Next bankruptcy narrowly averted: Bayern’s defensive concerns begin on the offensive

Next bankruptcy narrowly averted
Bayern’s defensive concerns begin on the offensive

By Justin Kraft

FC Bayern Munich has to settle for a late equalizer to 1-1 against FC Salzburg in the Champions League. The defense of the Bundesliga record champions wobbles again – but their problems begin on the offensive.

FC Bayern was less than two minutes into the Champions League round of 16 against FC Salzburg when they almost got their first cold shower. In fact, everything went as planned. They had the ball, let it run through their own ranks and tried to slowly approach their own strengths. Then Benjamin Pavard played a back pass to Niklas Süle. The signal for Salzburg to start aggressively. Karim Adeyemi put the central defender under pressure in the full sprint. He, in turn, wanted to prepare for another back pass to Sven Ulreich, but stumbled over the ball when he turned his body. Fire started for the first time in the game and the 30,000 spectators made a lot of noise for the first time.

A situation that Julian Nagelsmann would probably have liked to avoid. “It will be exciting, we haven’t had that for a long time,” said the coach before the game about the threatening backdrop. But Süle wasn’t the only one who brought the fans and with them the high and aggressively pressing Salzburg into the game.

Salzburg played Bayern defense dizzy

Overall, Bayern did not seem focused, grippy and aggressive enough. Süle’s mistakes were followed by many more simple turnovers. Like the one in the 21st minute, when the ball was thrown in offensively and carelessly. Salzburg switched quickly, switched to Adeyemi with few contacts and he quickly approached Lucas Hernandez. Bayern were unable to prevent his pass to Chukwubuike Adamu and the score was 1-0 for the hosts. A goal that Bayern have conceded more often recently. Joshua Kimmich analyzed after the game that “the rest of the defense didn’t look so good” in the first round.

After the debacle in Bochum, Nagelsmann decided to switch back to a back three. As a result, Hernandez, Süle and Pavard were often left to their own devices in one-on-one duels – and were noticeably overwhelmed. Both the lack of coordination among themselves and the speed with which Salzburg played their attacks led to numerous scenes in which Bayern trembled a lot. The subjunctive and football are often not a good pair, but if the Austrians had played their counterattacks a little better, the Munich team shouldn’t have complained about being further behind at the break.

Nagelsmann: “No pressure on the ball”

However, the goal in particular also revealed that the problems of the Bundesliga leaders are not solely due to the performance of the three central defenders. It’s true that they all make mistakes that shouldn’t happen at this level, but so do players who are further up the field. Thomas Müller analyzed afterwards and hit the core of the defensive weakness. If the remaining defense is often left to its own devices, it is all the more important to minimize your own ball losses or to move them to areas that are not as painful as, for example, the center of midfield. On the other hand, the work against the ball must take place in front.

When you conceded, there was “no pressure on the ball” up front, said Nagelsmann. That’s why Salzburg was able to overturn Munich’s pressing with a long ball. It was the simple means of choice for the home side. One that is so successful because Bavaria allows it.

Lots of gamblers, little precision

In any case, it wasn’t due to the tension that Nagelsmann had missed recently. Bayern was willing to resist from the start. It just didn’t want to succeed. With Kingsley Coman, Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sané, the Munich team again offered three gamblers. Gamblers because they have their strengths in dribbling. They provoke risky actions, which in the best case scenario put the opponent under pressure and open up space for the other players.

At the moment, however, they are lacking in precision. Coman had 28 turnovers, Sané 17 and Gnabry 19. In the first round in particular, Bayern were unable to calm the wild exchange of blows. Again and again the three exceptional talents drove, again and again they tried to generate momentum in the game going forward. It might have been good for the six-time Champions League winner to slow down to regroup. Instead, however, they went all-in at almost every opportunity – no matter how good the cards in their hands were.

Because with many of their ball losses, Bayern weren’t good enough to stop Salzburg’s quick and direct play into the top. The defenders then had to pay for what was screwed up further up. Especially since they didn’t have any outside players to protect defensively. Even if the reigning German champions had the time to sort themselves out at the back, Coman and Gnabry, as nominal wing defenders, were at least ten meters higher than the three central defenders. Salzburg used this again and again on counterattacks, for example by Adeyemi moving outwards as before the opening goal.

Bayern’s squad lacks form

For Nagelsmann it will be important to restore the balance in the coming weeks. However, the coach doesn’t have it that easy either. Before the game he had to make a difficult decision: will he field the players he thinks are in the best form at the moment? Then he was forced to rely on the defensively vulnerable 3-2-4-1, which he ultimately chose. Dayot Upamecano? Among the many Bayern defenders who are in poor form, he is probably the most unlucky at the moment. Omar Richards? There are probably good reasons why he has hardly had a chance to play this season.

It’s certainly not always fair to measure players by their transfer fees. But the fact is that Munich have not invested as much money in any area as in defense in recent years. On the other hand, there are numerous problems in building up the game and poor coordination when defending counterattacks. Bayern lack a clear defense chief and a certain basic security in the protection of counterattacks. There is no question that the offensive orientation accepts one or the other goal. But at the moment there are too many of them.

If the coach had decided against the open formation, especially in the wing positions, it would have been a decision for more players on the pitch, who are currently prone to errors. Whether that would have gone better is questionable. In this respect, it is understandable that the 34-year-old opted for the offensive variant. However, if this is to work, you have to do more in the game forward than in the first half. Because no matter how justified the criticism of the remaining defense is: the defensive starts with the attackers. That’s why things went better in the second 45 minutes. At first, Bayern rushed forward a little headlessly, but towards the end of the game they developed more precision and pressure against Salzburg who were getting tired and thus also gained control of the game.

Although Bayern were lucky in the final stages that Pavard cleared just before the line, the late equalizer was well deserved. Despite the increase in performance and the positive last impression, Nagelsmann will not have made the short journey back to Munich without any worries. The record champions still have problems on the defensive. Both in the rest of the defense, where there isn’t a single player who isn’t overwhelmed in some area, and in attack, where the pressing and counter-pressing have lost their effectiveness. The question of the causes will accompany FC Bayern for a while.

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