Bayern Munich finished the hinrunde with a strong December after a experiencing a troubling start to their 2018/2019 season under Niko Kovac. After Bayern’s disappointing 3-3 draw against Fortuna Dusseldorf at the end of November, the team responded with five convincing league wins against Werder Bremen, FC Nürnberg, Hannover 96, RB Leipzig, and Eintracht Frankfurt, boasting a goal difference of +12 from those matches.
Bayern is now only six points behind first-placed rivals Borussia Dortmund in the table and still has the 2nd installment of Der Klasiker to come in the second half of the season. With the way his side has responded in the last month, Kovac is confident the team has what it takes to catch Dortmund in the second half of the season. In a recent interview with FCBayern.com, Kovac expressed the restored belief the squad is feeling. Confidence, he said, is now just as high as it was before the season even started:
I feel we’re the FC Bayern from the start of the season again, that we’ve restored our ease and confidence – and that the lads are fired up to give it everything and put up a fierce fight against Borussia Dortmund.
Your Christmas Bundesliga table pic.twitter.com/8le1bFAopk— Bundesliga English (@Bundesliga_EN) December 23, 2018
Despite Bayern’s rough start, Kovac has enjoyed the first half of his first season in charge of the Bavarians and he feels the team is in a good place heading into the winter break:
It was a half year with many facets, very emotional, and certainly not boring. We had many good periods but also had to weather difficult ones. However, taken altogether we’re on a good track, and at the end of the day our conclusion to the six months is positive. FC Bayern have gone unbeaten in the Champions League group stage for the first time in ten years, we’ve advanced in the DFB Cup and we’ve cut the gap in the Bundesliga.
When asked about the difficult stretch Bayern went through in late September and October, Kovac said he stayed as far away from media as possible as he was heavily criticized for the way Bayern was performing:
I kept it away as far as possible. I wanted to be free in my decisions, only relying on my impressions from training. I stuck to it until the winter break. I’ve basically passed up on media reports for four to five months. I feel good this way, it isn’t a burden. That’s the crucial point. If things become a burden you aren’t free in your decisions, but you must be free.
Some tactical changes and making less rotations, he revealed, was the key to Bayern’s success when it finally broke its rough streak. Since then, Bayern has gone on to win all of its league matches in December:
We decided we absolutely had to close down the centre. Our opponents usually lie deep and try to play vertically after winning possession. Besides, our quick full-backs have been more involved in our play thanks to the change. And the decision to make fewer changes to the starting line-up in the run-up to the winter break was surely another advantage.
It’s incredibly important that Bayern doesn’t let complacency creep in at any point during the ruckrunde to avoid another difficult period like they experienced midway through the hinrunde. Kovac will certainly be reinforcing that idea to the squad, but he said that he’s pleased with the hunger and desire to develop that his players have been showing since they’ve responded to their rough start to the season:
I think you can see that every day, every week, every month has been helpful in the development of every player, especially the younger ones. The established players too have improved. They show their qualities again and again, which is one of the club’s strengths. The players are never satisfied, everybody wants more and still more, in every pass, every tackle, every header. In training and in matches. We’ve also improved in terms of mentality, the lads have shown once again they can cope well with criticism — and when things get serious they show strong nerves and are fully focused.
Moving forward, Kovac promised that they’ll continue to work incredibly hard to be successful as Bayern wants to celebrate titles with the fans at the end of the season:
We’ll work hard, we won’t let anything or anyone knock us out of our stride, and we’ll do everything to be successful. We want to celebrate with the fans at the end of the second half of the season.