Bayern Munich, hours before their European Cup semi-final triumph over Barcelona, dropped a bomb-shell on the footballing world. German newspaper, Bild, ran the incredible story of Gotze to Bayern; which most fans took with a pinch of salt. Dortmund revealed the deal later through their social media platforms, that sent shivers across Europe.
Mario Gotze is arguably one of the most sought after young talents in football right now. Characterised by an immense technical ability, present in most German footballers, Gotze is a class above the youth of the Bundesliga. At Borussia Dortmund since the age of 9, a rumoured move to Bayern came as a shock to everyone. Bayern Munich though, have traditionally strengthened themselves by weakening their rivals; nothing wrong with that though, it’s an effective approach. Bayern met Gotze’s buy-out clause of €37 million, that angered many Dortmund fans. What angered them more is the fact that their ‘boy-wonder’ actually instigated the move. A buy-out clause puts the parent club in a weak position, as any financially strong side can tempt players away. Dortmund chief, Hans-Joachin Watzke, complained about this. But Jurgen Klopp knows this approach well himself; they prized Marco Reus away from Monchengladbach last summer meeting his €17 million buy-out clause.
Already having appointed Pep Guardiola for the next campaign, signing football’s biggest talent is a massive step forward towards potential European domination.
It’s a strange sort of scenario right now. Bayern Munich showed the frailties of Barcelona’s tiki-taka, and completely humiliated them in the Champions League semi-finals. They played a system that kept the main threat, Lionel Messi, out of the game; something AC Milan did effectively as well.
The peculiarity arises because pundits & fans praised Bayern for their ability to decimate a dominant Barca side. Their approach & system was attractive and effective. Tiki-taka isn’t a full-proof system and this was portrayed at the Allianz Arena. But with the imminent arrival of Pep Guardiola, it is likely that he will implement his successful tiki-taka system. The very system that was shown to be flawed.
But any manager that was as successful as Guardiola with a trusted system, would be tempted to implement it elsewhere. Besides, the basic formation that Guardiola is likely to employ is no different to what the current Bayern Munich side are implementing. The flow of the formation is however different.
Lionel Messi had a completely free role under Guardiola (and continues to do so). The false 9 role employed at the Nou Camp is alien to Gotze at club level, but he has played the role for his national team against Kazakhstan. A free role doesn’t restrict the player to positional rigidity. He is allowed to flaunt his creativity as well, and is given the liberty to play across the park. It isn’t a role that can be given to inexperienced players, as most players (especially younger ones) require a system to follow.
It will be interesting to see if Gotze does indeed play a false 9 role, or whether he plays behind the striker. But what intrigues me most is whether young Mario Gotze will be given a free role. Guardiola’s tiki-taka system, though may appear to be a free-flowing game, does have a well-trained organisation to it. The players across the centre (i.e. the two defenders, central midfielder and striker/false 9) are required to play primarily through the centre without running by either channels. It’s the wide players that expand and contract based on whether the team has possession or is looking to regain the ball from the opposition, respectively. The reason the false 9 was usually given a free role by Guardiola is because the false 9 was Lionel Messi, a player that is impossible to tie down into a stringent system. Messi is best utilised when left to his creativity, that’s his natural game.
Mario Gotze, though one of the best footballers in the near future, isn’t at the level of Messi. The manager cannot put his faith in the 20-year-old to be the focal point of the system, while possessing other experience talents.
Guardiola at Barcelona lacked an out-an-out striker, something he possesses at Bayern Munich. The wider attackers have a similar role. The defensive set-up doesn’t have a major difference to that of Barcelona. The distinct deviation arises in midfield. While Barcelona play a system with a central defensive midfielder and two wider central players in midfield, Bayern has a narrower system; the centrally placed midfielder is placed in an attacking role behind the striker, while two midfielder’s behind him, though effective, are less dynamic and more direct. These midfielders prefer to restrict themselves to central attacking and defensive duties.
Gotze’s position will depend largely on how Guardiola alters the current system and personnel at the club. Does Ribery drop back deeper? What is Robben’s future? Do the likes of Mandzukic/Gomez have a regular starting berth or are they ‘Plan B’?
Gotze is someone who can play along the channels, cutting inside and maintaining his creativity from the centre. It is only this season that Gotze has been deployed in a predominantly central role behind the Polish striker, Robert Lewandowski. In previous seasons, including Dortmund’s back-to-back title-winning campaigns, Shinji Kagawa was the central attacker with Gotze playing wider, usually the right hand side. With Kagawa’s sale, Dortmund brought in Reus, and while many consider Reus to be Kagawa’s direct replacement, Klopp has actually replaced the Japanese international from within by playing Gotze through the centre and Reus in a wide left position.
If Gotze is reverted back to his wide role which he played in his early professional football days, the system would need to be altered further. The current Bayern side under Juup Heynckes plays a system with the traditional winger running down the channels, while Guardiola prefers to play narrower wide attackers. It depends on how much Guardiola wants to alter a working system. Gotze’s basic football education and early experience was received in the wider areas. Fitting in would not be a problem. At whose expense is the question. Robben is likely to leave this summer, he’s already struggling for first team action. That would still leave Ribery & Muller who could play in the wide position. There is speculation that Ribery could drop into a deeper role, pushing forward from the back, like Iniesta at Barcelona. Iniesta lacks defensive abilities, but more than makes it up in his creativity. Gotze too could be deployed in this ‘Iniesta-role’.
Mario can obviously be deployed behind the striker too, like he is currently by Klopp. But the sheer expanse of talent present in Bayern’s side will prevent the young star from just walking into the first team. He would need to compete with another young talent, Toni Kroos who himself is having a successful campaign. In terms of goals, he has already matched his best season which he experienced on loan at Leverkusen. Thomas Muller, who hit a brace against Barca, is another player who is going to be difficult to displace. The 2010 World Cup Golden Boot winner is an integral part of the club, and one who can be played either through the centre or on the right side of the attack. In most cases, Kroos was played behind the striker and Muller out wide at the expense of Arjen Robben.
A creative attacking midfielder behind a striker is not a common feature of Pep, but it is something that Bayern are successfully executing. Gotze is flourishing in this role too, while sticking a striker up ahead of the attacking midfielder is the best solution to the flaws of Barcelona’s approach (especially since despite the talent, Pep will lack a Messi at Bayern). The false 9 role is largely being discussed for Mario Gotze, but its unlikely Guardiola will utilise the youngster in that role.
As I have alluded to in this Scout Report, Gotze can compete with Kroos & Muller in terms of technical ability, creativity and attacking intent. It is his lack of physicality, due to his short stature, and poor defensive awareness that makes him a bit of a liability. Kroos & Muller have both proved to be defensively adept, and able to contribute significantly to the defensive side of the game. More experience and better coaching has made them better footballers that gives them the edge over Mario Gotze.
Mario Gotze is having a successful season in the Bundesliga. It terms of goals he has already scored more than double than what he did in any previous season. This has coincided with a regular starting berth in Klopp’s plans. Gotze recently scored a brace against Greuther Furth, the 3rd of his career, in Dortmund’s 6-1 triumph. He displayed his real attacking intent and ability to play higher up the pitch. He spent 20% of his game inside the box.
He has played over 100o passes in the Bundesliga and the Champions League, at a pass completion rate of 84%. Rarely does Gotze play long balls from midfield, preferring to play short quick passes and nifty touches around the box with an average passing length of 15m. His game is proportionately divided between goals & assists. He has created over 80 goal scoring opportunities. Although defensively not an asset, Gotze has won 85% of his tackles in the league, and a decent 60% in the Champions League. Creative midfielders like Gotze aren’t required to be defensively solid, but Gotze lacks the basic tactical awareness when in a defensive phase. This could prove to be a hinderance.
So a dilemma arises however it is seen, and a sacrifice may need to be made. A false 9 prevents Bayern from employing successful strikers like Mario Mandzukic & Mario Gomez. Playing him behind the striker is no easy task either as he has to compete for spots. Robben looks likely to leave the German club this summer. His obvious lack of passing and inability to hold onto the ball has made him drop down the pecking order. Muller prefers to occupy the wide right area which reduces Gotze’s chances on that side of the pitch.
Based on his ability, personnel at Bayern Munich and the availability of spots, it is most likely that Gotze will be competing directly with Toni Kroos for the spot behind the striker. A healthy competition between two of the best young German talents. A dilemma managers dream of, and one Pep Guardiola will welcome. The Gotze Guardiola link-up could be as successful as the Spaniard’s relationship with Lionel Messi, and that creates fear in clubs across Europe.
More reading: Scout Report on Mario Gotze and other young talents.
Co-founder and Chief Editor here. Obsessed with tactics. Keen follower of young players. Creator of #TalentRadar. Appeared in A Football Report's list of "Best in Football Writing 2012".
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