In his press conference ahead of the DFL Supercup against Eintracht Frankfurt, Bayern Munich coach Niko Kovac had something interesting to say about his tactics going forward. When asked about the system he wanted to play, Kovac replied:
We couldn’t work on a back 3 in training because we don’t have the personnel for it. FC Bayern have been playing a system since van Gaal and we will keep that. You saw against Man Utd how we want to play. We want to have the ball.
Well that puts an end to that. When Kovac was first announced, everyone and their dog thought he was going to move away from the possession-heavy system that was so vilified under Pep Guardiola to a more pragmatic style of football. As was apparent in the friendly against Manchester United, Kovac doesn’t intend to turn Bayern into a hard-nosed counterattacking team overnight. We at BFW even mentioned it in our observations from the game:
While everyone expected him to move away from possession-based football, Niko Kovac seems to have done anything but. His tactics against Manchester United resembled Pep’s gameplan more than anything Jupp Heynckes or Jurgen Klopp has ever done. Is Kovac going to subvert everyone’s expectations, or will this all change when the real games come along?
The logic behind no change
Bayern fans who were pining for a paradigm-shift in the club’s style of play should not despair, this was always going to be the most logical thing to do. As Kovac himself said, “Bayern Munich have been a possession-heavy team since the era of Louis van Gaal, and it has served us well in that time.”
While most people associate Jupp Heynckes’ treble-winning side with the kind of brutal counterattacking we showed in two games against Barcelona, that 2012-13 side was actually an elite possession-based system as well. If it hadn’t been, Pep Guardiola couldn’t possibly have come in and imposed his tactics so quickly on the squad.
Of course, everyone knows that Pep-ball was completely different from Jupp-ball, but that’s the point. Having the ball doesn’t mean you have to play in a single defined system. Often, pragmatism can rule the day, as it did in Bayern’s fateful tie against Barcelona five years ago.
What does this mean for the squad?
If Niko Kovac is serious about carrying on Bayern’s legacy of playing with the ball, then he has no choice — he HAS to keep Thiago Alcantara and Jerome Boateng. Thiago, when fit, is arguably one of the best central midfielders in the world, and he has this brand of football running through his veins from his time at Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy.
Boateng is the best ball-playing center back in the world, able to dictate the team from the back even batter than his compatriot Mats Hummels. The fact that Thomas Tuchel — who is often called the “German Pep Guardiola” is desperate to have him at PSG tells you about his value in a possession system.
The transfer window isn’t closed yet, and the Bundesliga remains a few weeks away. But it seems like Niko Kovac has a clear idea of what kind of football he wants to be playing at Bayern Munich.
How do you feel about Kovac’s decision?
This poll is closed
Disappointed, we need to try something new.
Satisfied, we’ll be just fine.