As Bayern Munich battled for supremacy against RB Leipzig on Saturday, Niko Kovac made a substitution that probably surprised everyone that had tuned into the game. With the game poised at 1-1, instead of bringing on a star like Philippe Coutinho, the coach decided to sub Serge Gnabry for Alphonso Davies.
Speaking to the media after the game, Kovac explained his substitution: (via Sport1)
Phonzie has real pace and Mukiele put a lot of pressure on that side. We wanted to bring on someone who could withstand his speed, but not only defensively. We also wanted to bring out offensive accents.
Nordi Mukiele started the game at center back in a back three, but in the second half Julian Nagelsmann chose to sub Lukas Klostermann (who was having a torrid time on the flank) for Diego Demme and move to a back four with Mukiele at right back. The change quickly paid dividends as Leipzig moved to pressure Lucas Hernandez and a very out-of-sorts Serge Gnabry into committing errors.
Given the state the game was in, Kovac clearly made the right move to swap in Phonzie when he did. Davies showed a strong account of himself, battling on the right flank with Mukiele and Marcel Sabitzer — hardly easy opponents. He finished the game with 2 completed dribbles at a 100% success rate, 2 key passes, and 1 interception. Given the quality of opposition he was facing, it was a very strong outing for Bayern’s juniormost first-teamer.
Phonzie, for his part, was grateful for his coach’s faith in him:
I feel good and happy that the coach let me play, but I was not surprised by the decision.
On his plans for the future, Davies said:
I do not think so far, I want to go step by step, but I’m very grateful, the coach sees something in me and allows me to play.
Hopefully, this is the start of Phonzie’s true integration into the team. He’s already notched up 64 minutes for the first team this season — almost as much as he got in the entirety of last season — and has a couple of strong performances to show for it.
The interesting thing to note is that Kovac now seems to view Davies as a more balanced player overall, as opposed to last season where it was suggested that he lacked a certain amount of technical skill. The coach had the option to sub in a veteran campaigner in Ivan Perisic, but he chose the Canadian instead despite the lack of experience — showing faith in his abilities.
That’s a good sign for Davies’ development, and hopefully Kovac will trust him with more 30-minute appearances from here on out.