It’s safe to say that this season hasn’t gone as planned for Bayern Munich. A bad spell of form in the autumn saw the team slip far behind Borussia Dortmund in the table and Niko Kovac engage in a battle to keep his job as coach. He managed to survive, but his reputation took a hammering in the eyes of the fans and media.
However, since the 5-1 win over Benfica in November, Kovac and Bayern have experienced a bit of a resurgence. The club got over its offensive issues, scoring 47 goals in 17 games, and the Liverpool game showed that Kovac’s system can produce defensive football that can keep the likes of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane at bay.
With recent displays, Kovac has shown that he’s a coach that can potentially lead Bayern Munich to glory. However, for a large section of the fan base, questions still remain. With a big game against Liverpool coming up, and Champions League progression on the line, a poor result could give a negative impression of the coach that would be hard to shake off.
However, I argue that Kovac has already proven that he’s the right man for Bayern, and what happens in the Liverpool game will not change that. A loss to Liverpool would be devastating for this club, but we must have patience and continue to back the manager. Here’s why:
The versatility of Kovac’s approach
Let’s talk about Pep Guardiola for a second. After taking over Bayern Munich following Jupp Heynckes’ treble season, he elevated our style of play even further. Bayern played beautiful possession-based attacking football under him, and we were never on the back foot for the entirety of his tenure.
Unfortunately, for all his wonderful football, Guardiola could not win the Champions League a Bayern. One may argue that injuries derailed his campaigns, but Pep must shoulder his part of the blame. He turned Bayern into a one-trick pony. Under him, Bayern could only play in a single way — high-octane possession based football. It was great for breaking down parked buses in the Bundesliga, but came up short against elite counterattacking teams in the Champions League.
Contrast Jupp — in 2013, Bayern played possession football under him. However, when we came up against Barcelona in the semis, he had the foresight to change tactics. Knowing that Barca were a possession-based team and he had pace on the wings to exploit it, Heynckes set up in a defensive counterattacking formation that could exploit his opponent’s weaknesses.
Despite averaging over 60% possession in the league, that Bayern team managed to put up one of the all-time great counterattacking performances against Barcelona. It was this versatility that allowed them to win the Champions League that year. In contrast, Pep Guardiola never changed his tactics for his encounter with Barcelona, and ironically got beaten on the counter while dominating possession.
Niko Kovac is more of a Heynckes than a Guardiola. He’s not married to a playing style and he’ll set up in whichever way will allow him to win. The man showed against Liverpool that he can get Bayern to put up a stout defensive display of the situation calls for it, while dominating against teams like Borussia Monchengladbach and Wolfsburg.
That’s the kind of mentality and approach Bayern Munich needs from its manager. Lacking both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, Bayern need a certain amount of pragmatism to win the Champions League, and that’s something Kovac brings in spades.
Results despite transfer inactivity
Both Heynckes and Kovac played defensive counter-attacking football — the difference is that Heynckes won 7-0 over two legs while Kovac’s team has yet to score a goal. Detractors point to this as a sign of the Croatian’s inability to truly bring home that goods against a big team. However, let’s take a moment to add some context.
Jupp Heynckes had Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery in their prime. Kovac had to make do with a still-green Serge Gnabry and an injured Kingsley Coman. Heynckes had a club record transfer granted to him, Kovac had to make do with the leftovers from his predecessors.
The squad that Kovac is using is simply a holdover from previous coaches, and Kovac has had no input on it whatsoever. As we saw with Heynckes, last year’s squad had its limits. In fact, Kovac has arguably been dealt a worse hand, as he also misses quality players like Arturo Vidal and Juan Bernat from his team.
Next year, a lot of the veterans will leave, and Bayern will surely make a big splash in the transfer market. If he fails to improve results after that, then fair play, at least he was given a chance. However, we should not give up on a coach because of some disappointments in the first season.
Both Manchester City and Liverpool experienced disappointing first seasons with Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp respectively. However, those teams chose to back their manager, and look at where they are now. Kovac should be afforded the same patience, on the strength of what he’s shown thus far.
Injuries and suspensions dilute Bayern’s strength
Looking at the upcoming Liverpool game in particular, while it’s certainly a big game against a formidable opponent, beating Liverpool shouldn’t be held up as a barometer for Bayern’s success. Why? Well let’s just look at the situation:
Joshua Kimmich and Thomas Muller, two of the club’s most important players, are both suspended. Corentin Tolisso, our record transfer, has been out since matchday 1 with an ACL injury. Arjen Robben will definitely miss the game. David Alaba and Kingsley Coman have both returned to team training, but there’s no telling how their recent injuries have affected their form and fitness.
Kovac has to deal with a severely depleted squad. Jurgen Klopp, meanwhile, will have the presence of Virgil van Dijk to bolster his team. Under such circumstances, it would be difficult for any coach to pass to the next round. Failing to so so does not reflect poorly on Kovac’s tenure as a manager.
This might sound a little bit strange from the person who wrote “Three reasons why Bayern Munich should sack Niko Kovac” back in the Hinrunde. In truth, even back then I was on the fence about sacking him, and the team’s performances after the October international break convinced me that he can turn this ship around.
It would be very disappointing if he does not last beyond this season, as Niko Kovac has a ton of potential. He has shown that he deserves more time, and the board should channel some of patience and give it to him. Let’s see what he can do for this great club.
What do you think about Kovac?
This poll is closed
He has proved himself and he should stay with Bayern for at least one more season
If he can’t beat Liverpool, then #KovacOUT
Kovac should go, no matter what