For Bayern Munich’s comprehensive 6-0 win over Red Star Belgrade in the Champions League, Hansi Flick made the decision to insert Thiago Alcantara, Philippe Coutinho, and Jerome Boateng into the starting lineup. The switches gave Serge Gnabry, Joshua Kimmich, Thomas Muller and David Alaba a well-deserved rest without sacrificing the ebb and flow amongst the squad that’s been so positive since Flick has been in charge.
The Focus: Thiago and Coutinho
In particular, both Thiago and Coutinho haven’t played nearly as much under Flick as they did for Niko Kovac, but both put in solid performances in Belgrade. After fielding an almost identical starting eleven for 3 consecutive matches (Olympiacos, Borussia Dortmund, Fortuna Dusseldorf), Flick had some flexibility to make the rotations against Belgrade that saw the team line up in a 4-3-3 formation. Thiago was at center of Bayern’s midfield 3 and has hardly gotten any minutes under Flick, but he was given specific instructions from the manager prior to kickoff (SPOX):
I told him exactly what I expected of him: to put himself in the line of defense and also to safeguard the back. Besides that he must be at the point of the pass, in order to be a disruption.
As the midfield anchor with Corentin Tolisso and Leon Goretzka on either side of him, Thiago filled in those gaps just ahead of the defensive line when Bayern were in defense and he was able to receive the ball in positions where he could utilize his unique vision in distribution. As a result, he had the most touches in the match of any Bayern player (132) and completed the most passes as well (117).
While Coutinho didn't start in his preferred central position just behind Robert Lewandowski, he was able to positively effect the match starting from the left flank. There was plenty of interchangeability present between him, Kingsley Coman, Goretzka, and Tolisso to the point where Coutinho was able to get into spaces where he could best utilize his creative dribbling and passing ability. He also assisted Goretzka’s goal and started the play that led to Lewandowski’s 2nd goal and had the most shots on target of any Bayern player (4). Before the Belgrade match, we hadn’t seen much of Coutinho deputized at the wide left role, but he proved that it’s a position that he can play when Flick calls upon him to do so.
With the belief that Flick has instilled amongst the squad, Manuel Neuer compared his tenure thus far to what the feeling was like when Jupp Heynckes was manager:
He picks everyone up and that is important. In that aspect, he implements what Jupp Heynckes always did.
Leon Goretzka added that Flick “is currently finding a really good mix” in reference to the selections he’s making. Of course, Red Star Belgrade is far from a high caliber opponent, but it was still refreshing to see Bayern still implement their impressive high press, tight lines between midfield and defense, and execution in the final third that have all been so enjoyable to watch since Flick has taken charge. It will be interesting to see if he reverts back to the starting lineup he utilized against Dortmund and Olympiacos for Bayern’s upcoming clash against Bayer Leverkusen.
What does everyone think? Will Flick start Coutinho and Thiago again against Leverkusen, or will he put Kimmich, Muller and Gnabry back in the starting eleven? Let us know in the comments section!