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My Bad Take: Bayern Munich’s Julian Nagelsmann might just be making this all up as he goes along

Is Julian Nagelsmann the man with the plan?

Bundesliga”Schalke 04 v FC Bayern Munchen” Photo by ANP via Getty Images

Bayern Munich manager Julian Nagelsmann is successful, innovative, and has already made his mark at the club...but does he actually have a plan here?

Known as a manager who loves to tinker, it seems that things often do not settle enough to really allow the players to build into any type of consistency. Right now, that has not had too much of an adverse effect on the squad’s record, but how will it show in the Champions League when a tie against a very strong Paris Saint-Germain team will be eager and motivated to send the Rekordmeister packing from the competition?

This particular bad take is something I have alluded to in the past, so why not just fully lay out why I sometimes feel this way about the Bayern Munich boss.

Formational Dysfunction

One of the things that Nagelsmann has been known for in his time at Bayern Munich is his constant tinkering with formations and roles. In his two seasons, we have seen Bayern Munich play a variety of formations including a 4-2-3-1, a 3-4-2-1, a 4-3-3, and a 4-2-2-2.

Within each of these formations comes a drastic shift in roles and responsibilities for many players. You could argue that things changing so much has caused at least some of the issues players have had in settling in under Nagelsmann, especially last season when players like Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman found themselves playing wing-back or when using a trio of center-backs who might not have been full comfortable with the alignment caused multiple defensive breakdowns.

Recently, we saw a report stating that Bayern Munich was going to settle into a 4-2-3-1 and stick with it, but now we are seeing more stories indicating that Nagelsmann could experiment with a two-striker system featuring Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Mathys Tel.

It just never ends...and the players never seem to settle into any type of rhythm. Maybe the players should just be able to seamlessly slide between formations with aplomb, but it has not worked out that way.

I’m always a proponent of just letting a coach pick his system and having him run it as he sees just seems that Nagelsmann can’t identify exactly what he wants to do with this roster.

Juggling Personnel

Sometimes it appears as though Nagelsmann cannot decide who he wants to roll with. Does he prefer Leon Goretzka or Marcel Sabitzer playing alongside Joshua Kimmich? Thomas Müller went from being indispensable before he was injured to being on the outside looking in for the Rückrunde? Can Leroy Sané consistently play well on the right side, so Sadio Mané can play on the left — if not, what happens with a player who has not always handled these kinds of situations well in the past?

Those are just a few recent examples of how Nagelsmann’s personnel juggling has opened up questions within the squad. You could even look at the — alleged — decision to use Müller as a striker moving forward as something that just appears to have little substance behind it. Anyone who watched the Raumdeuter struggle through playing the No. 9 (some of his most ineffective attacking ever) can see that there is likely no amount of practice that is going to make him seamlessly adapt to the role at this stage of his career.

At some point, things do have to settle for the players to ease into being comfortable on the pitch.

Master of Youth?

Known for working with youth players, Nagelsmann has struggled at times to integrate the kids into his lineups:

  • Paul Wanner: Once the crown jewel of Bayern Munich’s youth system, the attacking midfielder is likely to be loaned out next season.
  • Mathys Tel: On the first team, Tel is making appearances here and there, but nothing has been consistent. Moreover, the striker looks like he might actually be a better wing, but how will be know if he does not get consistent playing time?
  • Ryan Gravenberch: Brought in as a #6 or an #8, Gravenberch’s defensive issues have seen him shifted in to play as a #10. That places him behind a younger, better player in Jamal Musiala.
  • Josip Stanišić: After a breakthrough summer playing with Croatia, Stanišić was seldomly used and then got injured. At this stage, he looks like a jack-of-all-trades backup, but can ge be more?

Admittedly, Bayern Munich’s stacked roster has made it hard to really give any youngster significant playing time, but is there a plan for how to best work these kids in or how to add players like Arijon Ibrahimović and Tarek Buchmann to the mix now that they are expected to be part of the first team next season?

Some of this could fall on the sporting department for making acquisition without a real plan for how the players would or could be used, but Nagelsmann is the one empowered to actually make it all work.


I don’t know if Nagelsmann has a long-term plan or not — and maybe, just maybe — that is all part of his genius. Maybe he is actually at his best when thinking and acting on the fly.

Some of you will think I’m a Nagelsmann hater (I’m not). I backed his hiring and — despite some of the issues I see like those listed above — think is a very good coach. But even great coaches have flaws (see Flick, Hansi at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar).

Nagelsmann’s innovations do add something to the squad, but his reliance on analytics might be something he can tone down in favor of relying on his gut feelings and could also be what is driving some if his tinkering. Maybe he just needs to trust himself more...or maybe less because he cannot control his desire to change things?

Whatever the case, Nagelsmann is a very good coach. There is no debating that even if there are criticisms of how he works. In the coming years, we’ll find if this all comes together or not.

In the end, Bayern Munich judges its coaches based on their ability to win trophies. In his first season, Nagelsmann went one for three. Can he better than during this campaign? Moreover, can he consistently keep the club as a major threat for all three annual trophies over the course of his contract? Ultimately, that is what will be how he is remembered at the club — regardless of how much of a mad scientist he is at times.

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