuchel has made it clear that Kim and Upamecano are his current first-choice defensive partnership.
De Ligt’s role is a dilemma that cannot be easily resolved. Three wingers for two wide positions is not a problem. In attack, you can make liberal substitutions throughout the season, especially early on. In addition, there are always variations for Coman, Gnabry and Sané together. Three central midfielders for two positions is no problem. Laimer can also play at full-back, and there is enough playing time for all of them.
The situation is different at centre-back. Here, most coaches rely as much as possible on a well-rehearsed core formation. Handing over strikers, agreeing on offside traps, trusting each other: Coordination is more important than individual form in central defensive roles. If you lose your starting spot, it’s hard to get many minutes.
The members of FC Bayern’s now disbanded transfer committee are unlikely to look back on the 100 days of the summer with much joy, but they can be expected to be longing for the 84 days until the next transfer window opens to be over. On 1 January 2024, new sporting director Christoph Freund will have the chance to try and remedy the disaster of the second half of August.
It seemed as if the Kane transfer had not only tied up all resources, but also all thoughts. FC Bayern acted confused at times. The squad lacked depth in all defensive positions. The back and forth about Tuchel’s “holding six” not only failed to produce a result in the form of a transfer, it also revealed completely unclear and uncoordinated transfer processes.
Who evaluated the squad and planned the needs, and when? How can Bayern Munich see no need for a new player and then, within 24 hours, suddenly be prepared to pay huge sums of money for a second-string player?
It was not just the transfers that were managed in a disastrous fashion. Bayern also failed to extend the contracts of Kimmich, Sané and Davies in the summer. All three contracts expire in 2025, meaning that 2024 will be a very late point for an extension. From then on, there is a risk of a repeat of what happened with Ballack, Kroos and Alaba: relatively low transfer fees or departures for free a year later.
The chronology is almost absurd. While those in charge were still trying to talk up the squad in public, Tuchel had long since put his finger in the wound in public. And later it didn’t take long for the club to admit that they had made a mistake with the near-transfer of Jérôme Boateng, which was questionable on many levels.
Professional behaviour this is not. The summer of 2023 could have repercussions for a long time to come.