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Niko Kovač addresses criticism of his tactics vs Liverpool FC

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Bayern Munich’s head coach Niko Kovač addressed Robert Lewandowski’s critique that Bayern did not play aggressively enough.

Nico Kovac head coach of Bayern Muenchen looks during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Second Leg match between FC Bayern Muenchen and Liverpool at Allianz Arena on March 13, 2019 in Munich, Bavaria.
Nico Kovac head coach of Bayern Muenchen looks during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Second Leg match between FC Bayern Muenchen and Liverpool at Allianz Arena on March 13, 2019 in Munich, Bavaria.
Photo by Ahmad Mora/NurPhoto via Getty Images

After Bayern Munich's unfortunate collapse at home against Liverpool FC, everybody was eagerly waiting for what Niko Kovač has to say about the result. The boss has now spoken up and reacted to his players' comments about the game and the team’s tactics (via AZ).

Out of all the players in the team, Mats Hummels is someone who knows Jürgen Klopp perhaps best. The defender admitted that the team had a tough time coming into the game:

Jürgen Klopp is outstanding at taking opponents’ strengths out of the game. He did it again today. We had a hard time coming into our game.

Robert Lewandowski disappeared, yet again, when the team needed him the most. The Pole was clearly unhappy about the result. In comments in English after the game, Lewandowski and felt that the team had played too defensively:

I think we played too deep — we probably didn’t want to [take] too much risk. I don’t know why. Because sometimes we tried to ... push Liverpool, but in offense it was sometimes like two against four players... That wasn’t our game.

Questioned by the media about Lewandowski's comments, Kovač explained that the team's approach to the game was the same as that in their previous Bundesliga matches:

I have to make this clear: the approach was the same as against Gladbach and Wolfsburg. We scored eleven goals in these games. The high line was the same. We had round about 60 percent possession. I can’t agree with that [i.e. Lewandowski’s assessment].

Bayern had more possession throughout the game (approximately 58 percent total), but they were unable to alter the scoreline in their favour. Kovač thinks that the problem was that the team failed to move the ball forward and support Lewandowski the way he needs:

We didn’t need to defend more than in the Bundesliga. We struggled going forward, didn’t find the necessary spaces, couldn’t support Lewy like he needs. The statistics show that we had the ball more, but then didn’t know what we wanted to do with it.

Importantly, Kovač rejected the interpretation of the press that Lewandowski’s comments were intended as a direct criticism of himself. The boss did not draw anything negative from Lewy's assessment of the game. Kovač acknowledged that Lewandowski is entitled to his view, while in his own opinion it is important to acknowledge Liverpool’s game:

There was nothing negative there. If Lewy experienced it that way, that’s fine. There was nothing against me personally. Mats brought up what wasn’t put into action. On the other side stood an opponent that did it really great. You just have to be honest and say: “That’s how it was!” We didn’t manage things well up front.

Liverpool played so well that Bayern failed to connect the dots after Sadio Mané's opener. Just like Kovač said, Bayern had too few options to make plays:

When the opponent presses, especially collectively, it’s hard for any team to escape it. You have to be courageous, call for the ball, offer the player with the ball options to play it so that you can break out of these situations — [options] in which he can make a transition. If you have too few options to make plays, all that’s left is a desperate pass or a long ball.

Kovač then raised an important point that has been a theme since the summer when he was hired: the club has not invested in the roster. Two starters in particular, Franck Ribery and Rafinha, obviously have their best years behind them. This is what Kovač had to say about that (via kicker): “What do we have to do as a club to be better equipped in the new season?” Referring to the transfer market and escalating prices, he said, “Do we want to go along with it or not? If not, then we’ll have to live with the fact that the others will leave us behind.”