August 19, 2017

On Bayern’s defensive predicament

Bayern’s defensive problems have been a talking point for several seasons now and despite an undoubted improvement under Jupp Heynckes this season, problems persist. A closer look reveals that Bayern tend to struggle, defensively speaking, against the same type of opponents and encounter similar issues at the back.  When those problems become a trend a certain predicament arises that may very well threaten Bayern’s big ambitions this season.  Fanatic contribute and sports writer Sherif Morris explores Bayern’s problems in the back, what is behind them and what may needs to be done to rectify them.

In wake of Bayern’s loss to Borussia Mönchengladbach, one must ponder the
inevitability of a loss many pundits would have predicted long before the tie was played out. In Lucien Favre’s Gladbach you have a team which has typified the kind of defensively organized and counter attacking football Bayern have struggled with over the years. A combination of Hanke, Arango, Hermann and young German starlet Marco Reus have been integral to transforming Gladbach from a mediocre Bundesliga outfit to a top tier attacking squad and against Bayern, you never would have guessed which team barely escaped relegation only six months back.

Badstuber and Van Buyten have been Heynckes's first choice CB pairing this season.

To meet this metamorphosed attacking triplet was a Bayern Munich back four which
have looked increasingly incapable of dealing with faster attacking play. The two central defenders: Daniel Van Buyten and Holger Badstuber are, in almost every sense of the
word, not the kind of center-backs you’d want facing the pace and movement of Reus and Herrmann. To begin with, Daniel Van Buyten is a slow, slumbering giant who is adept at dealing with aerial threats, yet – in a typically maladroit fashion, was unable to deal with the speed and intelligence of a Borussia counterattack, he was far too slow.

Holger Badstuber on the other hand, has enjoyed a magnificent start to this season.
Although not as ungraceful as Daniel Van Buyten, he is hardly aided by the fact that
much like his partner, he too is not the speediest of defenders. Despite being an
intelligent, powerful defender who has demonstrated his abilities at the highest level,
Badstuber needs someone to complement his playing style and make up for is lack of
pace. At the beginning of the season, Boateng looked like the man to do so, and it
appeared as though the young German was signed for that very reason. He is by all
means an athletic, strong and very capable defender and for much of the first half of the
season looked like the long term solution to Bayern’s defensive woes.

Boateng and Badstuber had clicked, rather convincingly and helped guide Bayern to the
top of the table, with numerous clean sheets in the process, eight consecutive matches without a goal conceded in fact. They were a defensive pair in the making as each individual could count on the other for cover, and given their eagerness to prove themselves at the highest level – always appeared focused. Additionally, Badstuber reclaimed his position in the starting 11 with both Germany’s biggest club as well as the National Team.

Boateng has been sharing RB duties with Rafinha, to the detriment of Bayern's defensive stability.

However, with Daniel Van Buyten at center back, things have never appeared too stable.  This is of course accentuated by the misfortune that was Schweinsteiger’s
injury. Without their world class midfielder, the back four appear ever more penetrable
and unconvincing in a myriad of ways. Van Buyten might be a talented defender in his own right, but as previously mentioned, is not athletic enough to cope with the fastest players in the league or in Europe. Badstuber might be, next to Hummels, Germany’s best defender – but he is a shadow of himself when paired with a player who simply doesn’t know how to adapt to a fast paced game.

A solution of course might be to reinstate Boateng into the center of defense and bring
back much needed intelligent decision making and pace, something that looks likely considering Van Buyten’s lengthy spell out after his injury against Gladbach. However, with Heynckes’s insistence that he play out wide and the announcement that Bayern are looking for a world class center back, it is unlikely to happen. Boateng is not a below par fullback, but he is certainly not a world class one either, and is only marginally preferable to Rafinha it seems.

To compete at the highest level, Bayern are going to need a defender who brings in
adequate amounts of experience, yet who is also athletic and can read the game before it happens. If you were to look at the top defensive pairings in Europe in recent memory, a noticeable trend emerges: Puyol and Pique (Barcelona), Ramos and Pepe (Real Madrid), Ferdinand and Vidic (Manchester United), Lucio and Samuel (Inter Milan). These teams have combined both experience and athletic finesse at the back, and have emerged as some of the meanest pairings in Europe throughout the last ten years.  Bayern desperately want to reach the zenith of Europe’s elites again but without a defense to match its attack that is unlikely to happen.

Follow Sherif on twitter @SherifMorris

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Cristian Nyari

Cristian is a football writer and analyst living in New York City, fascinated with the history and study of the beautiful game and all it entails. Follow Cristian on twitter @Cnyari

6 Comments

  1. Good points, doesn’t seem like Bayern have struck the right balance in their game, not when they come up against sides like Gladbach, Dortmund, Hannover, etc.

    When they’re not pushed back or up against competent counter attacking sides their lack of pace isn’t a problem but when they do they just don’t know how to deal with it. Also tells me that Heynckes relies way too much on a single tactic, something that people were very critical of under LvG.

  2. I think Boateng could work if they just give him time in the center, which they haven’t done so far. There is also Höwedes in case they really don’t trust or are willing to go with Boateng.

  3. As I remember it, Bayern was playing a much deeper line in the early part of the season with all those clean sheets and people here were complaining that we did not get forward enough. Schweinsteiger and Gustavo were paired in the center with Gustavo very much playing a DM role, which made the attack very left sided — especially with the lack of link-up between Gustavo and Muller. Lots of people were unhappy that Bayern were squeaking out 1-0 wins against weaker sides with all the offensive star power they had on hand.

    The defense began to struggle when Bayern began to click on offense and the line pushed higher. At the same time they started to swap the defense around as Boateng picked up cards and Heynckes seemed to lose faith in Rafinha.

    I really wonder how much of this is the personnel and how much is just that since the offense clicked and started attacking everyone drifted much higher and Bayern’s backs can cope with this. I do think it may be that simple.

  4. And why is Badstuber an adequate solution then? I’d bet you if you asked Bayern fans to compare the two, it would be very close or boateng would win. Bads has played consistently, Boateng hasn’t!

  5. Cristian,

    I agree with you that Boateng is probably not an adequate (i.e world class) solution. So what do you think they should or, realistically, could sign then?

    Guido

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