Niko Kovac is taking a risk by stripping experienced defenders from the first-team and signing young, promising ones. But will this move pay off for the Croat?
Niko Kovac’s arrival at Bayern Munich brought a certain enigma to the club – a new identity that wasn’t evident under the leadership of Carlo Ancelotti and even the legendary Jupp Heynckes, during his short spell in charge of the club during the 2017-18 campaign.
Kovac, despite a stuttering start to the 2018-19 season, has been deemed as a success by most fans after he led Bayern to their seventh successive Bundesliga title. But, what has appealed the most is that the former Eintracht Frankfurt boss is not taking it for granted and instead, he is shaping the club in a way that could become suitable for him to manage in the coming years.
The defensive overhaul, in particular, has been one of those key changes Kovac has brought to the table at Bayern this summer. Indeed, after three years of service, Mats Hummels was deemed surplus to the requirements by the Croat and was sent back to Borussia Dortmund. As for Jerome Boateng, he has been linked with a move away from the club.
These two defenders are undoubtedly two of the most successful and well-accomplished centre-backs in world football. But, Kovac has opted to leave them out of the team and instead sign two of the world’s most talented up and coming defenders in the shape of Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez.
The possible reasons behind this important overhaul in defence
It’s probably needless to say that Kovac is not the greatest fan of Hummels. The Borussia Dortmund defender was even targeted as the weakest point of the Bayern defence by the Croatian mastermind during the DFB Pokal final against Eintracht Frankfurt in the 2016-17 season when he was still the Frankfurt boss.
Hummels, despite arguably being the club’s best defender last season, is often criticised for his lack of pace and Kovac is certainly aware of that. As for Boateng, his decline in recent years has been rather evident. So much so, that he has even struggled to find a regular place in the starting lineup under Kovac last season.
Another potential reason for this decision could be their very own success. Unlike the likes of Heynckes and Ancelotti, Kovac is someone who expects his players to adhere to his playing philosophy rather than relying on his man-managing skills. And in a team full of big egos and characters, it becomes harder for him to get players to listen to him.
Besides, both Hummels and Boateng are nearing the final phase of their respective careers and Bayern were obviously in need of young guns, which might have led Kovac to make a defensive overhaul this summer.
But are Hernandez and Pavard the right choice by the club?
As iterated earlier, Kovac expects his players to listen to him. Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard, in that regard, are much more likely to adhere to the 47-year-old’s aggressive style of football. Hernandez, in particular, has flourished under the leadership of Diego Simeone, who is known for his defence-oriented system at Atletico Madrid.
The 23-year-old, therefore, should not find it too difficult in getting used to the high-pressing football. As for Pavard, he is more of a calm and composed centre-back, who can instil more stability into an erratic Bayern Munich backline that looked susceptible against dynamic oppositions last season.
But, one key aspect of these two newcomers is their versatility in defence. Lucas, despite being a centre-back by trade is quite familiar with the left-back slot. That means he can provide cover for David Alaba, who has struggled with frequent injury problems throughout his career at Bayern Munich.
Pavard, on the other hand, starred for France in the right-back position, helping Les Bleus win the coveted tournament last summer. He can thus switch between the two roles throughout the season, and this versatility will allow Joshua Kimmich to feature in central midfield, if necessary.
It is quite evident that both of these two defenders are exceptionally talented and have a lot to offer to Bayern Munich. They are also quite young and will be a smart long-term investment for the Bavarians. And although Hernandez’s €80 million valuation may seem expensive, that is quite justified from a Bayern side who have spent rather sparingly in the last five years.
As for Boateng and Hummels, both of them are still capable of being an asset for top clubs in Europe. The latter is already making waves at Dortmund while it will be interesting to see where Boateng ends up next season. But one thing is for sure – they are not an ideal fit in the style of football Kovac is going to employ next season as Bayern Munich look to kickstart a new era under the Croatian mastermind.