Hansi Flick’s pressing system shows its limits
Bayern Munich fans know what to expect from Hansi Flick at this point, and maybe that’s not such a good thing. Deployed in the usual 4-2-3-1 with Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka in the pivot, the Bavarians started the game in usual fashion — dominating possession and ruthlessly winning back the ball when dispossessed.
This tactic had Bayer Leverkusen on the ropes, but only for about sixty minutes. At half time, Peter Bosz made some key adjustments to his attack and midfield, bringing on Kevin Volland and Kerem Demirbay. The Leverkusen team that took the pitch in the second half was, in a tactical sense, a different beast.
Instead of trying to pass through Bayern’s press, Bosz had his men send every second ball long before Bayern’s midfield could win it back. The long balls targeted the space between Jerome Boateng and David Alaba, as well as the space behind Benjamin Pavard — allowing Volland, Kai Havertz, and Moussa Diaby to finally put their pace to good use. This caused Bayern no small amount of problems, as over-committed pressing from the midfield gave the Leverkusen players large gaps to exploit. The momentum of the game shifted radically in Bayer’s favor in the second half.
With Bayern reeling from long balls and pace, the only reason Leverkusen couldn’t deliver the knock-out punch was their own poor finishing. They certainly had the chances to score three or four goals. This should serve as a warning to the team — in the Champions League, players like Leo Messi and Sergio Aguero are unlikely to miss those chances. Hopefully the team works on its defending during the long break coming up before European football returns.
Is Leroy Sané’s arrival already having an impact?
Three wingers took to the field for Bayern today, and all three of them had good games. Is this the Leroy Sané effect in action? Has the gauntlet been thrown down?
Serge Gnabry got his first goal in ages, and he was generally very involved in the interplay and the buildup. Despite being Bayern’s second-highest scorer AND assist provider this season, the 24-year-old has come under fire for inconsistent and often lifeless performances since the coronavirus break. Today, he showed what he can really do when he’s on form — Leverkusen were on strings trying to contain him.
Kingsley Coman also had a great game. Despite not getting a scorer point, the Frenchman was involved all over the pitch, and worked especially hard to help Alphonso Davies in defense. Given that the Canadian was faced with defending the equally pacey Moussa Diaby, Coman’s support enabled Bayern to remain stable on the flanks for a majority of the game.
Ivan Perisic, meanwhile, came on as a sub and showed his value to the onlooking Bayern brass with a couple of key passes and an assist to Robert Lewandowski. The Croatian winger is battling to keep his spot on the roster as Bayern debates whether to make his loan permanent — performances like these can only help his case.
If Sané was watching this game, he probably realizes that he’s not going to walk into Bayern’s starting XI unopposed. Coman and Gnabry have the talent to muscle him out of the lineup, and even Perisic can get in on the action. Sané better bring his A-game next season, or he will find him self on the bench.
Joshua Kimmich completes his midfield evolution
When Joshua Kimmich was moved to midfield in the beginning of this season, I was one of the those people vocally opposed to the decision. Here was a world class right-back moving to a position where Bayern were already stacked with talent and putting in performances that didn’t really justify the disruption the move caused.
Now though, Kimmich has upped his game so far since those initial matches, he’s almost unrecognizable. The 25-year-old has made the position his own, showing vision, passing, and a tenacity in pressing defense only comparable to PSG’s Marco Verratti.
In short, Kimmich has grown up. He’s not an immovable wall like Javi Martinez, nor is he an immaculate conductor like Xabi Alonso. But what he brings to Bayern Munich is invaluable to the current iteration of the system, and he’s likely to stamp his authority on that midfield spot for a long time.