Bayern Munich progressed to the Round of 16 of the DFB Pokal after a 2-1 victory against 2. Bundesliga side VFL Bochum, but the victory was somewhat of a consolation prize in what many regard as one of Bayern’s worst performances this season thus far.
Players and management alike were understandably frustrated, with the emotions reflecting in their post-match reactions. Captain Manuel Neuer didn’t mince words, and gave one of his harshest interviews in a Bayern jersey, while sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic let his sarcasm do all the talking. Coach Niko Kovac too, had a lot to say about the game, and what he expects looking forward to the Bundesliga clash against his former team, Eintracht Frankfurt.
In his presser on Thursday (covered by TZ), the coach had some important things to say about the Pokal match in retrospect, and he also gave some insight regarding what he expects from the game on Saturday against Eintracht Frankfurt.
When asked about his thoughts on the Pokal game, Kovac was straightforward:
Maybe I have to be clearer in my statements, I can’t speak in so many metaphors. Bochum did well, but we lost the ball too many times. You have to have possession in order to feel secure. We did not succeed on this occasion.
Furthermore, Kovac criticized the team for nearly being caught snoozing in the opening minute of the game:
The opponent had a massive chance after 40 seconds. I expect that we are present from the very first minute. We have to work just as hard as the others. We know that we have the quality. We showed that from the 60th minute on.
Indeed, Bayern had a very poor first half, which was further aggravated by a lacklustre opening to the second half. Only around the hour mark did Bayern shift to attack mode after a few substitutions, namely Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Müller, and Philippe Coutinho. Bayern largely lacked the aggression the hosts displayed, which was the defining factor of the performance.
When asked about his expectations moving forward, Kovac emphasized more aggression, vigilance, and involvement throughout the game:
I would like to see more passion in the duels. At the moment, we are not there at the beginning. We need a good feeling to get into the game. It’ll definitely be crazy in Frankfurt. We will have to be wide awake. It might happen that we quickly fall behind — if we act like we have in the past few weeks. It’s a marquee match; Frankfurt is a very good team.
Frankfurt will be no pushover, and Bayern will need to be on guard throughout the game to ensure a positive result.
Kovac has also come under some criticism for praising Eintracht’s fans as the best in the league. Kovac explained he was referring to the incredible home atmosphere they have created lately, particularly during the qualifiers for the Europa League. Kovac refused to retract his statements and candidly spoke about honesty, both with the team and the board:
If that [honesty] is no longer desirable, we can pack up. Then others will have better chances. I will not change.
Regarding the team and tactics, Kovac explained he expects the players to get back to basics, and he also cleared the air about his blunt post-game comments.
We are addressing things, but the boys are not implementing it that way right now. It’s not about tactics, but rather about moving the ball from point A to point B. That’s how you achieve dominance and that’s what it’s about. Bochum brought all their virtues to bear; we didn’t. That’s what I said; you [i.e. the press] interpreted it differently.
On self confidence, Kovac said,
If you lose the ball five times, it will be difficult to step up a sixth time. Instead you starting thinking about things. That’s why you have to try to get into a rhythm right from the start. When you have fear is in your bones, it’s hard. We’re calling on [the team] to simply play football. The simplicity is the difficulty. Therein also lies the beauty. If you keep it simple, you will be successful.
This is undoubtedly a direct dig at certain Bayern players who have been regularly losing possession, giving the opponents great starting positions to generate chances. The coach clearly expects more direct, fearless play.
Speaking about the mood in the locker room and the atmosphere at the Säbener Strasse, Kovac stressed patience:
We want to and must win. In addition, we want to offer our fans beautiful football. That’s not the case right now. But I prefer to win such games as opposed to losing them with brilliant football. We have to be patient. The players are working on their own performances. And that’s good. If you do that, you can get better.
This was a crucial point to make, and yes, sometimes wins have to be ground out, although there is no need to make every single fixture a mountain out of a molehill. If the team can put away chances and take the game away early, they should.
Finally, wrapping up the presser, the coach gave important team news regarding Javi Martinez’s injury situation:
Javi Martinez trained today. So he could become an option. I’m looking forward to the game, but we have to stay focused.
Great news for the Bayern team as a whole, especially in the defence department which is stretched really thin at the moment and could use all the manpower it could get.
This Bayern side is looking very lacklustre and lacks passion and drive on the pitch of late. There is tremendous potential there, but the team has looked far from the beast it was in the Rückrunde last season, tearing teams apart at will. A lack of rest could be part of the problem with regards to players like Coutinho, Joshua Kimmich and Thiago. The last game was also anomalous since the team underwent a major shuffle, with Lewandowski, Müller and Coutinho all benched, a starting midfield trio of Thiago, Leon Goretzka and Corentin Tolisso (for the first time), and an attack of Ivan Perisic, Kingsley Coman, and Serge Gnabry (who played his first game as a striker for Bayern). This major lineup restructuring could also have been one of the major reasons why Bayern performed so poorly, and the team struggled to even string a few passes together as a result.
After the substitutions of the above-mentioned strike trio, the game changed dramatically in Bayern’s favour, seeing them scrape out a last gasp 2-1 victory. Yes, the team could have done better, but it also seems like the coach thoroughly underestimated Bochum, despite the high praise he lavished on them before the game. With regards to the team mood, one can only wonder how much more motivated the players would feel if they got some indication from Kovac that things were going to be alright. The coach could perhaps let his players know through his comments that he’s working towards making the team better, working towards implementing the game-plan more efficiently, and so on instead of openly criticizing player performances. A bit of self-confidence could go a long way in helping the team achieve their aspirations domestically and in the Champions League.
Whatever the case, the coach, players and management need to take some time to assess the situation. These performances cannot continue and are simply unacceptable for a team of Bayern’s calibre. If what Neuer hinted at in his own post-game comments is true, then the players really need to look at their performances and see how they can improve going forward. They have to give their all every game; solely criticizing the coach for dips in the overall team performance would be quite harsh.
Here’s to hoping this is just a minor dip in form, and that Bayern come all guns blazing on Saturday in what will undoubtedly be a very trying fixture for Kovac. Auf geht’s!