How Julian Nagelsmann made his mark at Bayern Munich
The tactician has started his stint brightly for the Bavarian club.
Julian Nagelsmann arrived at Bayern Munich this summer with a reputation as someone who is not afraid to make changes to ensure success. The 34-year-old hasn’t tinkered as much as expected, however, and a star-studded squad have responded to his promptings with a dominant start to the season.
If this is what Bayern are like now, just think about how good they will be when their players are fully used to every little aspect of Nagelsmann’s coaching manual. The former Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig supremo moved to Munich in the summer having proven his ability to bring the best out of players, and now he looks to have earned the respect of some of the biggest names in the game.
The most obvious demonstration of that in the Bundesliga came on Matchday 8, when the defending champions scored five goals in the first 37 minutes of their top-of-the-table clash with Bayer Leverkusen.
“It’s always important to give statements when you play against the neighbours in the standings,” Nagelsmann said after the stunning 5-1 away success.
Bayern have been making a habit of that lately. They have previously had more points on the board at the same stage of the season, but 29 goals after eight matches – with only eight conceded – is a standout statistic. If they win a game, Nagelsmann’s team score at least three goals – hitting five against Hertha Berlin as well as Leverkusen and netting seven against Bochum.
That’s true of other competitions as well. The Bavarians lifted the DFL Supercup with a 3-1 win at Borussia Dortmund in August, and in the UEFA Champions League they have hammered Barcelona (3-0 away) and Dynamo Kyiv (5-0 at home). Even though it was against fifth-tier opposition, the 12-0 DFB Cup victory for a second-string side against Bremer SV also said a lot about Nagelsmann’s squad: it’s full of highly motivated and relentless players.
“It doesn’t matter what the score is,” Leroy Sane said after netting a wonderful free-kick in the 7-0 home win over Bochum. “We’re always hungry to score goals.”
So, how has Julian Nagelsmann done it? Contrary to many expectations, he hasn’t changed too much. The young head coach often favoured a three-man backline at both of his previous clubs, but so far he has stuck with the 4-2-3-1 formation that brought his predecessor Hansi Flick so much success over the last two seasons. He wants his team to be close together on the pitch, playing with a high intensity and winning the ball back in the opponent’s half.
“Julian Nagelsmann was clever enough not to want to turn everything upside down at Bayern,” club legend Lothar Mätthaus wrote in his Sky column in September. “It’s not necessary at all, but some coaches like to do that at the start to set an example. Not so with Julian. He looked at everything calmly, and only made a couple of small changes.”
The bulk of the Bayern squad won – among other things – a record sextuple of trophies in succession under Flick, and the early signs suggest that they are every bit as determined to achieve something similar under Nagelsmann.
“We just love playing football,” midfielder Leon Goretzka said after facing his former club Bochum. “We want to develop more from game to game and absorb our new coach’s philosophy more and more.”
Julian Nagelsmann was once a centre-back who looked up to former Chelsea defender John Terry, but his own playing days were cut short by injury in his early 20s. Younger than his 35-year-old captain Manuel Neuer, the Bayern coach was soon relaxed enough in Munich to arrive at training via skateboard. An attacking, detailed, emotional and innovative leader, he seems to have won experienced pros over by planning ahead and providing varied and challenging training sessions.
“If every day you do the same practice then I think you’re not watchful or alert,” Julian Nagelsmann told The Times in October. “So it’s important the players never know what’s coming.”
What minor tweaks Nagelsmann has made to the tactical set-up have been important. Sane, for example, started the season on the right wing – where he had played much of his football since returning to Germany from Manchester City in July 2020.
Since the cup match against Bremer on 25 August, though, the 25-year-old has been positioned on the left side of the attack – albeit with the freedom to roam infield. He scored that night, and then had two goals and three assists in his next four league games. The former Schalke winger also made a goal against Barcelona and scored once and had an assist in the victory over Kyiv.
It’s perhaps no surprise that Sane looks more comfortable in a position where he was at his devastating best in England before a cruciate ligament injury in August 2019 kept him out for almost a year. Nagelsmann, however, is the man who looks to have helped the Germany international to rediscover his top form.
“With every person, with every footballer, it’s important that you’re mentally clear so that you can perform,” the Bayern coach said after Sane’s “outstanding” man-of-the-match performance against Kyiv.
Nagelsmann has a knack for working out what makes players tick, having notably helped set Serge Gnabry on his way to the top during a loan spell at Hoffenheim in the 2017/18 season. And the childhood Bayern fan is clearly enjoying the demands of being at a club where winning is all that matters.
Even after their one defeat this season – a surprise 2-1 reverse at home to Eintracht Frankfurt on Matchday 7 – recently retired Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge announced himself satisfied with the “very, very good football” that he had watched the champions play.
“You can see his signature,” an approving Rummenigge said of Nagelsmann’s team.
A good sign, too, was that Bayern roared back from the Frankfurt loss in emphatic fashion in Leverkusen. While already converted former Leipzig stalwarts Dayot Upamecano and Marcel Sabitzer have followed Nagelsmann to Munich, the established stars are apparently warming to him too. Neuer is still making big saves, Joshua Kimmich is bossing midfield, and reigning world player of the year Robert Lewandowski is once again leading the scoring chart.
“The manner in which the team is continuing to play under Nagelsmann is brilliant, hungry, attractive, and successful,” seven-time Bundesliga winner Mätthaus wrote in September.
Flick was a hard act to follow, but – speaking after Nagelsmann had hit 100 days in the role in October – the current Germany boss said his successor is doing an “outstanding job” in Bavaria. Not that the 56-year-old is surprised.
“It made sense that he would become Bayern Munich’s head coach,” Flick told the DPA press agency.
The way things are going, it would also be logical for Bayern to keep hold of Julian Nagelsmann for a very long time.
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