U-19 ready to go for the top spots
We can only guess what the reasons for the downward trend in the last months of the season were. Important players like Alexander Schwend, Valentin Micheli, Yousef Emghames, and Dominik Martinovic were unavailable for most of the later part of the season, which surely played a role, but even without them, the team’s potential was big enough to achieve a better result than where they actually ended up.
In this new season, the rather weak year of 1997 has moved on to senior playing level, and the new team of 1999 players around the two German youth national players Manuel Wintzheimer and Timothy Tillmann will bring strong new players into the U-19 team. Last season, they were contenders for the championship in their division until the very last match-day. Mathis Lange, a transfer from Energie Cottbus, is the only external player addition, and it will be a month or two until he will be able to take part in the action due to knee problems. Other desired external transfers eventually fell through due to budgetary issues; but even so the team is filled with strong individual players and is likely the best Under-19s team Bayern have fielded in several years.
A series of pre-season test games resulted in mostly positive outcomes, including a 1-1 draw against Chelsea FC’s Under-18s team, a 4-3 win against Liverpool’s Under-18s, and a 4-1 win against RB Salzburg. The team had to play without Timothy Tillmann and Mario Crnicki during several of these games, as they were touring the US with Carlo Ancelotti and the first team.
The final test was a game against Viktoria Plzen’s U-19s in a game at Säbener Strasse. In a dominant game for Bayern, Adrian Fein scored after a Niklas Tarnat free kick, but the team’s failure to add a second goal would soon come back to haunt them: Plzen equalized with a lucky shot into the top corner. Two minutes later, however, substitute Resul Türkkalesi put Bayern back in the lead and Bayern’s U-19 won 2-1. The key take-away from that game was the team’s very strong defensive form, due mainly to Holger Seitz’s low-risk approach – tactics which differ from the strategy Tim Walter followed with the Under-17s team, and which could result in fewer goals scored.
This season’s U-19 squad is good not only in terms of quality, but also quantity. So good, in fact, that there are more potential first-team players than actual first-team starting spots.
Let’s start at the back. Ron Thorben Hoffmann is solid support in goal whom the team can rely on. He makes occasional mistakes in build-up play that lead to goals against Bayern, but for a goalkeeper his age, that’s perfectly normal. In Enrico Caruso and Daniel Shorunkeh-Sawyerr, he has two reliable stand-ins behind him.
In front of goal, Felix Götze is set for the first eleven as the strongest centre-back, with Thomas Isherwood and Maxime Awoudja competing for the position next to him. The Swede Isherwood has a slight advantage there, but both have obvious weaknesses in build-up play. The left full-back position is filled by Marco Friedl, an Austrian youth national player who was part of the first team training camp under Pep Guardiola. His counterpart on the right is team captain Matthias Stingl.
Next up on the field, Holger Seitz has a true luxury problem: two excellent strikers, two excellent offensive players, and two excellent wingers can’t all play at the same time. The most recent test games indicated that Seitz decided to give up the strong wingers that are so typical of Bayern’s style of play. He played a so-called “flat four” in midfield, with the defensive positions covered by Niklas Tarnat and the captain of last year’s U-17 team, Adrian Fein. In front of them, Shabani and Tillmann play as wingers, though their role is very different from the constant runs up and down the flanks that Ribéry does for the first team. Instead, their primary focus is to move inwards, pull their opponents with them and free up space for the full-backs who move up on the field. Their other task is to play the key pass to one of the two strikers, Manuel Wintzheimer and Mario Crnicki.
Naturally, choosing these two players means leaving out two other ones – in this case, the nominal wingers, Benjamin Hadzic and Yousef Emghames, who were moved to the bench. On the other hand, this setup gives Holger Seitz the option to react should a game go badly, and change the game completely with two strong wingers. It will be interesting to see if the team will manage to turn some games around that way.
The season kicked off with a home game against SC Freiburg on Sunday, which resulted in a 2-1 home victory and three points for Seitz’s team. After that, the next game comes during the week, away against Stuttgarter Kickers, before the prestigious local derby against Munich’s blue team on match-day three. Match-day four sees a game against TSG Hoffenheim, a strong opponent who will be able to give a clear indicator of where the team stands within the league.
Similar to the U-17s, the U-19s can be expected to get placed amongst the best three teams in their division. Unfortunately, this season only the division champion will qualify for the final for the German Championship; the Southern division had to give up their second place to the Western division due to their worse standing in the three-year ranking. Of course, the classic Bayern issue of injuries might play its part in determining this year’s success; but the squad should be deep enough to cover single injury losses without a reduction in quality.