Bayern Munich vs. Red Bell Salzburg: When losing friendlies does matter

Alexander Hassenstein

Losing friendlies doesn't usually matter. But they do matter when the coach sets you up to fail from the beginning.

Bayern Munich lost in horrible fashion yesterday to Red Bull Salzburg. The Austrian side are clearly the best in the Austrian Bundesliga, sitting 11 points up on second place Grodig and represented a good challenge for Bayern ahead of their opening match of the ruckrunde against Borussia Mönchengladbach. That being said this this was a friendly so in all likelihood the result wouldn't really matter. Except when Bayern Munich loses 3-0 in really embarrassing fashion the result does matter and the reason behind that result matters.

After the match Pep Guardiola had this reaction to the match:

"I made some tactical changes today because we wanted to have one more player in the midfield,"....

"Yesterday, we trained a new system with three defenders. This was mainly so that we could have the ball a little bit more in the midfield."

"We have to use these friendlies to try out new things, for me that is what they are about. Javi [Martinez] played 35 minutes with a little injury, so we had some problems.

"But again, friendlies are exactly for that. I can't test new things during the season. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg can play as a central defender or in the midfield.

"However, when you are three goals behind after the first half the coach goes crazy and the players sadly have to try to deal with that." - Goal.com

Let's take them one at a time:

"I made some tactical changes today because we wanted to have one more player in the midfield,"....

"Yesterday, we trained a new system with three defenders. This was mainly so that we could have the ball a little bit more in the midfield."

Let's take the three defender claim first. Bayern Munich did not play with a standard three man backline yesterday. This was not like those commonly run by sides like Juventus. This was a asymmetric backline with Javi Martinez lined up as a right back and Dante and Boateng as center backs. The only difference was utilizing David Alaba more as a midfielder. In many ways, it was a move that hearkens way back in the annals of tactical history to the tornante, which was a little used role that basically functioned as a fullback/wing-back/winger all in one with no additional wing support. It was a role that required a player to have incredible stamina and physical ability. It was this role that David Alaba was shoehorned into yesterday, and he actually carried himself extremely well. Ultimately, while it was setup to utilize a three man backline, it ended up being a four man defense as the intensity of the Salzburg press forced the Bayern team into easy turnovers.

On the opposite side of defense and in response to the high press, Javi Martinez often pushed forward with the intent of adding an extra body in midfield. Unfortunately, the propensity to turnover the ball caused him to be caught out on numerous occasions allowing Salzburg, and especially Sadio Mane, free license to walk all over Bayern Munich down the right. Furthermore, even when Martinez was in position the speed of the Salzburg wingers was often enough to beat Martinez who lacked the speed to catch up with the play.It was clear by the 15th minute that Bayern were in trouble with this defensive setup. Down only a single goal at that point, Guardiola should have changed up his system. A friendly is meaningless and it gives you free license to experiment. The only issue is when experiments don't work you don't continue to run them for an additional 30 minutes. Especially against an opponent playing an aggressive press, this was a great opportunity for Bayern Munich to practice and work on alternate options for containing and breaking down high presses with four of their best players missing. Instead, it was a waste of a half trying to play and experiment with a system that was clearly being shredded to ribbons.

"We have to use these friendlies to try out new things, for me that is what they are about. Javi [Martinez] played 35 minutes with a little injury, so we had some problems.

Okay, here's where I start to get really angry. Not only did Guardiola stick to experimenting with a tactical game plan that wasn't only not working but actively being destroyed and dismantled; but he also played Javi Martinez injured for 35 minutes? That's completely unacceptable. This is a friendly and no matter how important you think the friendly or the experimentation is, any injury (even a minor one) should be an immediate cause for withdrawal, especially if in the coach's opinion it was severe enough to impact the team's performance.

"But again, friendlies are exactly for that. I can't test new things during the season. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg can play as a central defender or in the midfield.

Here I have to give Guardiola his credit because this was exactly the opportunity to test Pierre-Emil Hojbjerg and the 18-year-old certainly gave the coaches the indication of how ready he is to be a regular rotational piece on this squad. It certainly wasn't a disaster but the experience question is going to be major problem. It's the same issue Mitchell Weiser has in that both of them are miles ahead of the Regionalliga Bayern in terms of quality but nowhere near first team rotational quality.

"However, when you are three goals behind after the first half the coach goes crazy and the players sadly have to try to deal with that."

Guardiola set his players up to fail from the start in this friendly, so I have absolute sympathy for his players and no sympathy for the Spaniard. That's unacceptable, and even more so for a friendly. The whole point is experimentation and trying new things. Part of soccer is defining and playing your system with skill and consistency while at the same time setting your team up to mitigate opposition strengths. Every friendly you play is an opportunity to test new ideas against new systems. It's not just a time for experiment with new ideas. New ideas are great but you don't send players out to implement a new idea when the idea is deficient and ineffective against the opposition setup. You're setting your players and yourself up to fail before you even set foot on the grass. This is when a friendly result matters.

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