When Bayern Munich got shellacked by VfL Bochum on Saturday, the mean virtual streets of social media were filled with panic.
The coach’s tactics are awful!
The players are bad!
Bayern Munich dreams of another Champions League are over!
Yup, we heard it all.
In reality, though, this loss — or at least a spotty showing — is something we all should have expected against VfL Bochum.
Admittedly, I acknowledged there were some red flags for the VfL Bochum fixture, but I still thought Bayern Munich’s overall talent and depth would just overwhelm the opposition. I was wrong! (Newsflash — it will not be the last time!)
The win did not happen, however, and here is why:
A week of distractions
All of this happened last week:
- Manuel Neuer had a surprise knee surgery...literally out of nowhere: Any time you lose Neuer, it affects a team and it changes the way they play...this is just how it goes.
- His back-up, Sven Ulreich had a COVID-19 scare: Ulreich had a lot on his mind already and thought he might see his big chance to shine thwarted by COVID-19. Certainly, it was not ideal, even if it worked out in the end with a negative test.
- Jamal Musiala tested positive for COVID-19: Bayern Munich’s game-changing super-sub was sidelined by the coronavirus, at a time when he might have gotten some run in the midfield as a starter. That was extremely unfortunate.
- Niklas Süle signed with Borussia Dortmund: By all accounts, Süle is not just respected by his teammates, but also a very popular figure. Even Neuer, the captain of the team, spoke against the transfer. While it is not mutiny in the locker room against the front office, the core players probably do not like how the big defender was handled and how this all played out.
- Thomas Müller was engrossed in a horse semen scandal: Yup, you read that correctly.
None of that even factors in that everyone associated with Bayern Munich from the players to the coach to the person in charge of Müller horse semen extraction apparatus was likely looking past VfL Bochum and to the Champions League showdown with Red Bull Salzburg.
Iffy tactics in a match that was meant to test iffy tactics
Julian Nagelsmann has been winning with an offense-heavy formation and relying on three wingers all playing at the same time. Without a true midfield partner for Joshua Kimmich, the team was left in a 4-1-4-1 that really looked more like a 5-1-LOOK OUT!
Eventually, some team was going to be able to counter that attacking line-up...we just didn’t know it would be VfL Bochum.
Despite my own prediction of a blowout, I even acknowledged this game had potential to be a classic “look ahead” match. If only I followed my own instinct (Hint: I am the king of second-guessing my first instincts in favor of optimism!).
A general loss of focus
Yup, if you want to slam Nagelsmann for something other than his tactics, you could probably hammer him for his team losing its focus, but let’s remember...these are not just normal professionals.
This group has a lot of experience and has won a boatload of games, with many of them already winning multiple Bundesliga titles and even a Champions League. This was a collective lack of focus on the task at hand, where the blame needs to be divided equally among the coaching staff and players alike.
So...should there be concern? Maybe...just maybe, a little.
Okay, I’ll humor the valid criticisms that could be had at this point:
What we know about Nagelsmann is that he is a tinkerer. He will tinker...then tinker some more...and then tinker once again! A lot of times this season, it has worked.
Against VfL Bochum, it did not.
The new boss has been very good overall and there should not be too much of a reason for anyone start gathering the pitchforks and torches to chase him out of town like he was a Bavarian Frankenstein.
When looking at the full season so far, Süle and Lucas Hernandez have been good. From there, however, things have not been great.
Dayot Upamecano, Benjamin, Pavard, and Alphonso Davies, have not played up to their respective potential. Davies, of course, is out and it would be unfair to crack down on him at this stage when he would likely get more and more comfortable each week working in Nagelsmann’s hybrid formation. And to be totally fair, Davies has been better than both Upamecano and Pavard.
Upamecano has been a roller coaster ride. Sometimes he’s good, other times, he’s dreadful. One thing is certain: If Bayern Munich was expecting a capable, dependable, and consistent replacement for Süle in the event he was planning to leave, Upamecano is not there yet. The Frenchman can get there , however, if he doesn’t get swallowed up under the bright lights in Bavaria, so there is no reason to throw dirt on his grave just yet.
Pavard has been very good at different periods and also thrown in plenty of “meh” performances. At this point, he is really only hurting his own chances for a long-term future with the club.
In all, I think the ongoing tactical and schematic changes have really weighed heavily on the defenders and created a lot of confusion.
Ongoing squad planning
The one thing that has been confusing to me is how the squad is being built despite Naglesmann’s clear intention to shift to a back-three. In Nagelsmann’s formation, there is less of a need for wingers like Leroy Sane, Kingsley Coman, and Serge Gnabry.
The club has to be debating internally if paying another wing like Gnabry top-tier money is worthwhile should the position be obsolete under Nagelsmann. Sure, Sane has thrived at times being tucked in tighter and Coman and Gnabry have had good seasons, but it remains to be seen if all three players can play to their contractual value consistently at a position that might not not necessarily be their primary spot.
In the wake of the loss, we have started to see all the hot takes:
- Joshua Kimmich can’t play the six.
- Sell Upamecano!
- Sell Gnabry!
- SELL THEM ALL!
In reality, though, this was just a bad match in a season where there have not been too many all-out debacles (even if there have been more than any Bayern Munich fan would like).
Overall, though, this team is still damn good — and maybe the best on the planet. Fans can — and should — rest on that for a bit. There might be a time to sharpen the figurative knives of criticism and also for the fan base to unravel, but that time is not here yet.
There are surely a lot of positives that fans can point to this season and yes, some legitimate areas to critique. All that said, things are good and confidence should remain high.
After all, what would a season be without a little FC Hollywood drama?