FC Bayern fans are divided about the immediate future of the club a few weeks after this season’s kickoff. I offer a case for being hopeful that the team led by Niko Kovač will do well.
There is a case for negativity and I understand why. The lack of summer signings, which I addressed on Bundesliga Fanatic, has been decried as the team gets older, especially on the wings.
Domestically, the Reds lack the kind of competition that keeps you on your toes ahead of, and between, important European matches. Thus, the Bundesliga dominance cannot lead to Champions League wins. It has shown in recent years, when Die Roten hit a glass ceiling mostly at semi-finals level.
FCB still play possession football, which has been practically demolished by many teams either in Europe or on the world stage in the last five years.
That’s a lot going against our favourite club, at least by Bavarian standards. We could “cry in our beer” but there are positive developments that should not be ignored.
Kovač isn’t bad at all
Whoever said that Niko Kovač should not coach Bayern needs to take a little time to reconsider the statement, or learn to wait, based on the first string of results. He’s doing rather well. Undefeated with four wins in as many competitive games, with 12 goals scored and only one conceded. Sometimes Manuel Neuer could have napped quietly.
The possession-first style has remained, but the team has nevertheless regained some balance. When going forward, supporting runs and crosses to the penalty area add strength to the attack. The team scores from set pieces and doesn’t mind adopting a more direct approach when there is space to make more aggressive passes.
While not perfect, Die Bayern are a bit more clinical these days than in the recent past. How long will that last? It is too early to tell, but the first signs are promising.
Thomas Müller is back
The man who sports jersey number 25 is not your ordinary Bavarian. He embodies the heart of FC Bayern as well as any of his colleagues on the team, if not more.
Müller is also back in terms of performance. He had severe downs from 2016 to this summer, but has regained his spark in recent weeks. Two goals and three assists in all competitions have shown it, especially when he finished chances that he would have missed in the last two seasons.
Müller seems more at ease in a withdrawn, central role in Kovač’s system. You can see the change in his body language and attitude, on and off the pitch. He is far more confident and that bodes well for the team.
Leon Goretzka is pretty good
Moving to Munich is always tricky for a central midfielder from another Bundesliga club. Ask Sebastian Rode and Sebastian Rudy. There’s a chance that Leon Goretzka will buck the trend and make a fine contribution in Bavaria.
This summer’s freebie (love you Schalke 04) may be hitting the ground running. His presence in the middle of the park was strongly felt when he was given a start and the full 90 minutes against Stuttgart. He appeared in the penalty area like a naughty ghost with a nose for goal.
Some say that his style of play is reminiscent of Michael Ballack’s. I hope that this won’t extend to attitude and leadership attributes. In any case, Goretzka is a guy that all Bayern fans should watch closely – for the right reasons.
A more practical approach
Looking further ahead, chances are that Kovač will prove to be a very pragmatic, practical coach who can rebalance the team with defending in mind.
It certainly is no small task to make a team that is used to dominating games with the ball at its feet play better without the ball. However, we already see development. Players track back and cover defensive space better, and they seem to have a Plan B when playing when not in possession.
Kovač can surely learn from the German national team’s debacle at World Cup 2018 and stress the balance is one of the most important assets to have in sports. Those who attack and defend well at the same time tend to win more titles than those who focus on only one of these aspects.
If Joachim Löw has realised and publicly admitted to insisting too much on possession in a post-debacle press conference, Kovač has surely drawn up plans to address similar problems on the chalkboards at Säbener Straße.
There is a clear element of speculation on my part in the previous paragraph, but I am convinced it is no blind shot in the dark.
As Bayern fans, we tend to be paranoid. We feed on negativity and always look for a way to worry that the future is darker than the past. We are especially polarised on coaching since the Louis van Gaal days.
It doesn’t need to be that way. Drawing overly negative conclusions about a season in September would be naive and premature. There are positive signs to make us say: 2018-19 could be a fine season.
Chin up, people.