FC Bayern Munich 2018-19 Preview: A Transformative Season?

Basics

  • Name: FC Bayern München (Fußball-Club Bayern München e.V.)
  • Nicknames: “Der FCB, “Die Bayern”, “Die Roten”, “FC Hollywood”, “Stern des Südens”
  • Founded: 27 February 1900
  • Club colours: red and white
  • Primary rivals: Borussia Dortmund

Stadium

  • Name: Allianz-Arena
  • Capacity: 75,000
  • 2017-18 attendance: 1,275,000 (75,000 per match) – Second best in the Bundesliga behind BVB

2017 – 2018 Finishes

  • Bundesliga: first place (27 wins, 4 losses, 3 draws), 92 goals for, 28 goals against, +84 difference
  • Champions League: semifinal (Defeated by Real Madrid, 3-4 on aggregate)
  • DFB-Pokal: Final (Defeated by Eintracht Frankfurt, 1-3)

Top 5 Scorers in 2017-18

  • Robert Lewandowski (29 goals)
  • Sandro Wagner (12 including first half at Hoffenheim)
  • Thomas Müller (8)
  • James Rodríguez (7)
  • Corentin Tolisso (6)

International Champions Cup 2018 results

Record: 1-2
Goals Scored: 5
Goals Allowed: 6

The New Boss – Meet Niko Kovač

Aged only 46, the Berlin-born and German-speaking Niko Kovač knows the club and its culture. He played 34 Bundesliga matches at Bayern from 2001 to 2003. Despite running one of the biggest football clubs in the world, the Bavarians value a familial relationship. That’s why the front office is stacked with former players.

However, familiarity is not the only reason why Kovač was hired to succeed Jupp Heynckes this summer. The former Croatian national team captain was also highly successful in his stint at Eintracht Frankfurt. He led them to the DFB-Pokal final the last two seasons, winning it against his future employers in 2018, the club’s first major trophy since 1988. He also brought the Eagles to the Champions League for the first time since 1960. Not bad for a guy who saved them from relegation in a playoff against 1. FC Nürnberg in 2016 and who didn’t benefit from massive investment in the squad.

Having employed a 3-something formation at Eintracht – some call it 3-4-2-1, others 3-5-2 – Kovač brings new assets to Munich. In Frankfurt, he favoured a mix of width, direct play, aggressive pressing, and determination over ball possession. His style requires high fitness and energy levels. It often comes at the expense of fair play. Having managed a highly diverse Eagles team, Kovač already is at home with a “multi-culti” approach. He also is an advocate of good relationships with players.

How much of his tactics will he bring to FC Bayern, a team that has dominated matches with the ball at its feet for several years? I prefer to leave this question unanswered before competitive games start. Preseason matches with incomplete squads have very little meaning. My only guess is that defensive stability and having a midfield destroyer will be among Kovač’s priorities.

The young Kovač has more potential than experience as a coach. He represents a big gamble for the Bavarians, but a fascinating one as well. He will enjoy the support of veteran Peter Hermann, who stays on as an assistant after coming over to FCB to serve under Jupp Heynckes.

Notable Transfers (as of August 2)

Unusually, the Reds have only spent €10 million on players so far this summer. While not ruling out another move before the end of August, they have vowed not to flash the cash and have invested in youth.

Out:

  • Douglas Costa to Juventus (sale at the end of a loan)
  • Arturo Vidal to FC Barcelona (reported €30 million)

In:

  • Alphonso Davies from Vancouver Whitecaps (€10 million)
  • Leon Goretzka from FC Schalke 04 (free)
  • Renato Sanches (end of loan at Swansea)
  • Serge Gnabry (end of loan at TSG 1899 Hoffenheim)

Youth Signings

  • Lars Lukas Mai (central defender)
  • Franck Evina (winger)
  • Meritan Shabani (winger)
  • Oliver Batista Meier (striker)

A Team at a Crossroads

FC Bayern are bound to change with Kovač in charge after some years of stagnation at the European level. Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben have both recently declined. A few stars such as Thomas Müller, Jérôme Boateng, and Thiago Alcântara are not the dominant beasts they once were. If we believe the rumours, a couple of big names will be offloaded before the end of the transfer window.

At the same time, a wave of youngsters has hit the shore. In addition to Serge Gnabry returning from a loan, new talents have joined FCB’s professional ranks. Some of them have showed their promise late in the 2017-18 season.

How will each position shape up?

Stable Goalkeeping

Manuel Neuer returned in style at World Cup 2018, being one of the rare performers in the German national team. With Sven Ulreich as an imperfect but capable backup, the keeper position is in good hands.

Shifting Defensive Ground

Often the weakest link in the team last season, the defense is bound to change.

Once the best central defender in the world, Jérôme Boateng has lost a step due to nagging leg injuries. Can he regain his mojo? In the meantime, Niklas Süle has stepped up in the “right centre-back” position, doing an outstanding job in the toughest matches and demonstrating some of Boateng’s attacking abilities.

Joshua Kimmich, David Alaba, and Mats Hummels had highs and lows and are most likely to play solid football once again. They have all rested more than they would usually be able to in a World Cup year, thanks to Germany’s and Austria’s miseries.

The wild card in that defense is likely to be Lars Lukas Mai. Showcased in the spring, the 18-year-old made a reasonable case for a promotion to the first team. I could see this guy playing some league games as a part of a healthy rotation, especially if Boateng packs his bags to join PSG.

A Younger Central Midfield?

Renewal could also be on the agenda in central midfield. Packed with Javi Martínez, Leon Goretzka, James Rodríguez, Thiago Alcântara, Sebastian Rudy, Corentin Tolisso, and Renato Sanches, that position is ridiculously overloaded even if the plan is to deploy a 3-5-2 formation permanently.

Kovač has brought Sanches back to Munich and seems bent on developing him. Tolisso is a growing impact player. James is a star performer, and Goretzka is expected to be competitive.

Under the circumstances, it would make sense to sell an under-performer or two before the end of August. Vidal has been offloaded to Spain. Rudy may also find a target on his back for a move away due to inconsistent showings.

Attacking Dilemmas

The attacking midfield was weak in the final stages of last season due to an ill-timed Kingsley Coman injury. Franck Ribéry played with guts, but the 35-year-old has shown his limits. Arjen Robben, 34, can still score screamers, but also is on the decline. It’s time for these two to become rotation players, no matter how amazing they were in the past.

FC Bayern’s management is apparently going to let Kovač play with a mix of Coman-Gnabry and Robbery on the wings, and I hope he favours the first combination.

An unpredictable factor could be Franck Evina. Aged 18, the Cameroonian played 112 minutes in the league last season. Although not a finished product, he showed flair. I wouldn’t exclude a few appearances here and there, should senior squad members need rest or spend time sidelined with injuries.

Up front, Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Müller, and Sandro Wagner all have something to prove. The first man’s commitment to FC Bayern is highly questionable after multiple reports of transfer requests and diva tantrums. The second needs to bounce back after a couple of difficult seasons. The third guy needs to be a productive, reliable secondary striker.

Mission: Redefining Bayern

With a different background than his predecessors and a collection of hungry youngsters kicking around, Kovač could potentially transform Bayern Munich. Scores of fans and observers would applaud a rebalancing of the tactical playbook and the promotion of budding talents with the intent to build for the long term.

Should the coach pull the trigger, FC Bayern could look wildly different at the end of the 2018-19 season, and it could be good news. Making important changes to a largely successful team is risky business, of course, but lack of vision can also cause a downfall. A transformation may be worth the risk.

Verdict

First place. FC Bayern enjoy the rare luxury of a deep squad that comprises seasoned veterans, world-class players, and promising youngsters. If Niko Kovač plays his cards right, FCB will win a seventh-straight Bundesliga title and remain competitive in the Champions League. Those are the two standard targets of any Bayern coach. And I expect him to hit them.

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Born Canadian and once a journalist, Michel now calls Germany home and works as an internal communications editor. The likes of Oliver Kahn have made him a staunch Bayern fan, to the extent that he founded and managed Bayern Central for seven years. Now he runs Straight Red He's a beer and coffee snob who likes to bike around Europe. You can follow him on Twitter.

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