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BFW Roundtable: Which is better — Nagelsmann’s Bayern Munich or Flick’s Bayern Munich?

I asked my BFW colleagues to sit down with me and give me their take on the ‘Nagelsmann vs Flick’ debate. As expected, there was a lot of variation in the responses.

FC Bayern Muenchen v RB Leipzig - Bundesliga
Two of Germany’s best coaching wizards.
Photo by Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images

Bayern Munich have had one hell of a Hinrunde. The club is once again the favorite to win the Bundesliga title, and is also a strong contender for the UCL title. Yes, there was that unfortunate loss to Gladbach, but that seems more a blip than a major concern. With a section of the fanbase not convinced by Nagelsmann, there are some who really seem to miss Hansi Flick.

On the other hand, there are many others who are very happy with how Nagelsmann has done thus far, with high expectations for the Rückrunde. This brings us to an interesting question: based on Nagelsmann’s Hinrunde performance thus far, which side would you pick - Nagelsmann’s Bayern or Flick’s Bayern? The BFW staffers present their opinions:

Chuck Smith

This is a loaded question for sure. Hansi Flick’s all-out attacking style did sometimes leave his high-backline vulnerable, but I think those tactics completely unlocked Robert Lewandowski. Another odd factor is Flick was dealing with both Leroy Sane and Niklas Süle in their first full season back from ACL surgery in the last campaign. That essentially had them working at 70% of their respective capacities — can you imagine what those players at full strength would have been capable of under Flick? Flick’s offense was more fearless in some way to me and I do worry that Nagelsmann’s hybrid formation could cause too much congestion at the wrong time, as well.

In the end, I prefer Flick, but have nothing bad to say about Nagelsmann. He is pushing all of the right buttons in his own way tactically and strategically. From a player management standpoint, Nagelsmann just continued the same methods that Flick practices in terms of communication and relationship building. It is rare, but Bayern Munich drew two aces in a row with their coaching selections.

Dinamo Kiev v Bayern München: Group E - UEFA Champions League
Top coaching mind with a top footballing mind.
Photo by Alexander Hassenstein - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

Schnitzel01

I was always one of Flick’s ardent supporters during his time at Bayern, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable period for all of us, playing such attractive, highly intense death-metal football and winning so many trophies. However, the Flick style of play - the high backline, the intense pressing throughout the game and his lack of tactical flexibility, combined with a reluctance to rotate in key positions (mainly the defense) started getting exploited in his second season.

Nagelsmann seems way more flexible tactically and has focused more on positioning and passing sequences. The press is more organized, and the defense has been much better. Nagelsmann’s defense will move forward when required and drop back to defend resolutely. This was one thing Flick’s defense really lacked, and is one of the major turn-downs for me. It is telling that the team has conceded the joint-least goals in the BuLi and just 3 goals in Europe. The attack has also been better, with the team scoring goals at will.

Another thing Nagelsmann seems to be better at is making tactical adjustments to bring the best out of players. He’s unlocked Sané (the player even spoke about it), unleashed Davies, enabled Roca to slot into the midfield rotation and has conditioned Musiala really well. The rest of the team is functioning as usual. He did this at Leipzig, and he’s doing it at Bayern right now, and we’re all the better for it.

Sure, there may be a few things that might need fine-tuning, but Nagelsball certainly seems a step forward in the right direction, and the stats are there to back it up.

Fergus25

The numbers DO lie! Bayern under Flick was better. I cannot think of a single match where Flick’s team were not better than the opposition. Under Nagelsmann, performances (despite what score lines may suggest) are comparative less dominant and less convincing. We must not forget that Flick’s Bayern were easily the best team in the world in 2020/21 — dominating PSG in the Champions League without the best player in the world, a testament to the strength of Flick’s setup.

Nagelsmann’s Bayern has some glaring stylistic weaknesses:

  1. A lack of structure.
  2. A passive midfield.
  3. A very weak defense especially against counters.
  4. Weak offensive creation at times.

Finally, I would just like to add that Flick’s Bayern played with more flare, and panache. As a fervent supporter of Flick’s suicidal pressing and kamikaze high line — football was more beautiful — but in my opinion, against the bigger teams especially — also more effective.

FC Bayern Muenchen v Atletico Madrid: Group A - UEFA Champions League
Hansi Flick: An outstanding coach with a special connection to his players.
Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

RLD

To me the difference between Flick and Nags is more a matter of taste than effectiveness. It is a lot like music, Flick was full on “heavy metal”, playing one speed — full attack all the time, with no other gears. Nags has a more flexible repertoire, with more nuances and options open to him across the board. You might say he offers something more like ska-punk, a style of play that fluidly switches from one style to another.

I know that Nags’s style is better for my old heart. I remember thinking (many times) how far up the pitch all our players were under Flick and that one mistake could lead to very bad things happening. This was confirmed for me in an article in The Athletic where they broke down the CL final against PSG and showed in the last minute of regular time and in extra time our FB’s were still pressing way up the pitch when we were leading 1-0, leaving our CB’s outnumbered by attackers 3-2. It was a massive, high-risk, break from coaching orthodoxy and it paid off. But one has to wonder how often one can let two CB’s cover three attackers (especially Neymar, Mbappe and Di Maria!) and keep outscoring opponents. Flick was like the Air Coryell of soccer. Crazy, but damn it was fun to watch.

Nags is bringing more consistency and more balance to the game. While it remains to be seen if it will deliver the silverware we all crave, it will produce winning football. For instance, using a 3 CB formation against Dortmund in “kick it to Haaland and pray” mode is a logical strategy. And you simply can’t argue with the hard numbers he is producing in goals, goals allowed, and wins.

Flick was like a shooting star, blazing across the southern German sky for a short time and then heading off out of sight. I am hoping Nags will be like the north star. Steady, strong and guiding us home time and again. The king is dead...long live the king!

Teddy Son

Now, I’m not saying that Flick did not have his downs during his time at Bayern. However, those were kept to a bare minimum. Other than that, I felt like Flick was able to get the best out of his players most of the time, which is proven by the historic sextuple. Flick’s biggest strength is that he played his team the way that Bayern played well, a classic 4-2-3-1 characterized by pressing and quick attacks. Nagelsmann’s back three has not really convinced me that it’s an upgrade from Flick’s approach. I’m not saying that a coach trying to make his mark on a team is a bad thing, but is it really worth it when it’s been proven that the team can play better in a different way?

While I do think that Flick going to the national team was the best choice for him, and I sincerely hope that he can give Germany a long overdue redemption, I can’t help but wonder if the same can be said for Bayern and Nagelsmann.

FC Bayern München v DSC Arminia Bielefeld - Bundesliga
Leroy Sané has been sensational thus far under Nagelsmann.
Photo by Sebastian Widmann/Getty Images

Rune King Thor

Although I continue to remain a huge fan of Flicki-Flacka, I think Nagelsmann has in a span of few months, addressed several key issues that were plaguing the team. He reworked the defense and tightened up the backline. Bayern have conceded just 16 goals, tied for joint lowest in the league. Under him, Leroy Sané has flourished and done well to live up to the expectations of his transfer.

Julian Nagelsmann tweaked the attack to get more from his attackers and consequently, Bayern have scored a whopping 56 goals so far in the season. So rather than a comparison, it would be right to say that Nagelsmann is the correct next step after Hansi Flick. Without Flick’s foundations, JN would have taken much longer to settle in. Nags still has some way to go in terms of getting his signature 3-5-2 formation right which would be a formidable weapon in Bayern’s arsenal.

What do you feel? Is Nagelsmann’s Bayern a step forward, or is it Flick Bayern all the way? Let us know in the comments!