Bayern Munich have a huge defensive problem on their hands. The German Rekordmeister has conceded a minimum of two goals in each of their last four games. Their most recent clean sheet was against newly-promoted Köln all the way back in August. This sorry state of affairs has led to criticism from all corners — including team captain Manuel Neuer himself.
Now, coach Niko Kovac has decided to weigh in on the issue. Speaking to the press ahead of Bayern’s game against Union Berlin, the Croatian lamented individual errors in defense: (via AZ)
What we currently are failing to do is defense. We are making too many individual mistakes. If we don’t win our one-on-one duels, problems arise.
Elaborating on the point about 1v1 duels, the coach continued:
You must have the willingness to seek out a duel. If I seek it out, I will win it. In the current situation, it’s sometimes the case that we think, “The guy behind me will take care of that.” You have to trust your teammate, but most of all you have to trust yourself.
It almost sounds like he’s advocating for a more aggressive playstyle from his players — mainly the midfielders. Could this be a message to Thiago Alcantara? The Spaniard was arguably Bayern’s best player alongside Robert Lewandowski last season, but he has been uncharacteristically error-prone this year. Kovac has relied on Thiago to be his midfield general since day one. Perhaps this is his way of saying that he needs to step up to the plate.
Alternatively, it could be a message to Joshua Kimmich, who has been a shadow of himself since being moved back to right back. Without Niklas Süle to cover for him, Kimmich must now be more mindful of the space he leaves behind him. Of course, it’s entirely possible that Kovac wasn’t speaking to any individual team member, but the issues that those two players have had stand out from the rest.
Speaking of individuals, it looks like Jerome Boateng is making a comeback. Kovac said of him,
Jerome is now in demand again. I said before the season that we need him. He’ll prove that he is a qualitatively very good player. If he plays well, perhaps he will be an option for other tasks again.
Of course, Kovac phrased it in a very diplomatic way, but we all know that Jerome Boateng will be key now that he’s literally our last remaining defender. As a senior player and a World Cup and Treble winner, he will hopefully bring some composure and experience to a young back line that has faltered as of late.
Whatever happens, changes must be made. You can’t keep conceding two goals per game and expect to win any titles. Niko Kovac himself must shoulder some of the blame — he was brought on due to his reputation as a defensive-minded coach, and he was expected to tighten things up at the back. As of right now, he’s failing at his appointed task.