For Bayern Munich’s fourth top-flight game of the season (after a 3-0 loss to RB Leipzig in the Super Cup, a 2-2 draw with league leaders Bayern Munich and a 4-3 win over Manchester United), Thomas Tuchel was back. Struggling to make sense of it all.
His side’s first-half performance in Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Leipzig in the Bundesliga was dreadful and lacked pace, accuracy and energy, the 50-year-old head coach said in an interview with Sky Germany. “We weren’t there, we weren’t on the field. It took us ages to implement the plan, to find locations. We made too many mistakes, the game was static and slow.
The idea before the game was to dominate possession in both halves, but Bayern were lucky to be three goals down at the break (they conceded both).
But after Tuchel introduced “very simple tactics” in the second half and Bayern’s individual attacking quality came to the fore, he appeared more determined and hard-working.
But a two-goal comeback was courtesy of a flurry and “jungle game” that would have easily beaten Bayern.
For a manager like Tuchel, who strives for control above all else, the Red Bulls’ madness on Saturday night was another of the least serious matters.
Answers remain elusive. Is his team – or teams – really so tactically limited that they can only follow beaten instructions? He has been hinting at something along those lines since taking office in March.
Considering the number of professionals who have worked successfully under Pep Guardiola (Manuel Neuer, Thomas Muller, Kingsley Coman, Leroy Sane, Joshua Kimmich) it is surprising, but perhaps not entirely wrong, many players have complained about his predecessor, Julian Nagelsmann. Remember the more complex things too.
Tuchel, to his credit, wasn’t just pointing the finger at the team. He clearly thinks his first-half style was to blame, going as far as calling it “probably a plan” in an interview with ESPN.
He seems genuinely unsure, which is probably more troubling than a manager insulting his men in an attempt to incriminate the culprit.
After six months in Munich, every step seems to have followed 34 steps in different directions. Instead of displaying clearly recognizable and repeatable patterns the way they did in Nagelsmann’s first half, Bayern’s play now resembles the Jackson Pollock-randomness of pre-Tuchel.
Layer upon layer of objects also occurs. Flashes of light here, dark patches of despair there. It’s incredibly confusing.
Bayern as a club will find it especially difficult to live with such unpredictability. They make a lot of noise off the field so much peace can only be achieved if the team plays and wins with absolute certainty. (Appropriately, the media reaction to the game was speculation that recently departed RB sporting director Max Eberl would be heading to Bayer Leverkusen and that 35-year-old defender Jerome Boateng would be an emergency signing.)
Sabener Straße’s unofficial mission has always been to reduce the chance and chaos inside football with the help of a lot of money. The unprecedented dominance of the past decade is not only a result of Bayern’s financial dominance, but also due to the rigorous brand of play first introduced by Louis van Gaal.
The Dutchman, who was the club’s manager from 2009 to 2011, has managed to get the team through regardless, with plenty of tweaks, twists and turns for his prized collection.
As Bayern’s (limited) success under Carlo Ancelotti and Niko Kovac show – it can – for the time being – overcome a looser structure or more defensive tactics.
But now the clock seems to have gone back 15 years, to the era of “hero football,” when stars were trusted to do special things, but there was no overall strategy beyond “wanting more.” Low resistance resistors.
This group is in a constant battle with themselves as individual quality struggles to shine in the midst of a collective disorder.
Harry Kane is an example of that tension. A career-high penalty and killer cross for Jamal Musiala was the home side on Saturday, and it was second-half substitute Rafael Guerrero (28) who collected the fewest touches in 90 minutes (25).
A combination of rhythm and action at Raft, Tuchel’s side remain a team of moments rather than consistent pace.
(Top photo: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)