Bayern Munich almost paid the price for failing to address an ageing squad last season, their seventh consecutive title was in serious doubt for a long time last season as Dortmund led the table. Eventually, they strung a series of wins together and Dortmund crumbled under the pressure and Niko Kovac's first season in-charge was "saved".
For some context, Bayern's "crisis" season saw them lose on four occasions, and draw six games. They finished with 78 points, 2 points ahead of their closest competitors Borussia Dortmund. That's their lowest points total in the last seven title-winning seasons, but it would've been enough to clinch the title in every one of those seasons (2015/16 on goal difference). The big difference was the form of Borussia Dortmund, who ran it close last season, in with a mathematic chance till the last matchweek, but they realistically lost impetus when they were thumped 5-0 by Bayern, and the eventual champions claimed the top spot.
Granted that Bayern faced tough opposition in the Champions League, and were only undone by the eventual champions, Liverpool, but the German winning machine won't take kindly to a Round of 16 exit. They've started to click under Kovac, and there are signs that they're willing to take it to the next level under the new boss.
Niko Kovac's Bayern puts immense emphasis on wing play, so much so, that their version of 4-3-3 is incredibly distorted in attack and they found it difficult to cope with quick counter-attacks. It will continue to be an Achilles heel for them as Bayern will continue to press high and expect their high back-line of Sule and Pavard or Hernandez to deal with the balls over the top along with a defensive midfielder tucking in.
Sure, this Bayern team can defend as well, but their plan is to press high and return to positions once the opposing team stats making their way up the pitch. Often, they will revert to a conservative block and force the ball back to the defensive line and restart their high press, usually beginning on the wings.
To recognise how much of Bayern's attack flows through the wings, you just need to look at Joshua Kimmich, David Alaba, Serge Gnabry, Kingsley Coman, and for good measure Thomas Muller, who played most of last season on the right flank. Between them, they registered a staggering 95 goal contributions (37 goals and 58 assists)out of the 126 goals Bayern scored last season.
This fantastic force on the wings, with the beast that is Lewandowski who was imperious through last season registering 40 goals and 13 assists, is Bayern's template for the future.
Who's flying on the wings?
Wingers, Bayern, Robben, and Ribery. It just seems right. The duo have been absolutely integral to Bayern's set up for a decade, more in case of Ribery. Bayern realised early on that they would need to replace the ageing wingers and have among others been linked with Chelsea's Callum Hudson-Odoi, and now Arsenal winger Nicolas Pepe.
If last season is any indication, Gnabry and Coman will be starting most of Bayern's games, except, if Bayern are successful in seducing Leroy Sane away from Manchester City, which would probably put the German ahead of the French Coman in the pecking order. The winger's diminishing significance at City and Bayern's confidence in speaking publicly on the matter indicates that this indeed will be the case.
In full-back positions, if Kimmich is fit, he will be one of the first names on the sheet for Kovac, but fresh arrival, Pavard who has been playing at centre-back in pre-season for the Bavarians could easily deputise for the young German when called upon. David Alaba on the other side will also most probably continue in his current role but could be rotated with Lucas Hernandez.
Its a mark of Bayern's commitment to their plan and the gaffer that they have stuck with him, despite what seemed like a close shave last season. Kovac's plan seems to be falling into place piece by piece, If he's able to progress his plan further, it may be a Bayern we see this season, like a team we've never seen before.Published 31 Jul 2019, 22:48 IST