This is the pinnacle of journalism, folks. During Bayern Munich’s winter training camp in Qatar, Bild managed to take a photo of Niko Kovac’s tactics sheet. By squinting at Kovac’s (frankly terrible) handwriting, they have managed to give us an insight into how the manager may be planning to set up his team. Interestingly, it may have implications for the upcoming Champions League tie against Liverpool.
Here are the pictures in question:
Bild spotted Kovač's tactical notepad in Doha. Notepad from the Croatian FA pic.twitter.com/BWRkB53vv2— Bayern & Die Mannschaft (@eMiaSanMia) January 6, 2019
Take a minute to squint at them like we did. It’s very hard to make anything out without their accompanying explanation. Here’s how Bild describes the setup:
- One team must press the opposition and score, while the other has to defend and escape pressure.
- Defensive instructions: opposing wingers must be double-teamed, players must track back at a sprint.
- Offensive instructions: 1v1 situations in the penalty area should be created.
- The defensive team played with a back four — Joshua Kimmich, Niklas Sule, Jerome Boateng, and David Alaba. Leon Goretzka and Thiago Alcantara comprised the midfield, while Thomas Muller played as the #10.
- James Rodriguez was on the attacking team, with Renato Sanches and Javi Martinez behind him. The text actually looks like it says “Meritan” and not Martinez, however.
Bild must be providing some supplementary info from what they observed live, because otherwise it’s practically impossible to get all that from the single sheet of paper pictured above. It also doesn’t tell us everything that is in the sheet itself — if you squint at it long enough, you can see that some player names are repeated, and different teams are marked in red or blue.
So, by taking even more time to squint at the picture, here are some additional observations we came up with on our own, without Bild’s help. Of course, they may be completely wrong, so take it all with a grain of salt:
- Each half on the pitch seems to be comprised of two different setups. Each setup simulates an offensive vs defensive situation.
- The team on the left side of the picture is the one described by Bild. The words “Thomas”, “Leon”, “Manuel”, and “Nikki” can clearly be made out (written in red). This is the defending team.
- On the same side, you can see the names “James”, “Martinez”, “Franck”, and a name beginning with “L” (presumably Lewandowski) written in red. This is the attacking team.
- On the right side, the setup is reversed. Team James (in red) is now the one defending, while Team Muller (in blue) is attacking.
- Sandro Wagner is the striker for Team Muller, while Serge Gnabry (“Gnabry”) may be the left winger. Assuming that Kovac uses nicknames, then “King” i.e. Kingsley Coman is the right winger.
- The backline of Team James consists of Rafinha, Lars Lukas Mai, Mats Hummels, and a player whose name I can’t quite make out. The midfield says “Renato” and another name — possibly “Javi”. Honestly, it makes much more sense that the defensive version of Team James has Javi Martinez on it while the attacking one has Meritan Shabani. Also, everyone is referred to either by first name or a nickname, so it’s strange that the rule would be broken here. Bild may have gotten this one wrong.
From the two game scenarios given above, it’s clear that Kovac is practicing defensive drills against a high press. However, his choice of players in each setup might be telling. It’s hard to distinguish anything from a slightly blurry photograph of a set of notes scribbled by manager, but we must try. The time has come for some wild-mass-guessing (WMG).
- The two teams (Team Muller and Team James) look suspiciously like a Starters vs Substitutes setup, with the exception of Lewy being on Team James and Wagner being on Team Muller. Maybe it’s to help Robert Lewandowski and James build offensive chemistry with each other? Muller is suspended for the first leg, after all.
- Mats Hummels and James Rodriguez may not be very high up the pecking order, if the makeup of Team James is anything to go by.
- Thiago-Goretzka is probably going to be our starting midfield going forward, judging by the makeup of Team Muller. Thiago is definitely playing in a deep role, i.e. as a #6 in a dual pivot. No 4-1-4-1 to be seen.
- Kovac is finally getting ready to start using Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman on the pitch at the same time. Interestingly, he puts Gnabry on the left and Coman on the right instead of the other way around. While Pep Guardiola used to play Coman on the right, subsequent coaches have used him almost exclusively on the left. Could he be inspired by Pep’s use of Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane in the City-Liverpool game? Maybe.
- On the other hand, it could be a test for the defense. If the mystery left back on Team James is indeed Alaba, who will have the job of marking Mohamed Salah against Liverpool, then it makes sense to match him up against our best winger and see how he does.
- The attack vs defense systems include no fullbacks on the attacking side, even though most teams in the Bundesliga and around Europe use fullbacks to create width in the attack. This could be an oversight. However, a simple team sheet may not paint a complete picture, so there’s no need to panic.
- This is completely unrelated to the above, but Kovac looks to be growing a stubble again. Is the return of bearded Kovac imminent?
While this leak itself is mostly mundane, the implications are fascinating to discuss. What do you think Kovac is doing in training? Comment below!