Oh god, I’m going to get flamed for this for years on end. Don’t let me down, Jules.
Julian Nagelsmann took over as head coach of Bayern Munich in 2021 after Hansi Flick decided to leave at the end of the 2020/21 season, to largely positive reactions. As a young German with so much time on the clock and a forward thinking approach to the game, he was practically made for this job. Nagelsmann’s Bayern have been polarising, to say the least. At their best, they are the best team in Europe, hands down. At their worst, their results are middling to the point of Nagelsmann’s security in charge of Bayern being questioned. Saying Nagelsmann’s style of football is better than Flick’s, a style which bagged Bayern the most successful season in club history, is something I know that many will mark as heresy. But here it goes:
Raising the ceiling for what’s possible
Bayern Munich under Flick in 2020 were simply brilliant. The run of games that stretched from January all the way to October were a showcase of the best team in the world playing like they knew it. Flick’s front four system was a lot more structured and was ruthless. However, during the 2020/21 season the mix of personnel just didn’t work for Flick, causing him to try new things that weren’t successful, although it should be noted that the amount of injuries, especially during the business end of the season, derailed the season.
Nagelsmann’s Bayern are not as consistent, but Nagelsmann’s brand of football when they are playing at their very best is so much more pleasing to watch than Flick’s. The attacking front four is fluid, ever changing, and sometimes just the positional switches are more satisfying to watch than any incisive pass or fizzing shot. Nagelsmann’s Bayern would be the best team in the world by a mile if they could finish, but the team just doesn’t seem to be able to score their chances, a problem that many have identified with the lack of one Robert Lewandowski at the tip of the spear, but I digress.
The creativity in the final third has been monstrous and it’s leaked into the teams the players play for internationally too, the Bayern unit of German creators in Qatar created the third most expected goals of any team, and remember that they only played three games compared to the other two teams on the podium (Argentina and France) who reached the final, playing a full six games.
The Munich Wall rises once again
Nagelsmann’s Bayern is simply better than Flick’s Bayern at defending. Anyone who argues against this is objectively wrong. The defense has their occasional slip-ups, but they are miles ahead of the Flick era of defense.
This is partly down to the addition of much better and younger personnel, but also down to Nagelsmann’s setup. Flick’s defensive tactics involved a relentless high press, which left the team vulnerable to counter-attacks. Nagelsmann’s pressing structures are a lot more...well, structured. The timing and tempo of it is a lot less brutal both on the players and the opposition, letting the team hold down the fort without having to rely on an aging Manuel Neuer to make a multitude of saves like he did during Flick’s time in charge.
Unleashing lightning in a bottle
Flick is known for his personal touch to coaching. However, this personal touch was shown very much to be of detriment to the team during the 2020/21 season and has reared its ugly head very prominently for Germany. I won’t delve into the extensive list of personnel issues Flick has been under the microscope for while in charge of the German national team, but even at Bayern, players like Leroy Sané, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, and Benjamin Pavard were struggling.
Under Nagelsmann, Sané has become a Ballon d’Or contender, Pavard has been world class at right back and at centre back, and Choupo-Moting has gone from a man happy warming the bench to a star of the club. Furthermore, Nagelsmann is known for being able to nurture young talents into stars on the biggest stage, and has shown that already with the case of one Jamal Musiala: a player with amazing potential who got his feet wet in the first team with Flick, but who under Nagelsmann has become the best young attacker in the world and one of the best players in the world regardless of age. Nagelsmann has players ticking that have just not done the same before, and it’s not at the cost of drop in performances of players like Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka, Manuel Neuer or Thomas Müller (at least not drops that Nagelsmann can be held accountable for, Neuer and Müller have their own struggles ahead as time catches up to them).
What do you think of Nagelsball? Is it truly better than Flickball? How many death threats will I have in my e-mail for this article? Let us know your thoughts (and predictions) in the discussion below.