“We lost the ball to easily in midfield, we have to do better,” Bayern Munich defender Niklas Sule admitted to Kicker. “We will address the mistakes,” concurred Sporting Director Hasan Salihamidzic. Bayern had just routed Tottenham Hotspur, last season’s European Cup finalists, 7-2 away from home but, amid the euphoria, concerns remained obvious and, just four days later, a limp 2-1 home defeat to Hoffenheim underlined that Niko Kovac’s dream is still a long way from being realised.
Bayern, and especially Serge Gnabry, undoubtedly deserve European football’s praise and fear after such a result but that 7-2 scoreline comes laden with caveats. Central to Bayern’s emphatic destruction of an increasingly forlorn Tottenham was some unusually devastating finishing. All seven goals were spectacular; from Joshua Kimmich’s swerving equaliser to Robert Lewandowski’s exacting turn and finish for 2-1 to Gnabry’s jinking run and arrowed shot for his first of four.
Although aided by some wayward Spurs defending, Bayern only managed two more shots on target than Spurs and 70% resulted in a goal. Three being from outside the area and a further three coming as Spurs collapsed in the final few minutes, the game finally beyond them, as is common for the losing side in similarly high scoring games. Maintaining that level of efficiency and attacking precision is unlikely, as will finding opponents as deep in disarray as Spurs.
Having been not too far from an exit last Spring, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge even failing to guarantee Niko Kovac’s continued stay after the 5-0 demolition of Borussia Dortmund in April, the mauling of Spurs nevertheless signalled the Croatian coach’s own development across his 15 months in charge. Bayern are slowly morphing into a team made in their manager’s image. Much as his Eintracht Frankfurt side were, Kovac’s Bayern are becoming more obdurate, stoic and organised. The massive outlay to secure Lucas Hernandez’s services, a defender with Diego Simeone’s ‘Cholismo’ engrained in his game, underlines Kovac and Bayern tactical direction, as well as an obvious need to invest in youth.
Hernandez is complemented by Benjamin Pavard, a versatile, all purpose defender, also used to a similarly pragmatic approach under Didier Deschamps with the French national team and hardly a full back (where he has been used of late) in the modern Jordi Alba-type mould. Meanwhile, backed by their coach’s enduring faith, the continued rise of Gnabry and Kingsley Coman, as well as the addition of Ivan Perisic, lends Bayern’s pace and directness to Kovac’s more counter attacking style. Spurs were given something of lesson in rapid transitions and the smash and grab break away goal in North London last week.
With club heroes Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery leaving over the summer, the last vestiges of the Jupp Heynckes’ treble winning side that formed the basis of Germany’s World Cup winning squad a year later, an emotional and philosophical void quietly opened and Kovac has finally begun to fill it. Young, vibrant and dynamic players such as Gnabry, Coman, Hernandez and Pavard are starting to lead while Kovac’s own ideas, rather than those left over from the Guardiola era and favoured by the old guard, are becoming the team’s modus operandi. Much like the demolition of Dortmund last season, the 7-2 felt like Kovac’s victory rather than Bayern simply being Bayern.
For now however, Kovac’s ideas only get his new team so far. An away tie at a similarly strengthened team, in this case last season’s Champions League runners-up, suits Kovac. Bayern can sit deep when needed, keep the ball neatly and counter when the chance arises. The pressure, in almost cliched fashion, is on their hosts. The draw at Anfield in last season’s Round of 16 underlined that Bayern, in this guise, are however almost reliant on errors or space being allowed by others. Spurs afforded Munich a lot of each but Liverpool were far less obliging, that first leg ending 0-0.
Although admittedly last season’s Liverpool may be clearly superior to this season’s Spurs, while Bayern themselves have improved in that time, what Kovac should do when his team are themselves faced with circumventing a low block or playing on the front foot against a stronger opponent remains uncertain. Liverpool’s obvious quality aside, Munich provided few answers for the second leg of that tie while the Croatian coach has yet to prove he has a viable plan for such a situation when sheer class of player is unable to overwhelm the average Bundesliga outfit.
Despite Julian Naglesmann’s exit, this weekend’s foes Hoffenheim remain more than the median German top tier team even if his former assistant Alfred Schreuder has yet to entirely convince as a head coach. Perhaps a little drained by their mid week excursions, the 11 that began the second half in London were retained at the Allianz, Munich’s display was by contrast largely flat, ponderous and lacking in intensity. A not uncommon occurrence for the more unappetising Bundesliga assignments in the Kovac era.
Bayern were themselves quickly exposed on the counter attack, Sargis Adamyan racing clear inside four minutes on Saturday afternoon only to be denied by a back tracking Jerome Boateng. Although the Champions managed to craft a few minor openings, Hoffenheim were comfortable, much as Munich are, in maintaining their shape and using the ball well when given the chance and it was Adamyam who eventually pounced on 54 minutes. Sebastian Rudy robbed Corentin Tolisso of the ball in midfield before feeding Adamyan to finish neatly at Manuel Neuer’s near post. Careless defending and a swift counter reminiscent of Bayern’s previous outing in London.
In a rare moment of inspiration, Thomas Muller’s cute dinked cross invited Lewandowski to head home an equaliser with less than 20 minutes to play but Adamyan again had Hoffenheim ahead 6 minutes later. Further loose play, this time from Perisic, was picked off for the visitors to break and Robery Skov’s low cross to eventually find Adamyan who fizzed a shot into the same corner as his first. Hoffenheim withstood some underwhelmingly moderate pressure at the death with minimal fuss and the points were theirs.
Munich’s week has highlighted that transition persists at the Allianz and they enter the international break third in the league as one of seven teams at the top separated by just 2 points. In the space of a few days Kovac has shown he is capable of engineering a devastating performance, albeit with a number of factors in their favour, on Europe’s biggest stage before quickly underlining that there are also many issues yet to be resolved. Kovac and Bayern remain very much under construction, do better they must. As Kicker explained following the 7-2 demolition of Tottenham: ‘Such a period of weakness, in a knockout game, can quickly lead to the end of dreams.’
1 | Borussia Monchengladbach found themselves 3-0 up inside the first 13 minutes against Augsburg on Sunday afternoon following their Europa League exploits. Their eventual 5-1 demolition of their Bavarian opponents put Marco Rose’s club to the top of the Bundesliga. Coached by an ex-RB Salzburg manager, the quintet that follow also came through the coaching scene of the Austrian drinks company bar Christian Streich (Freiburg) – Oliver Glasner (Wolfsburg), ex-RB Salzburg assistant manager, Niko Kovac (Bayern), ex-RB Salzburg youth coach and Julian Nagelsmann (RB Leipzig) make the top five.
2 | Wolfsburg join European giants Juventus in being the only remaining side unbeaten in Europe’s top four leagues. Playing less than impressive football, the Bundesliga club edged past Bundesliga newcomers Union Berlin on Sunday through Netherlands international Wout Weghorst. With an emphasis on defence, Glasner’s side have conceded just four in seven games.
3 | Borussia Dortmund once again let a lead slip, on two occasions against Freiburg on Saturday. A third successive 2-2 draw for last season’s Bundesliga runners-up has raised questions regarding the future of head coach Lucien Favre, with many suggesting he doesn’t have a plan B, which his decision making over substitutions also brought under scrutiny. A break over the international period, Dortmund welcome leaders Borussia Monchengladbach to the Westfalenstadion in a game where they much get a result.