Bayern Munich seems to be collectively at a loss over Saturday’s disastrous 3-0 loss at home to Borussia Mönchengladbach. Head coach Niko Kovac and several players spoke candidly to the press after the team’s fourth disappointing result in as many games and by far the most humiliating, in addition to draws against Augsburg and Ajax Amsterdam and a 2-0 away loss to Hertha Berlin.
Niko Kovac: “I know that time runs differently at Bayern Munich”
Coach Kovac spoke at considerable length. He declined to say what he told the team, but noted individual mistakes and a lack of confidence among the players:
I said a few words to the team, but that stays in the locker room. We game into the game well, and then what happened against Augsburg and Hertha happened again: we make individual mistakes and at this level in the Bundesliga that gets punished. The two goals conceded brought us out of our rhythm.
But a bad spell is not a helpful diagnosis of whatever ails the team. More specifically, in Kovac’s view, the players failed to work together as a whole and were slow with the ball. Kovac seemed particularly troubled by the futility of Bayern’s offense:
I really thought that everyone tried. We’re not getting it together on the pitch. You have to work as a unit. We didn’t succeed in keeping up the tempo with the ball. Our opponent stayed very compact. We tried to attack from the wings, but we couldn’t break through there, and not through the middle either. Yet we conceded three goals on three shots.
Kovac accepted responsibility and stressed the need for change, but the international break will force him to postpone whatever remedial measures he intends to introduce:
I’m responsible for it and I accept the challenge. We have to improve things as fast as possible. We have to process it now. Unfortunately, everyone will be gone as of tomorrow. Some players can clear their heads with the national team.
The media asked Kovac specifically if he felt that his job was in danger. Although Kovac said, “I presume that I still have the support of the club,” he also indicated that he is aware of the club’s towering expectations:
I am familiar with the mechanisms in soccer and in the Bundesliga. I know that time runs differently at Bayern Munich. We have showed that we can do better. We will do that again. And I’ll contribute my part to it.
The players react: “That is not Bayern”
Bayern’s captain Manuel Neuer struggled to pinpoint why his team collapsed on Saturday evening at the Allianz Arena. “It’s hard to say why nothing at all worked today,” he began.
We started well. We conceded the 0-1 out of the blue and didn’t break through up front. We didn’t have any clear changes. We had lots of offside calls. A few times things looked really good. Then we concede the 0-2 and are chasing the game again.
We got another one right after we wanted to pick ourselves up. You can tell that every players wants it, everyone is motivated and has the right attitude. The second goal was a slap in the face; that affects you. The game doesn’t get easier after that. After halftime, we wanted to come out like we did in the first half. We didn’t deserve [a win] today. In the last games, we had chances, but didn’t convert them. Today we couldn’t even create the chances.
Neuer’s final verdict: “That is not Bayern. That is too little.” Asked whether the team still believes in their coach, Neuer was firm: “Yes, of course, the team believes in Niko Kovac.”
Joshua Kimmich’s assessment of Bayern’s offense was even harsher:
We didn’t have a single chance. That is too little. It wasn’t the case today that we wasted our chances today. We simply didn’t have any. On top of that comes the mistakes in the back. But the defense isn’t our main problem. Normally, as FC Bayern, we always have to be good for two or three goals.
Kimmich felt positive about Kovac’s efforts to motivate the team:
He constantly tries to push us. Incredible how confident he stays despite [the results]. But that’s what we need now. We need a strong coach who isn’t affected by all that from outside. But we have to know that we have to change something.
Center-back Mats Hummels likewise focused on the inability of Bayern’s offense to threaten Gladbach, offering his own tactical analysis. In his view, the problem has been persistent since he joined the team at the beginning of Carlo Ancelotti’s tenure in 2016:
We have the ball, but we have it in harmless spaces, because we — blah, the expression has to stick — because we stay with too many players in completely harmless spaces. We don’t have enough people where it hurts the opponent. That has been the case again and again since I have been with Bayern. It’s discussed again and again. Kovac is also someone who would theoretically like to see that change a bit.
Hecking’s blueprint: pack the midfield and counter
Gladbach’s coach Dieter Hecking celebrated his team’s shutout performance and revealed some of the tactical planning that went into their demolition of the hosts:
We wanted to catch Bayern with our transition game; it worked wonderfully. We knew if we could sting them with a needle, we could shake their confidence. During the week, I decided to put Plea on the left. We wanted to create superior numbers in the midfield.
Hecking’s strategy worked perfectly, as Kovac’s own diagnosis of the match confirmed virtually everything that Hecking had hoped to accomplish. Kovac himself described how “the goals conceded in the first half took away our sense of security. Gladbach played very well with their dense midfield, double-teamed us on the flanks so that we had a hard time breaking through.” The result? “We now have to live with this defeat that hurts us very much,” he concluded.