With the first half of the season over and a three week break to look forward to, it’s time to begin a retrospective on the season that Bayern Munich has had so far. Julian Nagelsmann inherited an incredible team from Hansi Flick, and in some ways he’s made it even better.
In the first part of a three-part series, we’ll take a look at Bayern’s defenders — how did each player fare, and what was the overall defense like?
Manuel Neuer: B+
Minutes Played: 2,250
Goals Conceded: 25 in 25 games
Clean Sheets: 10
That goals conceded figure looks rough, but Manuel Neuer has pretty much played the perfect season so far this year. The only thing keeping him from a higher rating is the fact that he barely has anything to do in most games. As usual, Neuer’s sweeping ability, distribution, and shot stopping have all been critical to the Bavarians’ game plan.
At age 35, the Bayern captain shows no signs of slowing down.
Sven Ulreich: N/R
Minutes Played: 90
Goals Conceded: 0
Clean Sheets: 1
After returning from Hamburg, Sven Ulreich has barely had any minutes this season — only a single appearance against Bremer SV in the Pokal. That’s hardly enough time to gauge his performance, but we’re happy to have him as a backup nonetheless.
Alphonso Davies: A
Minutes Played: 1,799
Under Julian Nagelsmann, Alphonso Davies has arguably become the single most important player in Bayern’s squad. The young Canadian is a key part of the team’s ball progression and buildup play, and at times it feels like opponents completely change their game plan just to deal with him.
Add to that his incredible work ethic — Davies has been forced to put in hard minutes right after playing CONCACAF qualifiers with Canada, and refused to let his performances dip. For someone who has such a physically demanding playstyle, that is no mean feat.
A few more goals added onto that assists tally could’ve netted him a perfect score.
Omar Richards: B
Minutes Played: 367
Making the switch from the Championship to the Bundesliga couldn’t have been easy, but Omar Richards has handled it well so far. He still has a ways to go, but his tackling ability has proven to be top notch, and each successive performance has shown improvement.
Benjamin Pavard: C
Minutes Played: 1,280
This will be controversial for some folks but Benjamin Pavard has once again started a season with mediocre performances. While he sort-of redeemed himself with a couple of good games near the end of the Hinrunde, that hardly makes up for all the other occasions where he has been off-pace. Attacking contributions remain Pavard’s greatest weakness, as he consistently struggled to support the winger on his side of the pitch with either forward passing or overlapping options.
There were signs that Pavard’s performances were picking up near the end of the Hinrunde, so maybe the Ruckrunde will yield some better results.
Bouna Sarr: N/R
Minutes Played: 226
Bouna Sarr was poor once again, and is saved from getting a bad rating by the fact that he didn’t play enough minutes to deserve one.
Josip Stanisic: B
Minutes Played: 538
The Croatian is probably the biggest surprise of the year, making the difficult switch from Bayern’s youth team to first team and actually putting in some strong performances at right-back. It’s hard to say WHY he was as good as he ended up being — Stanisic lacks any obvious qualities that make him stand out in a star-studded Bayern squad. He was quietly effective in every game that he played, which might be a sign of footballing intelligence.
Let’s hope he gets more minutes in the second half of the season.
Lucas Hernandez: A
Minutes Played: 1,470
Lucas Hernandez was probably Bayern’s best defensive player overall, which might make him the team’s best defender (depending on how you define the role of a defender). There were games where the Frenchman was the only thing standing between Manuel Neuer and a shot on goal. His tenacity, aggression, and positioning sense all fit in well with the kind of football Nagelsmann wants to play, and he’s improved his passing significantly compared to last season.
The only thing keeping Lucas from getting a perfect score is the occasional bad game — Gladbach in the DFB-Pokal comes to mind.
Dayot Upamecano: C+
Minutes Played: 1,832
Those are some great offensive numbers for a defender, but Dayot Upamecano’s first season at Bayern Munich has been a mixed bag (at best). There have been games where he looked like a wall on legs, and games where he was bullied relentlessly. Upamecano’s weakness against physical strikers has been his Achilles heel this season so far, and his inconsistency lands him a very low rating. Still, as a 23-year-old, he has plenty of time to improve — hopefully before the Champions League knockouts roll around.
Niklas Sule: A
Minutes Played: 1,472
Niklas Sule is playing for a new contract, and it doesn’t look like Bayern Munich will be able to afford him anymore. The big German has been sensational this season, overcoming his fitness issues to put in strong performances whenever called upon.
Showing the versatility to play both center-back and right-back, Sule has been more than just a defender — dictating the team’s tempo with his passing and using his dribbling skills to launch attacks. Two out of the three Bayern losses this season came when Sule was out of the starting XI.
Tanguy Nianzou: C+
Minutes Played: 429
After spending all of last season injured, Tanguy Nianzou didn’t exactly set the world on fire when he was given chances to play this year. The makings of a good defender are all there — Nianzou has the physicality, the pace, and the passing ability to be a world class defender someday. He just needs to put it all together.
At just 19-years-old, Nianzou is still very young and he should get better with experience.
Overall Defensive Rating: B
It’s a lot better than it was under Flick last season, but Julian Nagelsmann still has some work to do as far as the defense is concerned.
Bayern Munich played 26 games in the Hinrunde, and conceded 9 goals in the first 13. That was a strong start. However, they conceded 16 goals in the next 13 games. Even excluding the 5 goals conceded against Gladbach, that means the team conceded 11 goals in 12 games.
The defense started out great, but has been trending in the wrong direction since mid-October. Nagelsmann needs to arrest this trend and get Bayern back on track for the Ruckrunde, before the team’s defensive fragility compromises their Champions League hopes.
If you like seasonal retrospectives, then you might like the latest episode of our podcast. We talked about how Nagelsmann has fared so far, discussing the highs and lows of the Hinrunde. Check it out below or at this link.
As always, we appreciate all the support!