In what turned out to be a surprisingly sluggish performance, Bayern Munich drew Werder Bremen 1-1 to bring an end to their nine game-winning streak. While head coach Hansi Flick didn’t quite get the celebration he deserved for his 50th game at the helm of Die Roten, there was one particular decision that raised a concern among fans.
After losing midfield kingpin Joshua Kimmich to a knee injury, it was widely anticipated that Marc Roca would be given a shot at displaying his midfield-dictating finesse. Instead, Bayern’s treble-winning coach trusted veteran Javi Martinez and youngster Jamal Musiala to deputize for Kimmich and Leon Goretzka.
Between FC Düren and yesterday’s game, Roca now has gathered just one minute of playing time in eight matches. Why couldn’t the Spaniard break into the starting-XI against Die Werderaner? Here are two intertwined factors that might have necessitated coach Flick to take such an unexpected decision:
Leon Goretzka important to Roca-n-Rolla?
Heading into the game, Flick had Javi Martinez, Leon Goretzka, Marc Roca and Jamal Musiala as options for the two spots alongside Thomas Muller in midfield. Goretzka, however, had just returned from his international duties and was deservedly given the time off.
With Corentin Tolisso also deemed unfit for the match, Flick was left with a tricky task of choosing two from the remaining trio of central-midfielders.
On one hand, a tandem of Javi and Roca has shown to have been too conservative (more on that later). For a player whose expertise lies in the role of a deep-lying playmaking, Roca’s operating area overlaps with the former’s “destroyer” defensive-midfield zone. Moreover, in this case, the team would’ve been deprived of Goretzka’s offensive thrusts.
On the other hand, a pairing consisting of Roca and Musiala wouldn’t have offered the necessary defensive stability. Not only the two youngsters are inexperienced, they lack the sheer dynamism and ball-winning aptitude of Goretzka. The 25-year old’s “hulking” is sorely missed whenever he isn’t on the pitch and his enormous defensive contributions have been uncontested so far this season.
Hence, the remaining third combination made the most sense. Judging from the coach’s point of view, Musiala was supposed to offer that “extra something” to Bavarians’ offense and Martinez would’ve been a more-than-adequate cover to David Alaba and Jerome Boateng.
In theory, Goretzka looked the most compatible partner for Roca and had he been well-rested, it would’ve tipped the scales in favor of Roca-and-Rolla time.
However, even after the introduction of the box-to-box muscle man at the 19th minute, Flick continued to rely on Musiala until the 63rd minute. This takes us to a larger issue, which examines why the English teen sensation got the nod ahead of Roca.
Jamal Musiala’s strengths and understanding of the position
Perhaps the reasoning behind this particular selection might have been more a case of Musiala having a better understanding of his role than Roca being unrehearsed to receive a start.
Let’s go back to October 16th. In Die Roten’s 3-0 victory over FC Düren in DFB, Roca started the game alongside Martinez in midfield. Speaking after the knockout victory, Flick gave an assessment of the newcomer’s performance:
Positioning is decisive, both with — and off — the ball. Marc was sometimes too deep in possession yesterday. Now he still has to occupy the right rooms.
While it was still a convincing showing from the former Espanyol man, his positioning was indeed a bit deeper. For a player who has played as a deep-lying playmaker for the better part of his career, his reluctance to take a few steps forward was understandable. However, this resulted in a few awkward situations for Müller and co. in the attacking third.
Especially while gegenpressing, if a player misses the time frame to put immediate pressure, the opponent can get the leeway to move the ball upfield. The defending team, in turn, has to track back and take unnecessary sprints, costing them additional energy. Roca’s deep positioning meant he had to take more steps in less time to charge players.
Versus Bremen, Musiala often stayed behind the opposition’s second line of play rather than dropping deep to provide support in the buildup. While moving the ball around the box, he remained in close proximity to the team’s play and looked to keep things flowing through quick interplays.
How Musiala fared against the River Islanders is a subject for another article. But his profile and display of positional awareness can be used as a justification for his picking over Roca.
Just a few days back, the elegant Spaniard was reportedly participating in a few extra sessions to work on his 50/50 challenges. In contrast, taking players on 1v1 and controlling the ball in tight situations has always been Musiala’s forte and it was especially needed to overcome a tight Bremen block.
Flick could have foreseen the kind of bus Florian Kohfeldt’s side would park and consequently planned with Musiala providing a creative spark from the middle. The left flank trifecta formed between Alaba, Musiala and Kingsley Coman grew into the game and before the start of second-half, the head trainer ultimately decided against disturbing the equilibrium by introducing Roca.
Next up for Bayern will be RB Salzburg in the UEFA Champions League. It is unlikely that Roca breaks into the starting-XI ahead of Goretzka, whose absence was clearly felt in the previous outing, and Javi against the reigning Austrian Bundesliga champs.
Subsequently, if the coach opts to rest Goretzka on the weekend’s tie with Stuttgart, Roca might have to wait further to get game-time in his natural position. It hasn’t been a smooth start to life in Munich for the 2019 U21 Euros winner. But with patience and more of those extra sessions, not only will he get his chance, it will also help him develop into a better player.