With the introduction of a three-man chain, success returned for Julian Nagelsmann – now he has to rebuild. What options does the Bayern Munich coach have in view of the suspensions of Dayot Upamecano and Benjamin Pavard?
It seemed like a successful revolution: After three disappointing draws in a row at the start of the second half of the season, coach Julian Nagelsmann tested a back three for the first time this season in the DFB Cup round of 16 against FSV Mainz 05. The result: first convincing appearance, first victory. 4:0!
Nagelsmann made this option possible primarily through the signing of João Cancelo. The 28-year-old Portuguese is a classic track player. He can play on the right (and also on the left), which Alphonso Davies has shown on the left for years. He is the second world-class attacking full-back that FC Bayern has been looking for for years.
After a brief return to the back four in the win against VfL Wolfsburg, Nagelsmann also used the new system in the 3-0 win over VfL Bochum and in the impressive 1-0 first leg win against Paris Saint-Germain in the first knockout round of the Champions League. Benjamin Pavard, Matthijs de Ligt and Dayot Upamecano harmonized well. In the first three games with a back three, FC Bayern did not concede a goal.
System revolution could now be suspended, at least for the time being – and that’s due to two dismissals. In Paris, Pavard saw yellow-red shortly before the end, in the 2-3 defeat against Borussia Mönchengladbach Upamecano had to go down early with a smooth red for a supposed emergency brake. In the absence of personnel alternatives, there are many indications of a return to the back four, at least for the next three games.
FC Bayern: Alternatives for a triple chain
Upamecano has to serve out his one-game ban at the Bundesliga summit on Sunday against Union Berlin (5.30 p.m.), so with de Ligt and Pavard there are only two established central defenders available. All three would be ready to play again at VfB Stuttgart the following weekend. But then it’s time to get used to the second leg against PSG without Pavard on Wednesday.
Nagelsmann did not want to rule out staying with the new system after Pavard’s dismissal in Paris. “We also have a few other players who can play back three,” said the coach, naming Josip Stanisic and Daley Blind as options.
Stanisic has only played 91 minutes of the second half of the season, all as a right-back in a back four. The free new signing Blind got his chance after a few brief appearances against Gladbach, but didn’t take it. Above all, the speed and liveliness deficits of the 32-year-old Dutchman became obvious.
“He did his job properly,” said sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic when asked about Blind’s performance, and then quickly fled into general statements: “We didn’t manage to put a little more pressure on the opponent in various situations. That’s true not just for Daley, but in general.”
FC Bayern: Contrasting form curves at Cancelo and Davies
A back four shouldn’t cause any problems against the compact Unioner, but it does harbor dangers against the offensively strong Parisians – especially with regard to the quality profile of the two Munich full-backs. For all their offensive drive, Cancelo and Davies tend to neglect defensive work a bit.
As a right-back against PSG, Cancelo would probably meet Kylian Mbappé regularly. If the PSG striker threw up Bayern’s defense in the first leg after being substituted on in the second half, he will be in the starting XI for the second leg.
Cancelo himself recently lost some ground after a strong start. His form curve is therefore the opposite of that of his left counterpart: Davies made several confused appearances at the beginning of the second half of the season, but he is currently on the up again. Davies prepared all of FC Bayern’s last three goals.
FC Bayern: Nagelsmann’s Kimmich experiment in Gladbach
When looking for full-back alternatives, you quickly end up with the players who could also be considered as the third link in a back three: Stanisic and Blind. Right-back Noussair Mazraoui is currently working on his comeback after suffering a pericarditis. Lucas Hernández will be out for the rest of the season with a cruciate ligament rupture.
Nagelsmann tested another defensive option in Gladbach: After the coach had initially switched to a back four as a result of Upamecano’s early dismissal, he returned to a back three at the beginning of the second half – surprisingly with Joshua Kimmich as the central defender.
A position in which Pep Guardiola once used him. When asked about his unfamiliar role, Kimmich was tight-lipped in the mixed zone. How was it for you to play in central defence? “Good.” Do you feel comfortable there? “Yes.” he was gone As is well known, Kimmich prefers to play in the midfield control center – and Nagelsmann will hardly withdraw his chief strategist from there in the important games.