A favourite German phrase of mine is ‘der Qual der Wahl’- spoilt for choice. A deeper look at the etymology though translates ‘Qual’ as torture, agony torment. The agony of having to make a decision is something Bayern trainer Julian Nagelsmann is facing as the new season progresses and some of his stars return from injury.
It’s a problem he needs to deal with, but a problem that numerous other Bundesliga coaches would dearly love to face- having too many high-quality players to fit into the eleven spaces on the first-team sheet. However, historically at FC Bayern the juggling act of keeping a lot of big egos from spilling over has always been a key role of the head coach.
Nagelsmann has largely been sending out a settled first XI this season due to the form they have shown and the results they have achieved. Against Inter in the Champions League in midweek, the first cracks began to appear with the faces on the substitutes bench clearly unhappy and Leon Goretzka voicing the first comments showing frustration.
After missing the start of the season following knee surgery, Goretzka announced after the match at the San Siro that, “Now I’m ready to start.
“It was explained to me in an understandable way. I think the jump after eight or nine minutes against Union would have been a bit big. Now it’s been a few minutes more. That’s how you do it That’s when you build up properly after an injury.”
The former Schalke midfielder, who was Joshua Kimmich’s regular central midfield partner looks set to start against VfB Stuttgart this weekend, with Marcel Sabitzer dropping to the bench, but assured he “deserved to start the next game.” Sabitzer has deputised admirably in Goretzka’s absence and really deserves his place in the team, but then you also have summer arrival Ryan Gravenberch chomping at the bit to get more game time in order to show hat he can do.
In defence Dayot Upamecanao and Matthijs De Ligt are fighting it out for a place in the centre of defence with neither player used to sitting on the bench. It is in the attacking third however that Nagelsmann has the greatest headache. In Bayern’s 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-4 system there are four berths open to the attacking members of his squad. The problems arises when you can only pick four from Serge Gnabry, Jamal Musiala, Thomas Müller, Kingsley Coman, Leroy Sané, Sadio Mané, Mathys Tel, and Eric Maxim Choupo Moting.
With eyes already turning to Tuesday’s Champions clash with Barcelona, understandably everyone wants to play but Nagelsmann told journalists that his decision was simple, “If you play shit tomorrow, you don’t play on Tuesday”
A trainer’s second season at Bayern is traditionally trickier than the first with the honeymoon period and the first Meisterschale in the trophy cabinet. Nagelsmann will want to avoid a situation where he has dissatisfied players on his hands and in a season with a first mid-season World Cup, the pressure from some players for game time and the inherent frustrations that brings is an issue the Bayern coach needs to be prepared for. It is a fine line he will have to walk this season.
“It’s always an interaction between players and coaches, it’s no use if I talk a lot but the player isn’t willing to accept it, you can be the best conductor or choir director,” Nagelsmann said.
“It’s always give and take. It’s the case everywhere that nobody likes to sit on the bench. Basically, you always have to moderate it. It’s important that you’re always a team, not just when the sun is shining.”
He will be hoping that the sun is still shining in the coming weeks with high-profile, world-class players potentially sitting on the bench against Barcelona and in the Klassiker versus Borussia Dortmund.