One of the curiosities of German football is that the league kicks off after the first round of the domestic trophy. As a result, clubs find themselves preparing for an opening game of the season with questions about selection already at the forefront of their mind. Do you field a strong team to prepare for the league but risk tiring players unnecessarily? Or do you field a weak team, focussing on the league but running the risk of dropping out of the cup at the first hurdle. In the case of Bayern Munich, a further potentiality is added to the mix: with the recent introduction of Carlo Ancelotti to the team as a manager, it is not even clear what the favoured team is at this point. Their visit to Jena in the DFB Pokal, then, presents an interesting headache for Ancelotti.
Whilst Carl Zeiss Jena should not present Bayern with too difficult a test, the perhaps overused phrase ‘the magic of the cup’ does exist for a reason. Ancelotti will want to get things right before he opens up his Bundesliga campaign next weekend with what is always a tough fixture against Werder Bremen. And despite their obvious underdog status, Jena could prove to be tricky opponents. Four wins out of four puts them comfortably top of the Regionalliga Nordost in the fourth tier of German football with their star midfielder Manfred Starke bagging three goals in the process. Their coach Mark Zimmerman is in his first stint in management but this does not mean he is inexperienced as far as Jena are concerned: he arrived at his current post after holding the positions of both assistant manager and youth team manager.
Team News and Tactics
The DFL Supercup did give some sort of indication of Ancelotti’s tactical thinking for the up-coming season. In that game, Ancelotti utilised the famous Christmas Tree formation that he implemented so successfully at AC Milan in the early 2000s. This allowed him to field five central midfielders within the same line-up. Where the current Bayern Munich squad differ from that Milan side, though, is in the spread of their midfielders—the Bayern midfield is dominated by midfielders who are strong in wide positions. In light of this, it seems likely that Ancelotti will flatten his Christmas Tree out into a more conventional 4-3- 3 formation with two wingers replacing the more centrally placed duo who sit behind the lone striker in the Christmas Tree.
Alternatively, the 4-3- 3 could be considered too negative a formation for what should be an easy match for the German champions. With the extra man in midfield perhaps too cautious, especially against a team who will most likely sit back through long stretches of the game, it may be the case that Ancelotti may prefer to utilise a 4- 2-3- 1 formation with a number ten sitting in behind the striker to increase the attacking threat of the team. Ancelotti has used Julian Green throughout the pre-season, and with the injury to Kingsley Coman, the American could make his way into the starting XI.
The ankle injury sustained by Coman during training this week might tempt Ancelotti to revert to last Sunday’s Christmas Tree, allowing Franck Ribery and Thomas Müller the chance to play more centrally. This would mean the full backs would be encouraged to find advanced positions which might mean David Alaba is picked at left back and Joshua Kimmich is preferred to Philip Lahm on the right, a position which he excelled in during the European Championship earlier this summer. It is thought that Mats Hummels will play in the middle accompanied Javi Martinez.
Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) – After a relatively quiet European Championship, the Polish striker will be looking to return to the sort of form that has become expected of him in the Bundesliga. And where better to do that than in a match against a fourth-tier side.
Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich) – If Kimmich does feature in the match, he will be keen to impress his new manager. Whilst he was only brought on in the closing twenty minutes of the Supercup, he could be given a start in this match. His persistence on the wing in Euro 2016 impressed a lot of people. If he is moved inside, expect him to retain his dogged running but with tough tackling thrown in.
It’s hard to see this match ending up as anything other than a win for Bayern Munich. The real question here is the nature of this win. Will it be treated as a tactical experiment by Ancelotti in the light of the upcoming Bundesliga season? Or will it be given over to the blooding of young talent? It seems most likely that it will be the former, in which case the question will not be whether or not Bayern will win but how much they will win by.
Prediction: Carl Zeiss Jena 0 – 4 Bayern Munich