The return of the king
Despite being unable to get a goal or an assist, Kingsley Coman was perhaps the best Bayern Munich player on the pitch against Stuttgart. The Frenchman looked to be back to his scorching best, dribbling past the Stuttgart defense like it wasn’t even there. Just for comparison:
Kingsley Coman: 8 dribbles in 85 minutes.
Stuttgart’s entire XI and subs: 5 dribbles in 90 minutes.
That wasn’t all. The youngster shouldered his defensive responsibilities well, getting back to cover for David Alaba and almost playing like a second left back at times. One interesting tactic to note — during corners on the left side of the pitch, Coman stood near the edge of the box.
At first glance, he seemed to be waiting for the chance to make a late run or volley in a rebound, but that wasn’t it. In fact, while those things were an option, the real reason he seemed parked over there was because, in case of a Stuttgart counter, he could use his lightning pace to sprint back and catch up to any breakaway attacker. We saw it in action during the second half, where after Stuttgart headed the ball clear, Coman raced back to collect it and prevent the counterattack.
This is a new and fascinating way to use Coman’s incredible pace, and it’s something we’ve not seen before. Credit to the player and Niko Kovac for pulling it off.
The shakiest 4-1 win ever
Coman aside, the rest of the performance wasn’t as rosy as the scoreline (or the xG distribution) suggests. After going up 1-0 early in the first fifteen minutes, Bayern Munich slowed down and allowed Stuttgart back into the game, eventually leading to the equalizer.
The midfield was the main cause of the slowdown. Javi Martinez and Thiago Alcantara suddenly started being rather careless with their passing, allowing Stuttgart to pounce on loose balls or poorly controlled passes.
The stats sheet will tell you that both players had a 95% passing accuracy, but that’s misleading. While their passes usually found the mark, they passed to players that were being swarmed by the opponent, or their passes were heavy and difficult to control. This allowed Stuttgart to pounce on the second ball and counter. As a result, the Bavarians lost control of the midfield very easily.
In the second half, bringing on Serge Gnabry for Javi Martinez definitely helped things. Gnabry’s pace and directness pushed Stuttgart back and they were unable to press as aggressively as before, allowing Thiago more breathing room to control the midfield. As the game wore on, Stuttgart grew tired and the goals started flowing.
A performance like this would not cut it against a better team.
Will Leon Goretzka be the #10 against Liverpool?
The way Niko kovac has used Leon Goretzka since the break seems to imply that he might be the stand-in for Thomas Muller against Liverpool. After Muller got his red card against Ajax, most people thought that James Rodriguez would be the natural choice to replace him for the games against Reds. However, Niko Kovac seems to have different ideas.
Since returning to league action, the coach has chosen to use Leon Goretzka as his #10. He plays almost like a pseudo Muller, getting into the box and supporting Lewandowski as best he can, while also trying to score himself.
While Goretzka lacks the tactical awareness or spontaneity of Thomas Muller and the finesse and passing range of James Rodriguez, it’s clear to see why Niko Kovac wants him to play this role. He’s tall and deceptively strong, allowing him to muscle defenders off the ball and disrupt play to make space for other attackers. His positioning is good and he has strong chemistry with the rest of the team, especially Joshua Kimmich, Thomas Muller, and Serge Gnabry. And finally, he’s incredibly fast, and Niko Kovac adores fast players.
Leon Goretzka seems like an ideal #10 for Kovac’s system, as well as the closest thing this team has to a second Thomas Muller. There are only four more games to go until Bayern Munich face Liverpool at Anfield, and if James doesn’t start getting substantial minutes soon, we should expect to see Leon Goretzka take to the pitch in the #10 role.