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Three observations from Bayern Munich’s 2-0 loss to Borussia Dortmund in the DFL Supercup

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A complete tactical failure by Niko Kovac. There is no point in signing Leroy Sane if the setup is going to be this bad.

Borussia Dortmund - Bayern Munich 2:0 Photo by Marius Becker/picture alliance via Getty Images

The 4-3-3 doesn’t work and never has

When will Bayern Munich coaches learn this — the 4-3-3 is not a formation that works for us, and it’s not going to anytime soon. Just as we feared, Niko Kovac trotted out his “preferred setup” consisting of a #6 (Thiago Alcantara) and two #8’s (Corentin Tolisso and Leon Goretzka) and it sucked like it always has.

Despite playing with only one true midfielder, Favre’s Borussia Dortmund team dominated proceedings in midfield, disrupting the Bavarians’ passing channels and slowing down the buildup to a crawl. Thomas Muller, shunted out onto the right, was unable to create space with his darting runs and smart positioning, leaving Thiago and Jerome Boateng to pick their passes through a packed midfield (and often getting dispossessed while doing so).

Goretzka and Tolisso seemed to have no clue about what they were supposed to be doing, and it showed. Their positioning was terrible, and they often got in each other’s way. Did Kovac even tell them what their roles were supposed to be?

Given what we saw out there, it should become clear that the 4-3-3 is a dud and shouldn’t be tried again. Shift Thomas Muller back in the center and play two proper wingers. Give Alphonso Davies chances if you have to. But don’t bring back this awful formation.

Niko Kovac refuses to learn

Once again, Niko Kovac has proven that he’s as stubborn as Carlo Ancelotti. After several painful lessons last season, Kovac finally settled on a 4-2-3-1 with Muller behind the striker as his preferred formation. Funnily enough, it was all a bunch of hullabaloo for nothing, because the first official lineup Kovac ever played was a 4-2-3-1 with Muller behind the striker in last year’s Supercup. Literally all he did was break a good thing and then fix it by bringing it back.

Now we’re back to fixing what ain’t broke. Alright fine, maybe the coach wanted to try out his 4-3-3, but after that awful first half he should have changed back to what works. Davies on for Tolisso/Goretzka. Move Muller back in the center. Boom, you have your double-winning lineup back.

What did he do? He subbed Thomas Muller out, WHILE Bayern were chasing a goal, and persisted with the clueless midfield consisting of Tolisso and Goretzka. Of course, this didn’t help at all, and in the process of pushing up to score the equalizer, Bayern conceded another from a counterattack.

What that shows is that Kovac has learned nothing from last season. He hasn’t learned that playing Muller behind the striker helps us score goals. He hasn’t learned that two wingers are better than one. He hasn’t learned that his 4-3-3 doesn’t work. And he hasn’t learned how to make a substitution.

Bayern Munich went through a lot of painful results last year which slowly guided Niko Kovac towards his optimal lineup — which ended up being Jupp Heynckes’ 4-2-3-1, i.e. the same as his first ever lineup at the club. We cannot go through another season of Kovac rediscovering basic truths. Either the coach shapes up now, or he needs to go. Leroy Sane and Lucas Hernandez won’t fix this glaring (and easily fixable) tactical errors in Bayern’s setup.

Leroy Sane will not fix this

What we saw on display against Dortmund was not a personnel issue. This isn’t a problem that can be fixed by throwing money at it. The very basic problem is that Bayern Munich are beset by bad habits and misconceptions.

Case-in-point, the defense. People will say it was terrible and there are already calls for Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez to become starters in the lineup. However, the defensive performance we saw was not the product of the defender’s individual actions, but a failure of the team as a whole.

Every decision made has consequences. Here’s how:

  • The coach selects a formation whose midfield doesn’t work.
  • A broken midfield leads to Thiago (the main DM) being overstretched and making easy mistakes.
  • Easy mistakes by Thiago lead to opposition attackers (Jadon Sancho and Paco Alcacer) getting into optimal positions before the defense has a chance to settle.
  • The defense looks bad when the goal goes in, although the sequence of decisions that led to the goal are ignored.

Everyone thinks the problem is at step #4 whereas the real issue starts from #1. The same thing goes for the offense:

  • The coach puts his star AM in a sub-optimal position (and later subs him off, which is even worse).
  • The team’s striker (Robert Lewandowski) ends up isolated with opposition defenders always on him.
  • There is no one in midfield to make runs or vacate space, allowing the opposition to easily crowd the box.
  • The wingers (e.g. Kingsley Coman) can get past their man but can’t find anyone because the box is so crowded. Ditto for the fullbacks and their crosses.

People think that the problem is at #4 and a winger like Leroy Sane will fix it. But it won’t. Sane will find the box as crowded as Kingsley Coman did, and he’ll get choked out for space. If you’re not making the right tactical decisions at #1, then no amount of personnel changes at step #4 is gonna help.

This is the problem facing Bayern Munich right now, and there’s only one person who can fix it. The issue here is, the person in charge of fixing the problem is the one who’s creating it, and that’s after he already fixed the problem once before. When will this cycle end?