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First half report card: Bayern Munich defenders and goalkeeper

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Some Bayern defenders fared better than others in the first half of the season, but they’ve collectively shown improvement.

Ajax v FC Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Group E
AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - DECEMBER 12: Joshua Kimmich, David Alaba of Bayern Munich salute the fans following the UEFA Champions League Group E match between Ajax and FC Bayern Munich at Johan Cruyff Arena on December 12, 2018 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Ajax v FC Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Group E AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - DECEMBER 12: Joshua Kimmich, David Alaba of Bayern Munich salute the fans following the UEFA Champions League Group E match between Ajax and FC Bayern Munich at Johan Cruyff Arena on December 12, 2018 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
(Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

Bayern Munich’s defense in the first half of this season has well and truly been a tale of two halves. After starting the 2018/2019 campaign with four consecutive league wins, Bayern experienced rough patches at the end of September and in November. The first major speed-bump came in the form of a 2-0 loss away to Hertha Berlin at the end of September, only three short days after a relatively disappointing 1-1 draw with Augsburg at the Allianz Arena. During that difficult stretch, Bayern’s defensive frailties were exposed as they made a habit of conceding lazy, unnecessary goals late on in matches.

That said, Niko Kovac’s side has made significant defensive improvements, having only conceded one goal in their five league matches in December. During that time, Bayern have out-scored their opponents (Werder Bremen, FC Nurnberg, Hannover 96, RB Leipzig, and Eintracht Frankfurt) by 13 goals to 1; exactly the kind of response Kovac was hoping for.

Overall Grade: B-/C+


In an effort to “grade” or “rate” the players individually, a number of factors were considered including statistics, performance, injuries, and consistency. In this series, each author is also using his or her personal “eye test” to assess the players and their performance over the first half.

Joshua Kimmich: A-

Kimmich is truly growing into a true leader of this club. Even during Bayern’s difficult stretches in September and November, he was one of the most consistent performers. To be fair, like all of Bayern’s defenders so far this season, he’s had his fair share of mistakes, but he’s otherwise been a rock in Bayern’s back line (not to mention his performances in the midfield). As it’s quickly become rather characteristic of Kimmich’s game, he’s provided 7 assists in the league so far, and 2 in the Champions League, when starting at right-back. Also, we can’t forget the beautifully taken volley he scored against Hannover and the lovely assist he had for Robert Lewandowski’s goal in that win.

Niklas Süle: B

Kovac has most often preferred the center-back pairing of either Niklas Süle and Jerome Boateng or Niklas Süle and Mats Hummels. We have seldom seen the pairing of Boateng and Hummels because of Kovac’s continued faith in Süle. Part of what makes Süle so effective is his sound decision making. He rarely makes a stray, unnecessary pass and he knows the right positions to get into off the ball to snuff out opposition attacks. For a defender of his size, too, he shows excellent pace when Bayern are on the back foot in defensive retreat. Where Süle has been lacking this season is his tendency to lose focus in crucial moments. There’s been a handful of occasions this season where he lost his man or failed to track a runner into the box, who then scored on close range shots that Manuel Neuer has little chance of saving. Focusing for the full 90 minutes is something Kovac has definitely emphasized and reiterated to his squad.

David Alaba: B

Much like Kimmich and Süle, Alaba has been, for the most part, a consistently solid performer on the left side of Bayern’s back line. The Austrian, when fully fit, is one of the first names on Kovac’s team sheet, and he’s been just as good going forward as he has been with his defensive responsibilities. His overlapping runs with either Kingsley Coman or Franck Ribery on the left flank make it difficult for opposition defenses to keep track of him, and his delivery into the box always poses a threat, as well as his set pieces. By the same token, there have been occasions this season where Alaba has been too slow tracking back after venturing high up the pitch, which is a recipe for disaster given the defensive formations teams employ against Bayern. Getting caught out by counter-attacks with numbers committed forward has been Bayern’s Achilles heel often this season, but they’ve shown plenty of improvements in the latter stages of the hinrunde, which is refreshing.

We can’t rate Alaba and not leave this here. It most definitely is a goal of the season contender:

Jerome Boateng: B-

Boateng has not looked like himself this year. He has only played in eleven matches, all of which he started. He struggled to find a consistent spot in the starting eleven, competing with two other talented center-backs. Injury and illness also kept him out of matches on a few occasions. Boateng has also showed frustration with his teammates, notably after the game in Dortmund. He was visibly upset with the lack of communication after the goal scorers were left unmarked and allowed to score. Boateng could benefit if there was more consistency on the back line, but it is hard to be consistent when there is a three-man rotation for the two center-back spots.

Rafinha: B-

Rafinha might not get a lot of minutes, but he’s there for Kovac when he’s called upon to do a job and do it well. The Brazilian has made a total of 15 appearances across competitions, 9 of which have come in the league. He missed a handful of games in September and early October, but Bayern won all four league matches in which he started and played the full 90 minutes. For Kovac, he’s the perfect auxiliary defender who also boasts the necessary experience to come on in difficult situations and get the job done.

AND THIS GOAL AND DANCE!

Mats Hummels: C/C+

This has been perhaps Mats Hummels’s most difficult season with Bayern Munich. The German international has struggled to find consistent minutes under Kovac, sparking rumors that he is unhappy at Bayern and potentially looking for an exit. His struggles were highlighted in Bayern’s 3-2 Der Klassiker loss to Borussia Dortmund, when he played through illness and was absolutely skinned by Marco Reus. Instead of keeping himself out of the lineup, Hummels likely didn’t want to miss out on a chance to start, and it wound up costing the team. His lack of pace also is something that opposing teams have tried to exploit, and it’s been identified as a weak point in Bayern’s defense when he’s in the lineup.

FC Bayern Muenchen v AEK Athens - UEFA Champions League Group E
MUNICH, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 07: Mats Hummels of Bayern Muenchen looks on during the Group E match of the UEFA Champions League between FC Bayern Muenchen and AEK Athens at Allianz Arena on November 7, 2018 in Munich, Germany
Han’t been a great season for Mats.
(Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)

Manuel Neuer: B-

Neuer has played every minute of Bayern’s seventeen matches so far and kept six clean-sheets. The Hinrunde started and ended well for Bayern’s captain, but there was a rough patch in the middle where Neuer couldn’t seem to make a save to save his life. That stretch of bad form contributed to Bayern falling up to nine points off the top of the table and a 56.1% save percentage on the season. Neuer ended the Hinrunde with four straight clean sheets. Hopefully he can maintain that run of form in the Ruükrunde as the Rekordmeister continues to chase Dortmund.

Bayern Muenchen v Manchester United - Friendly Match
MUNICH, GERMANY - AUGUST 05: Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer of Bayern Muenchen looks on during the friendly match between Bayern Muenchen and Manchester United at Allianz Arena on August 5, 2018 in Munich, Germany.
Neuer can continue his good run into the second half of the season.
(Photo by Sebastian Widmann/Bongarts/Getty Images)