Bayern Munich put on arguably their best attacking display to date in a valiant 2-3 loss to Borussia Dortmund heading into the international break. This loss, however, also figures as the crowning failure in a disappointing season thus far. As the Hinrunde inches to a close, Bayern sit in 5th place, 7 points behind the Black and Yellows, and lacking identity on both ends of the pitch. Yet despite all that, the Bavarian giants have at least one reason for optimism.
The impending return of Kinglsey Coman will provide the spark Bayern Munich need to make a run up the table. The pacey winger will not only provide much-needed depth on the wings, but his style of play will inject life into the Bavarian attack.
Statistically, Coman’s impact is clear. A simple review of Bayern Munich’s results with the young Frenchman in the lineup paints a telling picture. In 33 games across all competitions in the 2017/18 season, Bayern won 26, drew 3 and lost 4. In the four losses, Coman was subbed on in the second half of three matches (vs PSG, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Eintracht Frankfurt) in the hopes of providing a late spark. This record doesn’t even include Bayern’s most heartbreaking results of the season — the losses to Real Madrid, where the attack was crying out for his presence. On a basic level, Bayern win when the French international is on the field.
In comparing his offensive impact to his competition in the squad, the 22-year-old’s importance can be parsed out. Coman put up 7 goals and 8 assists across all competitions, averaging 1 key pass in the Champions League (UCL) and Bundesliga, 2.6 dribbles in the UCL and 3 in the Bundesliga, and just over 2 dispossession in the UCL and less than 1 in the Bundesliga. Although these numbers cannot be called as gaudy, Coman’s improvement over the season and his promising start to the 2018/19 campaign showed signs of a breakout campaign.
Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, in contrast, have been far from great in the Hinrunde. While the Dutchman has shown an ability to find a key pass, averaging just under 2 per game in the UCL and Bundesliga, he is averaging less than one successful dribble a match and is being dispossessed between 1 and 2 times every 90 minutes. Ribery has been even worse, with just over 1 key pass per 90’ in the Bundesliga and 0.3 in the UCL, paired with fewer than 2 successful dribbles and almost 3 dispossessions a match. With only 3 goals and 2 assists between them, the legendary duo have become a liability.
It would be a different story if their high number of dispossessions was a product of relentless dribbling and consistently taking on defenders, but it isn’t. The once-feared duo has become the metaphorical wrench in the well oiled machine that is the Bavarian attack. As they drift further to the center of the park in the hopes of creating chances in the box, Niko Kovac’s attack has lost any semblance of width, relying largely on the fullbacks David Alaba and Joshua Kimmich to beat defenders to the touchline and play balls into the box. This not only leaves Bayern’s flanks exposed, but it also leads to a frustrating degree of predictability. Kovac’s men consistently rely on the two world-class fullbacks for service into the box without creating the requisite movement or dragging defenders out of position in the build-up.
Although Coman’s statistical output doesn’t obviously set him apart from his aging partners, his pace and ability to provide width are not necessarily quantifiable. Coman has the pace to draw defenders and brings width to stretch the back line on either the right or left wing, which has been lacking from Robbery, who don’t have the legs to beat defenders to the byline and have increasingly squeezed in towards the box. This, coupled with Serge Gnabry’s propensity for drifting centrally, has left Alaba and Kimmich isolated, allowing opposition manager’s to pack the box and stifle the movement of Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller.
Pairing an improving Gnabry with another elusive winger will give him the freedom he needs to operate unencumbered, which was evident in his recent partnership with Leroy Sané for the German national team in their 3-0 victory over Russia. The German international has not yet reached the point in his development to serve as the focal point of an attack, but when an opposing defense is forced to account for an equally, if not more, dangerous partner, the former Arsenal-man thrives.
Gnabry’s steady improvement for both Bayern and Germany points towards a more consistent role in the first XI, while Robbery’s decline indicates that no one can escape the cruel hand of time. Once the French prodigy returns with a (hopefully) clean bill of health, the Rekordmeister will have the necessary pieces to field a reinvigorated front three. Relegating Robben and Ribery to the role of super-subs may also potentially maximize their current abilities — if they can keep their egos in check. Finally, the imminent arrival of Alphonso Davies should also bolster Kovac’s options. Bayern will have the personnel to compete across three competitions without a January signing.
Will Kingsley Coman fix the underlying structural problems at Bayern? No. Does his injury record leave cause for concern if Bayern are relying on him to carry the load? Yes. But he is exactly what Bayern need to paper over the cracks and bring home the Bundesliga.