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Niko Kovac supports tactical fouling to stop counters

Bayern Munich’s struggles getting back have led to new routes to stop counter-attacks..

MUNICH, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 09: Head coach Niko Kovac of FC Bayern Muenchen gestures during the Bundesliga match between FC Bayern Muenchen and FC Schalke 04 at Allianz Arena on February 9, 2019 in Munich, Germany. Photo by TF-Images/TF-Images via Getty Images

Undeniably, one of the weakest spots of Bayern Munich’s game is defending counter-attacks.

The team has conceded eight goals on the counter, which is the second most in the Bundesliga behind Augsburg. That number includes the lone goal scored by Schalke this weekend, when a beautiful 25-yard through ball from Weston McKennie was cleanly put away by Ahmed Kutucu.

So, when all else fails, it might be time to look to something new.

After the match on Saturday, Kovac came as close to publicly telling his players to foul as you can in his remarks to the media:

You sometimes also have to commit a tactical foul, when you can’t win the ball.

Joshua Kimmich says that fouling attackers isn’t their first thought, but the strategy has its merits. “With a counter, you may perhaps have the opportunity to commit a tactical foul,” Kimmich said.

When asked whether Bayern plays too fairly, Kimmich suggested their policy on sportsmanship may change:

Maybe. It’s just always our goal to stop a counter fairly. When that’s not possible, though, we perhaps also have to commit a foul — if the coach says so...

BFW Analysis

When Niko Kovac was at the helm at Eintracht Frankfurt, his team fouled others at a consistently high rate. According to, Frankfurt placed third in the Bundesliga in average fouls per game in each of Kovac’s seasons in charge, with 15.8 per game in the 16/17 season and 15.5 per game in the 17/18 season. Both seasons saw Eintracht commit over 525 fouls in total. This may have helped Frankfurt finish 7th and 6th in goals conceded in the 16/17 and 17/18 seasons respectively.

As of last week, Bayern Munich are completely different. They foul the second least out of all teams in the league, averaging only 8.5 fouls per game. They’ve committed just 179 fouls this season, seven more than the last place team, Borussia Dortmund. That’s nearly half of their season total from last year, when they placed dead last in fouls committed.

In fact, Bayern haven’t really been a team to commit many fouls. Bayern have consistently placed in the bottom two for fouls committed in recent seasons. The last time Bayern finished above the bottom two in fouls was in the 2011/12 season ... where they finished third from the bottom.

Bayern’s lack of fouls isn’t a bad thing at all, but it is representative of a different era. When the team was relatively younger and faster, and therefore more willing and able to defend counter attacks, tactical fouls were less necessary. However, as the core of players ages, the times may call for change.

Intentional fouls may help the team on counter-attacks, but it won’t be the end-all solution, nor will it be the solution for the future. As Bayern’s core rotates out, the expectation that tactical changes take place should be anticipated. Players like Kimmich and David Alaba can certainly run up and down the field all day, but this can’t be said for Boateng, Hummels, or Robbery. Over the next few years, those players will be replaced, and Bayern will eventually go back to preventing counters in the first place.

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