From their last two competitive matches, Bayern Munich has conceded a total of seven goals; five at Borussia Monchengladbach and two at Union Berlin. They still have the second best defensive record in the Bundesliga alongside Mainz and RB Leipzig having conceded only ten goals — only SC Freiburg has conceded less (seven). Despite the horrendous nature in which Bayern exited the DFB-Pokal in the second round last week, they have only conceded two goals in the Champions League, and Lothar Matthäus isn’t too worried about Bayern’s defense, despite what other pundits have said in a reactionary manner after the hammering in Monchengladbach.
On paper, Bayern has world class defenders. Both Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard are World Cup winners with France, and both Niklas Sule and Dayot Upamecano are “seasoned national players” (Sport1). Not to mention, Alphonso Davies has quickly become one of the world’s best left-backs, if not the best. They certainly have the ability to be keeping more clean sheets and conceding less goals, but Matthäus said he feels “with these four that they have not yet internalized the Bayern gene permanently as was the case with [Jerome] Boateng and [David] Alaba in recent years.” He likened that “Bayern gene” that Boateng and Alaba possessed to being “compact, stable, almost flawless and radiate the absolute will to win every second, paired with an almost flawless game.”
The defensive responsibilities shouldn’t only lay on the shoulders of the defenders, though. It’s a collective effort. At a club like Bayern, where the onus is nearly always on them to have the lion’s share of possession, opponents are always looking to catch them out and break quickly when they do win possession. Against deeper lying, compact defenses, Bayern is often forced to commit more numbers forward to try to create opportunities against deep blocks where spaces are very tight. Under different managers at Bayern, there has still always been an element of when the attacking players and midfielders implement high presses and gegenpressing. Whether it was Jupp Heynckes, Niko Kovac, Hansi Flick, or Julian Nagelsmann, Bayern measures when to use the high press and when not to. With that, it’s defending from the front, in a sense.
Specifically referencing the 5-0 loss to Gladbach, Matthäus emphasized the fact that defending needs to start from the front. “It always starts a little further up the field and I had the impression that in Gladbach the midfield and the more offensive Bayern players didn’t help at all when it came to stopping or disrupting the Gladbach attacks,” he explained.
While Bayern’s back line didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory at Borussia-Park, the midfielders and attacking players didn’t make life any easier for them, which can’t be the case if Bayern wants to keep clean sheets more often.