A team yet to find their identity
Bayern Munich had a decent first 90 minutes of the Bundesliga 2021/2022 season. While the second half was much better than the first, the Bavarians struggled to dominate the pace of the game throughout the entire game, creating many chances but also allowing Borussia Mönchengladbach clear-cut opportunities.
Nagelsmann’s team looked often like a Hansi Flick side. The fullbacks were offensive, the defensive line was high, and Bayern kept its treble-winning 4-2-3-1 formation. While there is definitively a clear benefit of mirroring Flick’s tactics, there’s also a danger of not being brave enough to implement your style.
I’m not saying that Nagelsmann wasn’t brave enough or that his first game in charge should be evaluated to a great extent when trying to predict the future. But I did find it interesting that I didn’t see a new easily identifiable Bayern style. You saw it directly in the first game of Pep Guardiola, Louis van Gaal, and even more defensive-minded Carlo Ancelotti. More importantly, you saw it within the first minute against Olympiacos in November 2019 under Hansi Flick.
Maybe Nagelsmann will implement his three center-back trademark, maybe he never will. Maybe keeping the same tactical setup is the best way to go. What I can say with some certainty is that whatever the young Landsberg am Lech native decides to do, it needs to be his own.
The enigma that is Alphonso Davies
Alphonso Davies continues to be a player that fascinates me. The lightning-quick Canadian had a decent game, but only due to his impressive offensive performance. Defensively, Davies was sloppy and was lucky not to get caught out more after being so much higher up than the rest of the defender line.
The Mönchengladbach goal was his fault. Losing the ball in a situation where you simply can’t, it wasn’t the first time Davies did a failed dribble before the half-line. He grew into the game as it progressed, but sometimes it is obvious that he is not a traditionally schooled left-back.
Of course, him being a different defender is what makes him great. He is the most offensive wing-back I’ve witnessed in Bayern, and I can’t think of too many defenders that are so willing to constantly be on the front foot. His offensive contribution is clear and is often executed lethally. Davies often slightly cuts in when wanting to receive the ball, as he prefers to be just on the line of the goalkeeper’s area when linking with his teammates.
Against teams where Bayern dominates the game, I can see the benefit of having such an extremely offensive left-back. It is games like these though when I have to question whether Davies can perform a deeper-lying role. Having a defensive player in the back four that often needs to catch up with the rest of the three while the other team is attacking won’t work versus Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi, and Neymar.
Davies’s potential is unlimited, but as last season showed, if there is one part of his game that can be improved it is his defensive attributes.
What makes it all worth it
Today was a special day for me and many others. It was the first Bundesliga game since early 2020 where large amounts of fans were allowed back in the stadium. I’ve been to Borussia-Park more than any other Bundesliga stadium. It’s a typically wonderful German arena: Beautifully architected, stands are close to the pitch, and every seat can see the game with clarity.
Today while sitting in my living room I could smell the bratwurst, see the fans slowly walk from the parking lot to the stadium, and imagine the often-cloudy North Rhine-Westphalia sky.
And I heard them. I saw them. I heard the fans roar and I saw the enthusiasm on their face. I honestly don’t care what the official attendance number was. Today was a win for anyone that has fallen in love with German football.
Today was another reminder that it was always there, it was always alive.
It was just buried under sh*t for more than a year.