Under-17s before the top match
Our last article about the youth teams was published before the start of the season. At that time we examined the squad and the expectations for the new season in detail. Since the age-group of players born in 2002 was comparably weak at FC Bayern, the club started the season with an extremely young Under-17, in which up to seven players from the age-group 2003 were in the starting eleven. In addition, Miroslav Klose started his first season as coach in charge.
VfB Stuttgart and TSG Hoffenheim were the designated favourites for the season. Eintracht Frankfurt and FC Augsburg were also highly rated. Two years earlier, all these four teams landed in the almost identical Under-15s regional league ahead of FC Bayern, who finished fifth at the time. In view of the highly talented, but also very young team, this was also the internal expectation of the management this season.
The season so far, however, has gone much better than expected for the under 17s. With 15 wins and only two defeats from 17 games, the B-youth of the German record champion is at the top of the table. With one game less they are three points ahead of the Hoffenheim team, followed by FSV Mainz with four points behind. There are still nine match days to play until it is decided which team will represent Southern Germany in the final round of the German championship. It would be FC Bayern’s third consecutive appearance in the finals after the championship under Tim Walter in 2017 and the second place under Holger Seitz in 2018.
The first matches of the season seemed to confirm the cautious expectations. A tough 3:1 season start against Wehen Wiesbaden was followed by a 2:1 victory in Unterhaching. However, in view of a whole half with one man up, including a field player in the opposing goal, this was a reason for coach Klose to publicly criticize his team. “We cannot be satisfied with our performance today, over the entire duration we have only reacted and acted too little. Haching showed us how to play, we didn’t do enough”, the coach summed up after the match. It was the perfect signal to the team to not only be satisfied with three points, but to make it clear that 100% commitment is required at all times.
Then followed the best game of the season so far against 1. FC Nürnberg (3:1), before FSV Mainz brought the team back to the ground with a clear 3:0 defeat. A game in which the team was completely overwhelmed with the high pressing of the home team. A week later, the Stuttgarter Kickers were defeated 1:0 with much effort shortly before the end. Afterwards, the team travelled to Hoffenheim for the first leg as a clear outsider, but retained there after a strong fighting performance with 2:1 the upper hand and thus stood at the top of the table. A convincing 6:0 against league bottom Ulm was followed by a strong first half in Augsburg, in which the team for the first time showed an excellent positional game and almost crushed the opponent in their half. However, it was symbolic for the young team that the second half of the match would not be successful and the 2:1 victory was narrow.
With VfB Stuttgart, the next match was against another top team of the league. It was a match on a knife’s edge with Swabians who had been superior for a long time, who then logically took the lead. But the small Bayern doubled back within a few minutes and did not give up the lead until the end of the game. At the latest this victory let the team almost burst with self-confidence, so that the other games until Christmas were almost a natural. Apart from the guest performance of Eintracht Frankfurt in Munich, which was one of the few teams to once again dare a courageous offensive pressing. Here the team again got into massive difficulties like against Mainz and lost deservedly with 0:2. Clear wins in Wiesbaden (4:0), against Haching (4:0) and in Nuremberg (5:0) rounded off the first part of the season.
For most of the season Miroslav Klose relied on a traditional back four in defence. After the team had some problems in both games with a back three in Unterhaching and Mainz, they were not to be seen in the other games, but very much in the preparation games for the second half of the season. The two full-backs Angelo Brückner on the right and David Herold on the left played in the past mostly on the offensive outer positions. Most of the time the chain acts quite traditional. With high-standing wing defenders against a single opposing striker, with a six dripping between the centre-backs against two opposing attackers. But Klose also has a few surprises up his sleeve.
In the graphic the nominal back four is highlighted. The full-backs act as strikers in this orderly build-up over the goalkeeper for a moment, while striker Tillman strengthens the midfield centre and the two wing strikers on the outside are waiting to pick up speed. It’s an attempt to play out the team’s strengths better. Possibly sending the fast wing Lasse Günther into a running duel or allowing the dynamic Tillman to start with the ball from the depths of midfield.
In the central defence, Klose opted for Jamie Lawrence, along with Roman Reinelt, who only switched from small Kirchheimer SC to FC Bayern in the Under-16s and played a very small role last season. But the choice for the already 2.00 meter tall giant proved to be the right one. Especially in the weaker phases of the team’s performance, in which they come under pressure, he is the rock in the waves and reliably heads away the opponent’s crosses out of the penalty area. For his outstanding performances in the first half of the season, he has now been rewarded in the winter break with his first nomination for the junior national team.
In the defensive midfield Leon Fust acts as a six in the build-up game. In the past years, the left footed player was mostly active as a left full-back but already in the Under-16, under Danny Schwarz, he often tilted into midfield. It was to be seen already that this position could be quite the future for him. The fact that Klose continued this idea and promoted him with all its consequences, although Fust caused one or two critical ball losses at the beginning of the season, is praiseworthy. And it is also in line with the credo of the youth department to prioritise individual development over the results.
Next to Fust, Torben Rhein is absolutely set. Probably the most talented German player born in 2003, Torben Rhein is currently regarded as the hottest horse in FC Bayern’s stable. He is still flying a little under the radar of public perception, but there will be enough headlines in the next few years. The two-footed Berlin-born player is unparalleled in German youth football. He shoots both corners and free kicks with both feet with an unbelievable precision for this age. Just like diagonal balls over half the field. An excellent example is this assist in the game against Stuttgart, which he plays perfectly after a left turn.
As the third player in the centre, Luca Denk returned at the end of the first round after his cruciate ligament rupture, which he suffered at the beginning of January 2018. The physically very advanced, powerful player was regarded as the second top talent after Rhein before his injury. Only time will tell how much this long break has harmed Denk. His type of player is a little reminiscent of Michael Ballack. Similar to the former Bayern professional, Luca Denk has an excellent instinct for pushing to the top as a midfielder at the right moment. He also possesses outstanding quality in long-range shots. His offensive qualities will also be important in the second half to compensate for the loss of Malik Tillman.
Because the captain of the team advanced early to the under 19s. For long stretches in the under-17s he played on the 10, after Denk’s return he then acted as the striker. With ten goals and six assists, he was the team’s top scorer. The team will not be able to replace him 1:1. Although David Halbich, who is likely to be the striker in the second half, is a solid squad player, he does not possess the outstanding talent of his teammate. Malik Tillman, once transferred to the Isar as the bonus of his bigger brother Timothy, is now considered more talented than his long-stagnating brother. In the Under 19s, he will once again play mainly in central midfield alongside Angelo Stiller to form the duo that led the Under 17s to the final of the German Championship last season.
On the wings Moritz Mosandl on the left and Lasse Günther on the right were set. Mosandl, who had to miss a whole season after his shin fracture, plays a rather mixed season with a few positive exceptions. However, he is also a victim of the many talented players in the centre, where he used to act and now he has problems to adapt to the tasks on the wing. Günther, who is tailor-made for a wing forward, is completely different. Always blessed with dynamism and an outstanding speed, four goals and eight assists were scored by the former Augsburg. For the German under-16 national team, he is mostly used as a striker and scored five goals in seven games. Günther is a bit like Kingsley Coman: High final speed, a lot of dynamism, but weaknesses in the final action at the end of the goal or in the pass. In addition, he still has to work a little on the first ball contact. All in all, however, he does surprisingly well against the almost exclusively older opponents he has to deal with.
All in all, the regular formation of the under-17s currently consists of four players born in 2002 (goalkeeper Manuel Kainz, Lawrence, Mosandl, Halbich) and seven players born in 2003 (Brückner, Reinelt, Herold, Fust, Denk, Rhein, Günther). In the winter break the team was further rejuvenated. For the departed Tillman (Under-19s), Evangelou, Sieghart (Unterhaching) and Oberleitner (Augsburg) three further players born in 2003, Gabriel Marusic, Behar Neziri and Nemanja Motika, moved up from the under-16s to Klose’s team. Additionally Yusuf Kabadayi is a player born in 2004. However, the four of them will probably not play a major role in the Under-17s until next season and use the time until then to find their way around the physical level.
There are still nine games to play for the under 17s of FC Bayern. The team will play at home against their closest rivals Mainz and Hoffenheim. The loss of captain Tillman is a difficult blow for the team in view of the regional championship. It is now up to the team to compensate for the lost goal threat by Tillman collectively. Whether this will succeed is one of the many exciting questions in the second half of the season. Much more important than the regional championship, however, is that the players develop both individually and as a team.
Klose has already achieved this noticeably with a few players in the first half of the season. In addition to Lawrence, David Herold is also a big winner, who was originally planned for the under-16s, who is now a regular under-17 player and was also allowed to take his first steps in the junior national team. It will also be interesting to see if Klose can develop the team’s tactics further. Especially the susceptibility against high pressing was conspicuous in the first round. Here, the team has to act more cleverly, position themselves better and create more passing options in order to beat the first opposing line. The top matches in particular should show whether the team is making progress here.
In addition, there is still an open potential in terms of dominance. All in all, the team has come under too much pressure in the course of the season so far. The positional play was improveable in some situations, the team partly lost in the course of a game the ball security and the concentration to play games safely down. Undoubtedly, in view of the very young team, this is a weakness that can be explained, but it is also an aspect of the game that needs to be worked on. Also the attack-pressing still offers a lot of potential. Here Klose let his team act very cautiously and low-risk in the first round and usually bet on a midfield pressing.
For the observer in the stands it is great fun to see this team playing football. For a long time FC Bayern did not have such a talented year like the 2003s, which are surprisingly well positioned in the top as well as in the depths. A handful of players born in 2003 who are outstandingly talented, but physically still somewhat underdeveloped, have not even been mentioned here yet, as they still play under-16. All these players are still flying under the radar of broad public perception. It should be the calm before the storm that will hit them in the next few years. And it should be very interesting to take stock of where these players stand in their lives in ten years’ time by reading this article again.