Can you control a match without the ball? That’s what FC Bayern tried to do with a game of patience against Borussia Mönchengladbach on Saturday and it has showed the value of urgency in a 2:1 win.
Deprived of starters due to yellow card suspensions, Hansi Flick had to field the following “makeshift” starting XI:
Pavard, Boateng, Alaba, Hernandez
Gnabry, Goretzka, Perišić
The team started the match very patiently. Defensive tactics alternated between dropping back and waiting, with the occasional aggression off the ball. They were looking to stuff Gladbach early, and it almost worked.
Alphonso Davies’ speed at left-back was sorely missing since Lucas Hernández struggled to keep up with the opposition’s pace. However, players such as Ivan Perišić worked fantastically to press the opposition on the flanks. Leon Goretzka worked well when dropping back between central defenders to relieve pressure.
Gladbach ended the match with 50% possession, mostly due to first-half action. It acts as a sign that the initial game plan was different than the usual steamrolling scheme.
Patience with youth
Flick’s patience worked in favour of younger players, who were given a chance to play.
Michael Cuisance showed the spirit of a fighter during this match, making sharp passes and taking shots that only lacked some accuracy to find the back of the net. His attitude to the game more than made up for lack of finish. He has potential.
Giving a start to Joshua Zirkzee at striker was not only logical in Robert Lewandowski’s absence, but also a chance to develop a talented attacker. The young Dutchman cooly finished for the first goal when Yann Sommer made a distribution mistake in the 26th minute. That’s in addition to cohesive defending up front, often leading the charge against Gladbach’s back line.
However, the situation soured for the Bavarian camp when the Foals found their feet and attacking instincts late in the first half. The team from Munich found itself under pressure frequently and Benjamin Pavard eventually beat Manuel Neuer by sliding and accidentally redirecting the ball in the net for the 1:1 equaliser.
Flick shortened the leash when he brought in Alphonso Davies and Kingsley Coman for Hernández and Cuisance. Davies stabilised the left flank with the qualities we have learned to love. The team attacked with purpose and pressed more aggressively, withoutt finding the touch of magic needed to put the ball past Sommer. Gladbach flipped the script with energetic defending.
It took a brilliant cross on the run by Pavard to Leon Goretzka to finally break down the resistance.
If we can learn anything from this match, it is that urgency is inseparable from success. Also, using young players is a long-term bet that is worth making. This includes considering Davies as the primary starter at left-back since his pace and pitch IQ are way beyond that of most football players.