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Bayern Munich Champions League Q&A with Bavarian Football Works

It’s a big week for Unai Emery and Villarreal.

FC Bayern München v RB Leipzig - Bundesliga Photo by Stefan Matzke - sampics/Corbis via Getty Images

It was an absolute pleasure to sit down and exchange questions with Ineednoname over at our sister site Bavarian Football Works. We recently answered some questions for them as well and you can read those here.

With the domestic title race pretty well under control for Bayern Munich, but a bad early exit from the DFB Pokal, has Nagelsmann’s first season already been a success or does he need to progress further in the Champions League for that to be the case?

As far as expectations are concerned, it all depends on the Champions League. Bayern Munich coaches live or die by their UCL performance and Nagelsmann is no different. Niko Kovac won the league and cup double but failed to make it past the Ro16 (despite being pitted against a strong Liverpool side) and was swiftly booted out at the start of next season. For Nagelsmann, reaching the UCL semis + winning the title would be the bare minimum to consider the season satisfactory. Not necessarily a success, but not a failure either.

He would have to do much more than that to make the season a real success.

-Tactically, what can VIllarreal expect from Bayern Munich in this one?

So Bayern Munich play more or less the same way no matter who the opponent is, which makes it somewhat easy to predict how we’ll line up. It’s going to be a 4-2-3-1 with Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller up top, Kingsley Coman and Leroy Sane (or Serge Gnabry, if the coach is so inclined) on the wings. We could see Joshua Kimmich paired with either Leon Goretzka or Jamal Musiala in midfield, which will depend on Goretzka’s fitness as he’s coming back from a long term injury. In defense it’ll likely be Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard at the left and right back spots respectively, with Niklas Sule and Dayot Upamecano in the center.

Bayern’s tactical philosophy under Nagelsmann is basically the same as it was under Flick, but with the intensity toned down slightly. The emphasis is still on gegenpressing, creating pressure through possession, fast counters, and rapid vertical passing to progress the ball. The gameplan is based on finding advantageous situations for the attackers to take high quality shots. So far, the system has been a success, but it has its issues.

Is Lewandowski going to play in this first leg? And if he misses out, who becomes the key player for Bayern going forward?

As of today, it looks like Robert Lewandowski will be able to play the game. He played 60 minutes against Freiburg and was subbed early to save him for the Champions League.

If he wasn’t available ... well, it’s tough. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting is our standard Lewandowski backup, but he’s out at the moment due to Covid-19 and a knee injury. Without both our strikers, Nagelsmann would be forced to use Serge Gnabry and Thomas Muller as a two-striker pairing and take it from there. We did manage to score thrice against Freiburg after Lewandowski was subbed, so it’s not like our offense is a sitting duck without him. However, his absence would be an absolute game-changer for the tie.

What is this team’s biggest weakness?

This Bayern Munich team has three major weaknesses. First is pressing - Nagelsmann wants his players to make quick vertical passes, and that inherently comes with some risk. Teams that press can force us into giveaways that inevitably lead to counters in extremely dangerous positions. Just search up the highlights of our 5-0 drubbing to Gladbach earlier in the season if you want some idea of what an aggressive systemic press can do to this side.

The second weakness is simply counters in general. Whether it be through a turnover or a lobbed ball over the top, Bayern deal poorly with counterattacks. Without Alphonso Davies, we don’t have the raw pace to recover from rapid counters sprung by a cleverly timed pass, so it’s often down to Manuel Neuer to either sweep those chances up or it’ll be a goal.

The final weakness is, sadly, individual mistakes. Dayot Upamecano is likely to start against Villarreal, and he’s prone to giveaways in some very dangerous positions. Benjamin Pavard has been good in recent weeks, but his overall season has been erratic at best. Our team often lapses in concentration during the defensive phase, leading to goals conceded where they shouldn’t be. This happens at least a couple of times a match, so you can be sure that Villarreal will have chances to score.

I always like to ask fans of other clubs what makes their club special. So, what is it about Bayern Munich that makes it a special football club?

. Our fanbase is huge and varied and everyone will have a slightly different answer to your question, but I think that everyone who supports Bayern is legitimately proud of this team and what it represents. It’s not just about the trophies or the glamor, it’s about the attitude. This is summed up in our club motto, which is “Mia San Mia”, meaning “We are who we are”.

We are Bayern. We are strong, we are proud. We care about our history and about each other. We don’t settle, we don’t chase trends, and we don’t stay down.

If that seems arrogant to you, that’s because it is - there is a little bit of arrogance inherent to us and we own it. We don’t really care what others think. We’ll let our actions speak for itself.

I’ve been to Germany and the Allianz Arena to watch games and that Mia San Mia energy really seeps into every nook and cranny of the club. Many on the outside find it obnoxious, but it doesn’t matter. We are who we are, after all.

Editor’s note: the fanbases of every single extremely wealthy and powerful football club on earth are all obnoxious. I find it incredibly refreshing to meet a fan who just owns it and rolls with it.

How did Bayern fans feel about drawing Villarreal?

I think Bayern Munich fans are taking Villarreal far too lightly and it’s a little worrisome to be honest. I’ve been guilty of it myself. My brain tells me that you guys are a strong team and I watched your second leg game against Juventus so I know what you’re capable of.

Still, our fanbase has fallen into the hype cycle and many seem to already be counting down to the semis. I think Villarreal deserve more respect but you can’t blame the fans - we get our narratives from the media and they seem to be writing Villarreal off since the draw first happened.

Editor’s note: my impression after reading the comments on their site is that Nagelsmann would be in the hottest of water if he went out to lil ole us.

I know you folks tend to follow the German national team like we follow the Spanish one. What are your reactions on the World Cup draw?

Funny you should ask, because we covered both our upcoming game against you guys + Germany’s World Cup draw in our most recent podcast episode. I’ve been rambling a lot, so here’s a link to that if you want to go really in-depth:

https://www.bavarianfootballworks.com/2022/4/4/23008620/bayern-munich-podcast-s4e29-bundesliga-title-race-villarreal-champions-league-preview-germany-group