The German Bundesliga kicked off slightly later than its other European counterparts on Friday night with a game between Bayern Munich and Hoffenheim at the Allianz Arena.
It was a clash between two of the Bundesliga’s most highly-rated head coaches in Bayern’s Niko Kovac and Hoffenheim’s coaching starlet Julian Nagelsmann. In the end, the Bayern boss came out on top with a 3-1 victory.
Hoffenheim did not make it easy
Friday’s game was never going to be an easy opener for the reigning German champions. Hoffenheim finished third-place in the Bundesliga last season and did not make it easy for Bayern.
The scores were level at 1-1 until eight minutes from the end of the game, when Robert Lewandowski scored from a retaken penalty kick. Veteran Dutch winger Arjen Robben sealed the victory on 90 minutes.
Bayern were in control for most of the game. However, Hoffenheim are a team that are well organised and always dangerous in attack under Nagelsmann.
A test of Niko Kovac’s managerial acumen
It will have been a relief to everybody involved to take maximum points on the opening day of the campaign. The champions started last season in poor fashion and Die Bayern sacked boss Carlo Ancelotti in October.
The Bavarian giants had to parachute in club legend Jupp Heynckes to save the day. Heynckes did just that in style, helping Bayern win the Bundesliga title by an incredible 21 points.
New Bayern head coach Kovac was not a universally popular appointment. However, the club stuck to their policy of appointing a German-speaking boss as their head coach, when other foreign options may have seen more appealing.
Although Kovac played for Croatia, he was born in Berlin to Croatian parents so has dual nationality. The 46-year-old played for Bayern during a long playing career. However, he caught the attention of the German giants as a coach during a stellar two-year spell as boss of Eintracht Frankfurt.
He brought stability to the club and helped them to their first trophy since 1988 when his team recorded a victory over Bayern in the German Cup final in May. Frankfurt had also made the final of the competition in the previous campaign, only to suffer a 2-1 defeat by Dortmund.
The step up from Eintracht Frankfurt to Bayern Munich is a massive one for Kovac. Frankfurt was his first senior job in club football. His biggest role before that was managing his country’s national side.
In terms of profile and task of the job, managing Bayern will be the biggest of his career so far. It will be a test of Kovac’s managerial acumen and strength of character. Some massive names have managed Bayern in recent years, including Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola, not to mention Heynckes.
The Champions League is where he will be judged
His biggest challenge is unlikely to be winning the Bundesliga title, as Bayern are perennial winners of the domestic title. The biggest of his managerial ability will come in the Champions League.
In the last six years, Bayern’s worst finish in Europe’s elite competition was last season’s quarter-final exit at the hands of eventual winners Real Madrid. Everybody connected with the club will expect progression in Europe’s elite competition.
Whether Kovac has the resources and the managerial to deliver that progress in the Champions League is unclear. However, at least the Croatian has made a winning start in the Bundesliga, which will give him some breathing space at least in the early stages of his coaching career at Bayern.
Will Niko Kovac be a good appointment for Bayern Munich?