Bayern Munich may have struggled to sign that key attacking piece this summer. But on the bench, the club have already secured the most important signing in new assistant coach Hansi Flick.
The former assistant coach to German national team coach Joachim Löw, Flick was considered instrumental in Germany’s successful 2014 World Cup campaign. Hence, when Niko Kovac’s assistant Peter Hermann announced his retirement from football this spring, Bayern swooped quickly to sign Flick as a replacement.
It could turn out to be Bayern’s most important signing of the summer. An impact that was already visible in Bayern’s ICC encounter against Real Madrid. Despite taking the lead in the first half, Bayern struggled against Real, and it was only thanks to keeper Manuel Neuer that the Rekordmeister was able to take an advantage into the first half.
While Bayern were struggling on the pitch, Kovac and Flick were in animated discussions with each other. The two did not like that their side was deeply pressed into the defensive third.
“We played well going forward,” Kovac said after the game. “Our play in the attacking third was good, but defensively we have to improve, overall we are happy with the result.”
Bayern were certainly excellent going forward. But like it was the case in many games last season the Bavarians struggled when being subjugated to a high pressing line. “We started well and managed to create several chances in the first half,” Zinedine Zidane would rightfully point out.
The first half is likely a closer indicator of the true strength of both sides. Bayern seem just a bit further ahead in the physical preparations and as Zidane started to rotate a fitter Bayern side overpowered his team.
Hence, bringing on Serge Gnabry in the second half for Fiete Arp, who despite his obvious talent is not a physical winger, gave Bayern the power to counter-press Real and keep the Spaniards deep in the defensive third.
Real Madrid, in fact, had no measures to stop the power-football combination of Kingsley Coman on the left and Serge Gnabry on the right. Even after Coman was taken off for Canadian Alphonso Davies—the Canadian having packed on some significant muscle mass in the offseason—the onslaught continued and was increased once Thiago was taken off for Leon Goretzka.
Those changes highlight some of Bayern’s significant problems in the first half. Without a high press and strength in the attacking line, Bayern can fall victim to the counter-press by opponents.
The only player that could withstand that press in the first half was Portuguese midfielder, Renato Sanches. But once midfield lost control Real Madrid’s speed generated by fast wingers Eden Hazard and Marco Asensio, as well as accentuated by Karim Benzema caused some significant problems for a backline that lacked speed.
Lack of defensive speed that was caused by Jérôme Boateng and Javi Martínez—the Spaniard once again highlighting that he is not a centre-back—struggling with players coming at them with high speed. But there were also the defensive problem was also on either wing with Joshua Kimmich, who at times drifts too far forward and David Alaba, he displayed the same lapses, giving to much room for Real’s forwards.
Flick and Kovac stopped their attacking flow with a simple trick. Like Löw they moved Kimmich to take up the defensive midfield role. There Kimmich’s playmaking and forward movements are more effective going forward and cause less damage in defence. In his stead, Benjamin Pavard played the right part in the defence, which ultimately cut of Real’s attacking play on that wing.
It is a tactical measurement that we might see more frequently next season. With Bayern failing to sign a central midfielder Kimmich could fill that role. That, in turn, could lead to a switch of formation towards a 3-5-2, which ultimately could fix Bayern’s defensive woes and is a formation that both Flick and Kovac are familiar with.