We cannot read too much into preseason games, but the first match of the Niko Kovač era has given the new coach and FC Bayern München the perfect start. It is all about building and gathering momentum.
No purpose contest
Not so long ago, preseason preparation would mean a couple of gentle warmup games against low-key opposition. A quick trip to Norway or Sweden, or a short coach journey across the border to Austria or Switzerland. Well, I suppose that last box was ticked.
Having made their way to Klagenfurt (this time, thankfully, storm-free), FC Bayern’s opponents were not local team SK Austria. Lining up against Die Roten were none other than Ligue Un moneybags Paris St. Germain, in the so-called International Champions Cup, the brand name for over-bloated preseason friendlies.
I have never been a fan of this concept. I would rather see the the Bayern players slowly build towards the new season at home, but instead we are going to see them jetting about to play big-name rivals in the “competition” that serves no real purpose. Apart, perhaps, from selling the Bayern brand.
While it would be a better thing for the squad to prepare with as little hype as possible, there is no such thing as a meaningless game of football. Yes, these ICC fixtures are over-hyped and little more than PR stunts. But to those those involved, there is plenty of meaning. These games give fringe players the opportunity to showcase themselves. They give younger players some solid pitch time. Good results can also help build momentum.
We just need to remember last season, where Carlo Ancelotti’s men played these preseason games as if they were really meaningless. The result were flat performances, and poor results. There was no momentum at all, and this poor form remained when the proper stuff started.
We all know what happened soon after that.
The start of the Kovač era
Irrespective of the status of the fixture, this was Niko Kovač’s first “proper” match as FC Bayern coach. After two weeks of training and positive vibes, it was only right that we had a result to match. It is now up to everybody to kick on from here.
— FC Bayern München (@FCBayern) July 21, 2018
The start was not great. With an even distribution of new blood and experienced first team players, Bayern offered little in the first half against an energetic – and equally raw – PSG side. No Neymar, Cavani or Draxler here. Going in a goal down at half-time, there was plenty of room for improvement.
The answer was provided, emphatically. Bayern were quick off the blocks in the second half, the coach made some smart changes, and the younger players stepped up a gear. There was genuine desire out on the pitch, which was reflected in the final 3:1 scoreline. Former Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel, now in the Paris hot seat, had no answers.
It was not just the result that was encouraging, but the way in which it came about. The little things, which in the end all add up. Getting the basics right, with individuals stepping up to the plate.
For many seasons, Bayern have been pretty ordinary from set pieces in general. Their corners have been abysmal. From everything I have read about his training sessions so far, Kovač has been determined to fix this problem. It was a good sign, then, when Javi Martínez rose above the PSG defence to meet a well-delivered Arjen Robben corner.
I would like to think that this is a case of starting as we mean to go on. If we can be more effective from these set pieces, it could make all the difference at the sharp end of the season.
The second encouraging sign was the form of Renato Sanches. The Portuguese has been sharp in training, and would put the minty fresh Bayern in front with a well-delivered free-kick. Cue Serge Gnabry, who has recently recovered from injury, to set up Dutch youngster Joshua Zirkzee for the third goal to wrap things up.
Niko Kovac on Renato Sanches: "He comes very motivated from home to training. I see that every day. For three weeks he is really giving full throttle. That's why I'm glad that he played a good game with a very nice free-kick goal." #FCBPSG [BILD] pic.twitter.com/L3ixkw1sgH
— Home Bayern (@HomeBayern___) July 21, 2018
OK, it is hard to say whether Sanches may have beaten Gigi Buffon at his near post from that distance, rather than Remy Descamps, who had only been on the pitch for a couple of minutes. But if it gives him a confidence spike, it can only be a good thing.
Momentum. It is a thing. Next up, Juventus in midweek.
The next generation
If Kovač had started the match with the eleven players that had ended it, there might have been a few raised eyebrows. But in the end, it was the young players off the bench that made the difference. There was more energy, desire, and willingness to impress.
The coach made no fewer than eight changes in 25 minutes, and the difference between the two teams could have been a lot wider at full time.
In recent years, the Bavarians have missed a trick with young players. Granted, not all of these guys will turn into superstars. But I am hoping that they continue to get an opportunity. The more opportunities that are offered, the better they will get. It will also mean that it will be a lot easier for the club to hold onto them.
Bayern do not need to start pulling at the purse strings as a first option. We could have the next Alaba, Müller, Robben or Ribéry already. The next generation, ready and waiting.