August 23, 2017

THE CURIOUS CASE OF FC BAYERN: Its Continuing Problems and the Gomez Paradox

The first match day of the 49th installment of the Bundesliga came to a close this past weekend and Bayern Munich were at the forefront of the round’s biggest upset.  The 0-1 home loss to Borussia Mönchengladbach was their first opening season loss in 10 years and the first time the visitors had beaten them at home in nearly two decades.  The club that spent a total of 43 million Euros over the course of the summer got off to the worst start imaginable, losing in front of their home crowd to a side that needed a relegation playoff to stay in the top flight. For most pundits, the main talking point was and will remain the continuing defensive problems of the club.  After all, the goal came from a misunderstanding between the two new signings, Manuel Neuer and Jerome Boateng – the two players brought in to iron out those very defensive concerns. In reality, the problem lies much deeper and singling out the defensive errors is criminally glossing over a far bigger issue – namely, the ideological one.

To avoid presenting this as purely a match analysis, a contextual basis needs to be laid out. Against Gladbach, Bayern had more possession, more shots and created more chances, as is almost always the case for Bayern in the Bundesliga.  So what is the problem?  Poor finishing? Bad luck? Bunkering by Gladbach? All these will no doubt be used to describe the result but to really understand why this match was not an anomaly but in fact much of the same, we have to step away from this as a singular event and delve a little deeper.

As such, two primary factors can be outlined: 1. Tactical – or how Bayern’s setup is incongruous to the way they intend to play and instead is inexpedient, and 2. Managerial – the governing element – a continuing stubbornness and subversion of modernization, and its’ subsequent fallout.  This ideological component is the bigger and more important one of course.

For the better part of three years, Bayern have been lining up with a 4-2-3-1, the formation of choice for most big club sides in Europe.  When Louis van Gaal first arrived he set out to instill his own philosophy at the club and part of that meant he had to experiment initially.  He began with a 4-3-3 and eventually settled on a flexible 4-4-2 which eventually evolved into what we see today.  He had his critics from day one but in his first season, van Gaal got Bayern to play a brand of attacking football that, despite its rawness, was able to hold up in Europe.  His philosophy was a retention-based counter attacking game.  The idea was to teach the side how to alternate between a proactive and conservative style of play at will.  He had an ideal midfield pairing of Schweinsteiger and Van Bommel to work with, suited perfectly to that philosophy.  Both were hard working players, good defensively with a very good football IQ.  They alternated continuously between retaining the ball, kickstarting attacks and generally dictating play from the center of the pitch.  Both were of course excellent throughout the season and key in the team’s success.  What also distinguished Bayern that season was its flexibility in attack. Olic and Müller constantly interchanged and played the channels wisely, allowing Robben and Ribery to cut in at will and play their natural game. And although the gameplan isolated record signing Mario Gomez, who remained an auxiliary figure that season, Bayern were creative and unpredictable and had their most successful season since the Champions League win in 2001.

The Gomez Paradox

The following year, van Gaal compromised and used Gomez to spearhead his attack in the new 4-2-3-1. A long-term injury to Olic no doubt played a part in the decision as well.  Gomez went on to have an incredible individual season, scoring 39 goals in 45 competitive matches – a more efficient rate than any other striker in the top four leagues that season.  But to understand the problems inherent in this system we need to take a look at what made Gomez so successful in it.  For one, he was more confident.  After being marginalized tactically in his first season he was motivated to prove his worth but the key element was the modification, not the shape itself as van Gaal toyed with the notion of a 4-2-3-1 in his first season as well, but to make changes within the existing framework.  This meant that Gomez became the reference point of the team.  All attacks were from then on geared towards him.  Fullbacks, when overlapping, would not cut in as they do in most 4-2-3-1 formations but instead cross directly.  The same was true of the two wing forwards, Ribery and Robben.  There was a visibly greater emphasis on wide play and crossing to Gomez and a great decrease in use of the space between central defenders and fullbacks as Olic and Müller thrived on the previous season.

Gomez benefited from similar conditions at Stuttgart where he was likewise the focal point of the side. As a player, he is a bit of an enigma. He doesn’t offer blistering pace of most modern strikers nor is his technical ability a particular strong point. He will often need one or two extra touches to set himself up and his ability to run off the ball does not necessarily suit the formation that was originally devised to play the channels between the fullbacks and central defenders. Still, his nose for goal is extraordinary. His positioning within the box is traditionally predatory and his physique lends itself perfectly to deal with even the most robust of defenders, not to mention he wins most of his aerial battles. Other notable sides that use the same formation use strikers who as fit the above criteria: ‘mobile’, ‘technical’, ‘ability play outside the box’ and so on.  Inter’s Diego Milito under Mourinho was a deceptively technical player, capable of all the above. Eto’o and Pazzini do much the same now. Higuain and Benzema at Real Madrid, Drogba at Chelsea, and Torres in his Liverpool days, Barrios at Dortmund, even Manchester United with Berbatov and Ronaldo all suit the role.

Ronaldo's heatmap as wing forward in a 4-2-3-1.
Di Maria as wing forward in a 4-2-3-1 - Click to expand

 

 

 

 

Simply put the 4-2-3-1 thrives particularly because there is no direct reference point. It emphasizes its wing forwards cutting in and feeding the channels but the latter are as much attacking outlets as its strikers. The same is evident with the German National Team. With Bayern that is simply not the case. Ribery and Robben are reduced primarily to suppliers instead. For wing-forward whose natural game is cutting in, taking shots, feeding the channels, they are exceptionally passive in this setup. Of course both will occasionally still play to their instincts but by simply looking at match heat maps, it is extraordinary to see just how wide they stay during a game.  On the other hand, when Olic was used upfront instead of Gomez, Ribery and Robben seemed to enjoy much more freedom to roam and play their natural game. Gomez’s inclusion restricted the amount of space notably.  This weekend’s match against Gladbach is the perfect example. Bayern had a total of 27 crosses (24 of the 27 coming from the left flank), a matchday high. The corresponding charts shows Müller crossing an incredible 9 times and his replacement Ribery crossing 5 times in his 30 minutes on the field.

The strength of most elite sides is that there is a variety to their game plans. There is usually your plan A. which a given manager builds his philosophy on and is based on a core set of players and a plan B, or backup, if the former is ineffective – executed to chase games, close games, and so on. Examples are Mourinho’s counter-based sides supplemented by his bunkering/chocking late match tactics, Barcelona’s pressing supplemented by extreme retention, Del Bosque’s use of Torres supplemented by a Llorente substitution and aerial play. Bayern are seemingly void of any alternative to their Gomez centric strategy. On the contrary, there seems to be a severe over-reliance on their primary plan which can be quite simply condensed into “1. Win the ball, play it out wide 2. Cross to Gomez  3. Repeat”. There is absolutely no indication of a greater concept as van Gaal’s first season seemed to foreshadow. Bayern win the ball and drive it forward in hope, not to create space but rather that space will create itself. There is a whimsical desperation to their method, something extremely uncharacteristic of players like Ribery, Robben, and Müller – players we know are capable of far more adventurous play than their Bayern counterparts seem to indicate.

Robben's movement with Olic as striker (vs. Lyon 2010 CL semi final)
Robben's movement with Gomez as striker (2011 CL quarter final vs. Inter)

 

The use of Ribery around the 60th minute could have ushered in a new tactical approach but it was clear from his first touch that he was instructed to get the ball wide and cross to Gomez. It is even more startling that in the post-match interview, Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes made the following remark:

We should have upped the pace and moved the ball wide more often, but we weren’t determined enough to prise apart a team which came here and set out their defensive stall.”

Müller's crossing vs. Gladbach.

When crossing 20+ times failed to work, the next best thing is to cross even more. This, I claim, is where the club’s major problem lies – choosing the proverbial blue pill over the red pill or subverting the reality in front of their faces and substituting it for an illusory one. There seems to be almost a lack of clear direction when shaping this side for the future. It took management long enough to see that their defensive woes was a major gap that had to be addressed but at the same time it is a deceptive move because it fails to consider that no matter what defenders or goalkeepers are present, there still seems to be a distinct lack of team philosophy, embodied quite frequently and alarmingly. This again, is characteristic of Bayern management, not only in the past couple of years but one can claim for the last decade as well. Since Hitzfeld’s 2001 Champions League triumph Bayern had 7 managerial appointments – apart from Real Madrid, an extremely high number for a side wishing to establish themselves as a constant threat amongst the European elite.

Ribery's exessive crossing vs. Gladbach

The most successful sides today have been characterized by distinct philosophies, whether it is Guardiola’s Barcelona, Ferguson’s United, Mourinho’s Inter and Chelsea sides, Ancelotti’s Milan, and Benitez’s Liverpool. Those sides can be considered amongst the best this past decade, having won major trophies and doing so following a distinct ideological trajectory. There is a certain amount of trust that needs to be given upon appointment of any particular manager and time to build a team. All big sides face pressures to win trophies immediately but it is always more difficult when the manager is not allowed to take full control and when there is a clear indication that the framework is flawed. This has also been absent from Bayern’s point of view. It seemed that whatever Felix Magath tried to build there was restricted by the limited control he had at the club. The same applies to perhaps the most radical departure from Bayern’s traditionalist approach, Louis van Gaal.

Ultimately it is too easy to argue that Bayern’s problem lies in stubborn management. Several publications have made similar points already. The higher ups will always clash with any given coach who attempts to demand a kind of perceived challenge to established authority. Usually the pattern has been to appoint a manager with a specific vision, only to clash, fire and then appoint a newer, more familiar, and safer choice. This occurred three times in less then ten years already. First Magath replaced by Hitzfeld, then Klinsmann by Heynckes and most recently van Gaal by Heynckes. In the most pathological of senses, this can easily be viewed and argued as a suppression of reality, tackling a problem by coming up with what seems to be a valid solution only in reality to subvert the real problem.

This is Bayern’s ideology at its purest and the component the press has overlooked the most. By hiring the friendly and familiar, strangely conservative Heynckes it is not an admission that van Gaal was the wrong choice in the sense that he failed but really an admission of the very ideology that Bayern management can only really be satisfied if there is a mouth-piece at the helm and no real risks are involved. What does this mean translate to on the pitch? Well, Klinsmann took risks by trying to play an open style that although productive in attack, it revealed their defensive frailties. The same applied to van Gaal who also wanted to radically alter the way Bayern shapes up at the very top of the formation. There is a seemingly archaic desire to play with a striker as reference point as means to ensure that no matter how poor a side plays, goals are ensured. This however obviously neglects many other problems that this very injunction spawns in the first place.

What is the solution to this? For the record, I do not fully believe this is completely a lost cause and I think Bayern can still challenge domestically and even in Europe simply because experience and individual talent goes a long way but there is a nagging sense that the true potential of this talented side has yet to be unlocked and every time there is an indication that it is being approached, regressive steps are taken. Surely Heynckes is there long enough until Bayern can find a younger coach (possible one of the up and coming domestic coaches) to start building for the future, but this again is far too familiar a move for the club – the talent is there already and it just seems to go to waste in its developmental stage. Possible answers to this dilemma? – Clearly there needs to be a better balance in communication between Rummenigge, & Co. and whoever is in the coaching position.

The first steps need to be taken by the higher ups without question as they set the precedent for whatever the coach will have or not have to work with. Unlike a Barcelona or Manchester United, Bayern will likely not allow so much control to any given individual and that is also not likely to change any time soon. Risks need to be taken too if the intention is to get anywhere near the same level as a Barcelona for instance. There is a distinct traditionalist cloud looming over Bayern in every sense of the word. Between a reluctance to hire a true modern thinker/coach, to the very notion that a modern system took so long to be accepted only to be modified to accommodate a traditional re-framing, they will find themselves in this position time and time again if these concerns are not recognized and addressed. Recognize of course is the keyword here because the problem essentially lies in the ideology that permeates the very top. To drive home how serious a matter this is, take Nerlinger’s comments regarding Mertesacker rumors:

“Boateng and Badstuber are the best central defensive pairing in Germany. We won’t be buying anyone, definitely not.”

 

Much like Heynckes’ post-match comments, it speaks volumes, even past the self-aggrandizing, PR-driven context. The message is clear: We are fine, but not really.

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Daniel is a New York-based Illustrator and Graphic Designer. In his spare time he is a passionate football fan with a particular love for everything German football. Daniel can be found on twitter @danielnyari

38 Comments

  1. No one said every report about transfers is accurate.

    My recollection from the kicker-Rafinha episode is that when they issued their apology they said they had published based on (what they considered to be) a single, airtight source. I don’t recall if they said that source had deceived them, but I don’t know that that was the case. What that has to do with the discussion above, I don’t know. To assert that it is possible for falsehoods to be published (even when sources are giving what they believe to be accurate information) is a point I would have granted you without a specific example.

    In the end, you can choose to believe a) that the sources of the story mistakenly passed bad information, b) the sources were being deceptive on purpose or c) that there weren’t really any sources at all. Cris seemed to be saying that it couldn’t be believed because it wasn’t logical. But for me, it can only be one of those three things. It’s true, no journalist is infallible. But that fact doesn’t really play a role in who I trust and why I trust them.

  2. Come on Luke, since the age of eight years I am watching football and since then I am aware that every news story about players wanting/having to/planning to change team cannot be taken as facts.

    Don’t you remember the German magazine KICKER reporting that Rafinha signed with Bayern when he was still playing with Schalke in 2009? “So, you think multiple sources lied to” KICKER? Oh yes, obviously! And in that case it became evident. In the Vidic case however the truth will never become evident and we can just speculate. And it is perfectly legitimate to ask in such a case: Is this rumor (or as you prefer to call it: news) realistic or not. And it probably wasn’t.

    Come on, Honigstein isn’t the bible and its sources are not the apostles. And even then I’d keep some doubts… 😉

  3. So, you think multiple sources lied to him, and he (and everyone else who published) was being used by them- that’s all I wanted to know. In my experience, Honigstein would be wise to that.

    I don’t think it’s constructive to evaluate information as “It doesn’t make sense to me, so it can’t be true.” There were an awful lot of people who were completely convinced Coentrão would end up at Bayern because it “didn’t make sense” for Real Madrid to buy him.

    Some people who feel Van Gaal was wronged by the Bayern board think the story was concocted to make him look bad. The problem with that is, the Munich press first printed it during the 2010 CL quarterfinal, at a time when there weren’t many people with a reason to harm Van Gaal’s image.

    I think we’ve actually had this debate before about something else, but it’s not like offering Lahm-or anyone else. Each set of circumstances is different.

  4. Marc,

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    I’m afraid the club’s recurring predicament has put them into a seemingly perpetual transition period, so while this season might start slow, there’s a chance it will settle and we’ll see positives but then that has always been following by another down period and with Heynckes not staying long, that’s again – inevitable. No stability in other words.

    Bunkering in the Bundesliga is an anomaly so the very fact that Bayern often get stalled by it is perplexing, not only because in general defense is generally not very high quality in this league but also because of Bayern’s attacking talent. There is no excuse sometimes for not showing intent to penetrate creatively. Great defensive performances sometimes are also inevitable. Favre’s sides for instance have been known to put in great defensive shifts ad his Gladbach side has been one of the best in the league. The issue remains that Bayern do not take a savvy approach to these types of matches or as you mentioned very predictable and static.

    Your last point is the crucial one of course – the pathological injunction inherent at the club and the Lahm comments are actually a perfect small example of the bigger issue. The perspective here is that as fans we would hope for change and we could see if with new personnel, new coach which can appear exciting but the intent to create a long term plan and make investments accordingly are simply not there for the very same reason.

  5. Thanks a million for a very interesting analysis from abroad, Daniel! It seems that some things even become more salient when looking at them from a distance.

    Some comments:
    I expect a season which will be much like the former both in terms of (non-)success and even more importantly in the way the team plays and thinks of football. Reasons for that can be found on the pitch as well as in the mindset of the club’s leaders (and the corresponding strategic decisions).

    What’s on the pitch? At least every second game, Bayern faces a team whose tactic is “absolute defense” with 3-4 sudden counterattacks interspersed through each halftime. Put frankly, Bundesliga teams playing against Bayern don’t have to invest a lot: they “simply” defend with 10-11 player waiting attentively for the one bad pass or misunderstanding. Claiming the defense responsible for the goals they concede is not even half the truth. The problem is much deeper and many of the reasons have been outlined in your article.

    What I simply don’t understand is that the challenge of playing against a bunkering team is not new, at all. Still, I don’t have the impression that they learn from their past experiences and have a viable means to deal with it.
    Their match plan remains the same from Sat to Sat. Whenever they possess the ball the two central midfielders will pass it on to the wings, where the “crown jewels” Ribery and Robben, high in the team’s internal hierarchy, are waiting. The problem is: they are not waiting alone. They are accompanied by at least to opponents. At this point the flow of the game comes to a rest. Much like in handball, the ball will be passed back the whole chain long and the line of events repeats.
    Under LvG, I found out how boring offensive football can be! And this impression seems to carry on living in the JH era.

    Their way of playing is extremely static, foreseeable and with few surprising elements. They furthermore don’t have a shared idea of what to do once they win a ball from the opponents.

    Last note: I am sure that there are enough players in the team who can pretty precisely describe what’s wrong and what should be done. They will know from watching other teams play and from being a member of the national squad.
    However, Bayern Muenchen, as a social entity, has a pathologically conservative and hierarchical structure, in which bottom-up change is not supported – it is heavily punished, see e.g. the reactions toward the brilliant comments of Phillip Lahm in 2009 (Sueddeutsche Zeitung).

    As a long-time supporter of the club, I am craving for change – but do so with little hope.
    Cheers,
    Marc

  6. Luke, no I don’t think Honigstein lied but information like that is passed around press circles all the time, goes from source to source before it is printed and believed. Think about this just from United’s perspective and it becomes clear just what a ridiculous rumor it was. It’s literally like Bayern offering up Lahm, if the situation was reversed would it make any sense to you?

  7. Cris, I don’t why I can’t reply to your latest, but just so I understand your perspective: Are you saying that: a) Honigstein knowingly published false information about Man U offering Vidic to Bayern? Or b) Multiple sources lied to Honigstein about it?

  8. Well those fans that are closer to the club as opposed to readers far removed. There was zero substance to the story and makes little sense from United’s perspective. It was always wishful thinking, nothing more.

  9. With all respect, what on earth does the opinion of fans have to do with it? You either accept the veracity of the reporting or you don’t.

  10. Great post by daniel, and some nice thoughts by Luke.
    Tactically we really need a plan B what is bothering me the most is that since LVG was here we havent had one and it doesnt seem as if we are working on one. I thought that JH would do something about it but he hasnt by the looks of things.
    On the mangerial side though i think that if you look at the coaches we have had (referring to JK & LVG) we have tried to find our own identity but it has failed i think that when we got LVG and not Klopp the management wanted someone who was tried and tested after the klinsmann debacle.
    One more thing, our goalscoring was more evenly distributed before even when we had guys like makaay and elber i see no reason why gomez has to be the only goalscorer, i liked the way you touched on that matter.
    Don Jupp should read this stuff. Thanks again for a great read.

  11. Great post by Daniel, and some nice thoughts by Luke.
    Tactically we really need a plan B & what is bothering me the most is that since LVG was here we havent had one and it doesnt seem as if we are working on one. I thought that JH would do something about it but he hasnt by the looks of things.
    On the mangerial side though i think that if you look at the coaches we have had (referring to JK & LVG) we have tried to find our own identity but it has failed i think that when we got LVG and not Klopp the management wanted someone who was tried and tested after the klinsmann debacle.
    One more thing, our goalscoring was more evenly distributed before even when we had guys like makaay and elber i see no reason why gomez has to be the only goalscorer, i liked the way you touched on that matter. Don Jupp should read this stuff. Thanks again for a great read.

  12. Just to clarify the opening point, it was brilliant that van Gaal experimented right away, despite the results. That radical (in relation to their history) approach was refreshing.

    The 4-4-2 van Gaal used (the one that he settled one and would account for their best results that season) could easily have been interpreted as a 4-2-3-1 if not for Olic and Mueller’s instinct to play off each other. It was close enough that the change to a 4-2-3-1 was apparent. Even in his first season there was pressure on him to use Gomez, so naturally, he would also ensure that the 4-2-3-1 which Gomez was suited to would be tried out. Think of the times Olic played and the formation/shape that was used compared to the one when Gomez was – it was ALWAYS the 4-2-3-1 towards the latter stages of that season. The point was that it became the go-to formation in the following season.

    It’s mentioned in the article that Olic’s injury accounted for more Gomez playing time but that glosses over the point that Gomez was never part of van Gaal’s primary plan. The coach made that public enough. In his experiments Gomez was always last to figure into his plans and this was blatantly obvious towards the end of the season. With added pressure to play the 30M signing, there is every indication that van Gaal’s hands were somewhat tied. Can you imagine should Olic have stayed fit and Gomez reduced to a continuing auxiliary figure? The outrage from above would be quite noticeable.

    I think management failed to give Klinsmann enough of a carte blanche to build the team in his image. They wanted results right away and that was going to take time. I think both parties might have been in over their heads but it’s up to management to appoint the right people and to have the right expectations – again that’s fundamental here. In other words, things are so much more set back at the club than what is perceived by fans, and by management and for all the talk about being CL finalists and conistent contenders to expect results by purchasing individuals and not focusing on the framework is simply unrealistic and stubborn. Philosophy comes first, then you build on it and work out the small issues. You can mark well all day but if there is a greater need for tactical team unity, it’s not resolved by individual tasks. There is far too much tactical reliance on individuals as opposed to the ‘whole’.

    Cordt Schnibben said it best in a recent article discussing Madrid vs. Barca at Spiegel:

    “Across the globe, Madrid are considered to be the prototype of a market economy-centric club: they buy whoever is high-quality and expensive, and from these purchases they form a team that must be successful. Barcelona take a more planned-economy tack: they formulated an idea of a superior form of football and then created a team of young players that could embody this idea. Chelsea, Inter Milan and Bayern Munich represent the former style, while Arsenal, Ajax and Borussia Dortmund show characteristics of the latter. Financially, though, the planned-economy and the market-based economy of Barcelona and Madrid are equally unsuccessful — both clubs are deeply in debt.”

  13. Thank you for reading Peter! We’re barely a year old actually but appreciate your time. Good to spread the word about the Bundesliga, or “Europe’s biggest hidden secret” as I would call it. ; )

  14. Ask any Manchester fan, none will agree with that. It’s like Bayern offering Schweinsteiger or Lahm.

  15. I can only say that I find your narrative related to Van Gaal and his later use of Gomez puzzling. You say: “He started his first year brilliantly and it was quite visible right away the change in style and play.” Some might quibble about how to characterize August-October of 09′ for Bayern but I can’t believe anyone would call it “brilliant” with a straight face. There were of course, changes to style and play..just about every week!

    As for Van Gaal’s use of Gomez, first of all, Van Gaal used the 4-2-3-1 for 2 months last season prior to giving Gomez a start. He didn’t decide to play that way because of Gomez.

    You mention in your reply: “..being asked to play Gomez was the biggest issue for me in his eventual departure.” Are you *really* suggesting that Van Gaal was directed to play Gomez by management and he complied? First of all, it’s factually incorrect. If you look back on last season, he gave Gomez one start in the fall (at Dortmund) before the international break. Then, Klose and Olic both got injured during that break. Olic had the broken nose, but his knee hadn’t been right and it was only a couple weeks before he was done for the year. Klose was out until the late December. The only reason Gomez got on the field is that Van Gaal really didn’t have a choice. Secondly, if Van Gaal was one to bow to suggestion from on high, Thomas Kraft never gets on the field. I think you’re too eager to blame management here.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree about the CL graphic. More than half of that Lyon match was not 11 vs. 11, I just don’t think a heatmap tells one much of lasting value in such a case.

    I think you’re trying to paint me as someone preoccupied with the defensive woes-it’s not really the case, but I simply felt a requirement to point to that specific statement about responsibility for the shoddy defense in the original post because it’s bunk. But, to the defensive topics in your reply I’d say 1) Klinsmann drew a bad hand with Sagnol getting injured again. But, he never asked for more help (which he’d have gotten) than Oddo. Van Gaal comes in, and Pranjic is “his man” for LB. So..I think the trainers got who they wanted. 2) I don’t know what you mean about van Buyten? That he should have played more last season? 3) A partner for Lucio after Demichelis’ regression..I guess it all depends where you date Demichelis’ regression from, but that seems like it has to be on Klinsmann then. 4) No one can argue they shouldn’t have kept Hummels 🙂

    I’m also not sure I understand your point about Klinsmann? Are you saying management simply didn’t give him enough time to establish a clear and productive philosophy? If anything, management is guilty of not doing their homework before hiring him. The problem with Klinsmann was the hang-up *on* philosophy to solve more practical problems. Philosophy is great, but you also have to know who you’re supposed to mark.

  16. An amazing read! I totally believe that Gomez is more of a burden than a relief, I’ve been criticising our formation (depending on a lone striker, which is Gomez) alot but nobody seemed to understand, alot got fooled by the numbers of goals he scored last season while forgetting how our whole formation has changed just to make him score.. Thanks for explaining that in a very good way:)

  17. The reality is, Vidic was offered to Bayern. I’m not going to post the link, but I would recommend Honigstein’s Sports Illustrated post of May 27 this year as a reference, there are some others around. Trust me, he would know.

  18. I love Bayern fans and their lack of a grasp of reality. How can anyone ever believe that Vidic would leave Man U for Bayern? Certainly Munich spends more money than any other Bundesliga team could ever dream of doing, but they’d never get Vidic. I don’t see a whole lot of other Bundesliga teams losing 0:1 at home to Gladbach this year. Favre’s a great manager, but they’ve got issues. Bayern played uninspired football during that entire game and didn’t deserve to win. And with a roster full of national-team players, that’s unacceptable.

  19. This was a great read. I don’t know how long you’ve been around, but it’s nice to find a Bundesliga site in English. I’ve been searching and every time it seems I find one, it goes without updating for weeks or months. This kind of analysis will certainly keep me coming back. And it’s nice to find a podcast, too!

  20. Luke,

    First of all, thanks for the reply. I’ll try my best to tackle each one of your points.

    Heynckes’ tactical flexibility, or lack of is a distinct Bayern issue. I thought very much of him at Leverkusen where he did some exciting things but it’s clearly different working at Bayern and he was always going to have some limitations, similarly to van Gaal who never wanted to play Gomez but was more or less inclined to – and this was a HUGE issue to his own philosophy. It put a giant damper on the trajectory he was building. Quite simply, he had to deviate quite a bit from it and we see the results now.

    I think van Gaal was flawed as well as you mention. He certainly had a philosophy – that much was outlined clearly over the course of his first season but only in comparison to what he came into, it was always going to take time to refine, and build up this philosophy. The problems were apparent but only indicative of a team that was never used to tactical and philosophical adjustments – that is something usually embedded within the club’s roots which wasn’t the case with Bayern. Giving him only that first season to experiment (and still receiving an unbearable amount of criticism from the higher ups) is simply unacceptable if management expect this to become a long-term competitive club.

    I must also point out that I intentionally left out any comments on Gladbach themselves who did tremendously. Favre is if I can get a little personal, one of my favorite coaches and the result was not only indicative of Bayern’s failures, but also of Favre’s success. Still this is an analysis about Bayern.

    I picked those two Champions League matches because they were most symbolic, and at the same time crucial games on the stage the club intends to succeed on the most. I’m not so sure they belong in their own universe because they both illustrate the same thing the Gladbach matches do. It needed to be pointed out that this is part of Bayern’s long term problems, going back to last season and before, not only this one.

    It seems to me you are targeting van Gaal for a lot of the problems we see today, namely the defensive issue but you have to remember, Bayern never quite managed to get a proper partner for Lahm, never willingly admitted that van Buyten was a good choice in the back (as much as van Gaal also played him), never found a proper partner for Lucio after Demichelis’ regression, and also was very willing to let go of Hummels. The issue is in the failure to see the defensive important enough to treat with the same level of attention as they do with their attack. Moreover it was hardly ever addressed, whereas now it seems to be the go-to excuse for their collective failures, which is where I make the point that this is typical Bayern ideology – targeting one problem they haven’t before to imply the illusion of progression – but in reality it’s more of the same.

    To repeat the above, I think van Gaal was flawed. van Bommel was far too important tactically and spiritually and his exit was mishandled. Still, it was for the purpose of not making the side as reliable on him as it was. Defensively I always thought van Gaal made the biggest errors but it’s short-sighted to conclude that because of this he might not have been successful implementing his philosophy. He started his first year brilliantly and it was quite visible right away the change in style and play but it had to be evolved, not only in defense but in attack, and being asked to play Gomez was the biggest issue for me in his eventual departure. That just about put a stop to whatever he was trying to build. He simply didn’t know how to implement his philosophy and include Gomez at the same time. It was bound to fail eventually.

    I think Klinsmann’s appointment was risky but was there ever any doubt that he wouldn’t last? That is what we have to remember – not giving petty moral credit to Bayern – we have to look at the more fundamental happenings. His approach was far too risky and the second it showed on the pitch, management got scared – it’s more simple than the van Gaal saga actually.

    Bayern management do want a philosophy but I’m not so sure they know what it is.

  21. I think what you said is key. Crossing in itself is, even in modern football not a bad option. Spain’s plan B relies on it but Bayern’s problem is of course its over-reliance on them as a primary and supplementary tactic. In the modern game that’s simply unfeasible and just begs for criticism.

    I also agree Bayern will get over it, they are a historic side that will repeat triumphs, high points and low points but it must be said how much of the success they could be having is of their own doing.

  22. Thanks Yajur, glad you found the site and more importantly Bayern would probably be too proud to look up to and follow Dortmund.

    As almost all Bundesliga clubs followed the DFB injunction to promote youth and enact a more attacking style, Bayern had to the least and while their promotion of youth is admirable, they’ve not built a consistent ideology as most other clubs around them have, not only Dortmund.

  23. Thanks. Wonder just how long this will continue. It’s certainly the anti-formula for long-term success – something the club has chased for over a decade now.

  24. Dear Professor Nyari,
    Outstanding analysis and well choosen words that can be used by the best coaches or commentators.
    Crossing the ball – well the true soccer fan knows that the success of finishing on continuous crossing decreases as the game clock ticks on. At this level the field player must do on the analysis and I would suspect that visual clues like no goals would force creativity within the attack.

    Bayern Munich will overcome the history established by this one event and prevail to the top of the table by season end.

  25. Daniel:
    Congratulations on a thought-provoking piece. It will fall on a lot of receptive eyes because of when it is written, but I just can’t agree that Bayern’s problems boil down to the perceived anti-intellectualism of its management.

    I think the problem I have with your piece is that you I don’t feel you link your “micro” problem diagnosis, with your “macro” problem diagnosis (lack of philosophy). I think you quite validly point out some of the problems in Bayern’s execution in the 4-2-3-1. I may find myself as puzzled as you are by Heynckes’ statements about the crosses, especially because he is on record as saying that he would be more apt to use a two-striker formation against sides that fit the description of ‘Gladbach. However, I find his statement more reassuring than what Van Gaal would have said: “That was unbelievable”. You imply that Heynckes is tactically inflexible, but the body of work in the last two seasons alone, and Sunday’s match itself suggest otherwise. While Jupp brought Petersen for Boateng (probably not soon enough), we all know Van Gaal would have brought Klose for Gomez in the same situation, changing faces rather than shape.

    A “philosophical deficit” also doesn’t explain why Bayern under Van Gaal, (who while you don’t say so explicitly, we can assume you believe did have a “distinct philosophy”) consistently had very similar problems against “bunkered” teams. The quality of play, the cohesion of play and the suitability of the players to their roles has to be called into question. The first two are strictly issues with the players themselves, while a trainer and management might share responsibility for the third.

    I think it’s a little disingenuous to paint ‘Gladbach as a such a weak sister the way you do. The team Bayern played Sunday was Favre’s team. As you well know, they even defeated BVB by the same score in the spring. I don’t think anyone believes that team would have been involved in a relegation battle if Favre had been there for 34 matches last season. And I don’t think Bayern will be the last team to slip up 0:1 at home against them.

    A minor point: you might be able to show it with comprehensive data, but it has to be pointed out that you pick the most anomalous match possible to illustrate the example of the “free” Robben: The 1-0 win over Lyon in the first leg of the CL semi-final, in which Ribery was sent off in the first half, and almost as much of the match was played 10 vs. 10 as 11 vs. 11. That match, like a couple others in the CL final run, belongs to its own universe.

    You write: “It took [Bayern] management long enough to see that their defensive woes was a major gap that had to be addressed” When is this myth FINALLY going to die? It was Van Gaal who shuttled Lucio and Demichelis out of town. It was Van Gaal who blocked a move for Vidic (or any other defender), all on the basis of his philosophy, we have to assume (I’ll be glad to hear his side of the story when the gag gets removed after this season). It was Nerlinger who was left to spin why it would all be ok, surely digging a deep hole in his lip because he couldn’t mention that it wasn’t his idea. Management trusted the trainer’s philosophy, and got burned.

    In another place you imply that Van Gaal was never given enough control to implement his philosophy. I have to completely disagree. He had carte blanche last summer and chose not to do anything. He was too busy chasing Van Bommel out of town to look to the transfer market last winter for a player to mimic the injured Olic’s role and get back to some of the effective tactics you highlight.

    You very wisely gloss over Klinsmann, but you don’t credit Bayern management for making the hire in the first place. You state Bayern has a “reluctance to hire a true modern thinker/coach” Ok, maybe Van Gaal and Klinsmann didn’t fit that bill for you, but they would for many. But the hires themselves demonstrate they DO want a philosophy. However, the best ideas in the world aren’t worth much when the source of them can’t translate them into applicable match tactics, or links so many other unimportant ideas to the important ones that it alienates half the team.

  26. Thanks Yajur for commenting on Daniel’s outstanding analysis….and we’re very glad that you’ve found us.

  27. Great article, man. Very insightful. Seems like the powers that be at FCB aren’t interested in the necessary, fundamental changes, but rather in finding a yes-man who will use the same brute force method until it works, dammit. (Remember the classic definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.) Seems like they could learn a lesson from the recent BVB sides.

    I’ve actually been looking for an English-language BL site for some time, so I’ll definitely be back.

  28. God,who are you??……………fantastic article…one of the best i hav seen in my life…u should seriously consider managing a real life club….too good. 🙂

  29. Great article! I’ve been sorta kinda thinking the same thing every time Bayern’s lost a game when Gomez has been playing, but you just put all the pieces together in an issue that seems so obvious now – the team is putting too much emphasis on Gomez, which leaves the other, absolutely world class players without enough creative freedom. And of course the underlying cause with the higher-ups.

  30. I would agree – those are crucial but they can’t exist on their own if they don’t have a platform to operate in, and sadly I find that’s what the club is missing first and foremost.

  31. ….” there is a nagging sense that the true potential of this talented side has yet to be unlocked and every time there is an indication that it is being approached, regressive steps are taken. ” Exactly. Now I understand that feeling I often have while watching FCB. Brilliant work, Daniel.

  32. Nice summation of last week’s debacle. I would add “team chemistry” and “unity of effort” to those factors you mentioned.

  33. Absolutely fantastic write-up. A doff of the cap and a polite round of applause are in order.

    I found Ribery’s surprise at the way the Bayern-bloc played against Brazil kind of funny for the reasons you outline above. He wants them to play like that for Bayern, but doesn’t seem to understand that they’re being restricted from doing just that by the system itself.

    Again, great read.

  34. Brilliant piece! Bayern have to be one of the most underachieving squads in recent history just by looking at the amount of talent on the field compared to their actual achievements. I think this help explains why that’s so.

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