After months of speculation, Bayern have appointed Jupp Heynckes’ successor with Eintracht Frankfurt’s Niko Kovac bound for Bavaria in the summer.
Heynckes, who guided Bayern to a record sixth consecutive Bundesliga Meisterschale with victory over Augsburg last Saturday, will be a tough act to follow. But after steering Frankfurt to the cusp of a first ever tilt at the UEFA Champions League, Kovac – at 46, 26 years Heynckes’ junior – has already proven to be a coach of quite some acclaim himself.
How will Bayern line up with Kovac at the helm?
A Bundesliga and DFB Cup double winner with Bayern as a midfielder in 2003, Kovac was Croatia manager as recently as 2015 before taking up the reins at the Commerzbank-Arena. After an 11th place finish last term, Frankfurt are all but assured of a European spot this; and it is this period of his coaching career that is perhaps most instructive as to how Kovac’s Bayern might line up.
Kovac is a reactive coach who has started with no fewer than seven different formations in his 30 Bundesliga games this term – something that should appeal to Bayern given the sheer breadth and depth of abilities in their squad; but the Berlin-born former Croatia international still has certain predilections.
A back three is the first cornerstone, and one that represents a significant departure from what Bayern are used to. David Abraham, the tallest of Die Adler‘s defenders at 6’2”, provides the height in Frankfurt’s box, with the pacier Carlos Salcedo – when he is fit – among those patrolling the channels.
In front of the defence, Makoto Hasebe – despite his 34 years – is Kovac’s preferred choice to drop into a back four when his side are defending, still mobile enough to play between the lines, and best able to distribute out from the back.
Further forward, Eintracht were shrewd in the transfer market last summer. Kevin-Prince Boateng‘s career was drifting before he arrived, the midfielder not even commanding a fee after leaving Las Palmas. The former Ghana international has been Kovac’s most used outfield player in 2017/18, though, winning a challenge inside every seven minutes he has played and chipping in with six goals and an assist.
Kovac’s side may appear to be wingless wonders, but he is more than happy to use natural wide men in beside the 31-year-old Boateng. Mijat Gacinovic and Marius Wolf have enjoyed 50 games between them, combining for five goals and ten assists. Robbery may not have their limelight stolen quite yet…
So, what does this mean for Bayern? For David Abraham read: Goliath Niklas Süle. The former Hoffenheim man’s 6’5″ frame – combined with the returning Manuel Neuer‘s unparalleled ability to dominate his area – mean that Bayern are unlikely to have any trouble should anybody get in behind wing-backs Joshua Kimmich and David Alaba to whip a ball in. Playing Süle centrally also has the advantage of unlocking the two best quarter-backs in world football: Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng.
Even playing as two centre-backs in a back four this season, Boateng has managed to tee up 12 shots on the opposition goal with raking balls from deep (two of which were scored). Hummels, meanwhile, has a 90 percent pass completion, despite playing 141 long balls. Imagine what they could do with an extra man marker doing the dirty work next to them?
Bayern have an embarrassment of riches in midfield, meanwhile, but James Rodriguez has undoubtedly been the centre of gravity in a galaxy of stars, playing deeper and more centrally than he did at Real Madrid. With a direct hand in a goal every 83 minutes he has played, the Colombian’s place in the side is assured.
Who will keep James company? If Leon Goretzka – soon to arrive from Schalke – has any worries about joining a squad that already boasts Arturo Vidal, Thiago Alcantara and Corentin Tolisso, he could do worse than looking to Jerome’s brother Kevin-Prince’s experience under Kovac at Eintracht… although he might find Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Kingsley Coman keen to join the party in the middle of the park.