FC Bayern: Costa and Coman Demonstrate the Value of Inverted Wingers against Darmstadt


Prior to Bayern Munich’s Saturday afternoon clash with Darmstadt, Pep Guardiola’s team sheet included a number of alterations. As it turned out, none of these were enough to destabilise the Bavarian giants, who comfortably accounted for their Bundesliga rivals. The final score was 3-0, and as Darmstadt coach Dick Schuster stated in the aftermath, that outcome was “The most normal thing in the world.”

It’s hard to argue with him, as going into the match, no one would have expected anything to the contrary. But going back to the team sheet, there was one interesting quirk that came out of it. Kingsley Coman, on loan from Juventus and making his Bundesliga debut, was named on the left-hand side, while the impressive Douglas Costa was earmarked for a spot on the right.

When the opening whistle sounded, however, it quickly became apparent that the opposite was true. Coman had gone to the right and Costa to the left, and though this was perhaps by design, as a means through which to throw off the Darmstadt defence, the two quickly switched sides and, in doing so, reverted back to what the team sheet had initially suggested.

In that sense, they didn’t achieve a great deal by enacting this early ploy. But once the dust had settled and Costa and Coman had changed places, Guardiola’s initial selections started to seem entirely logical. By placing Costa, a left-footer, on the right and Coman, a right-footer, on the left, the Spanish manager now had two “inverted wingers.”

Put another way, this essentially meant that both men were more likely to cut inside and play, rather than drive down the line and fire in a cross. As a consequence of this, Bayern only crossed the ball on 17 occasions, a relatively low amount considering the 789 passes they exchanged on the day. Instead, Coman and Costa tended to bring the ball back through the middle, even though they typically looked to receive it out wide on the touchline.

For Bayern, this proved to be advantageous. When a team crosses to a great degree, it’s typically because they have a physical presence inside the area. In contrast, the Bavarian outfit operated with Mario Gotze as their central striker, and as a short man with a decidedly unimposing frame, there was no way he could reasonably be expected to mount a challenge in the air.

With this in mind, it wouldn’t have made much sense for Costa and Coman to dribble towards the byline and subsequently whip balls into the box. And by playing as inverted wingers, on what is traditionally thought of as the “wrong” side of the pitch, they were able to avoid that pitfall completely.

Their energy was instead devoted firstly to receiving the ball out wide, before then bringing it back into the centre of the pitch. This not only allowed Costa and Koman to assist in circulating possession, of which Bayern enjoyed 77% against Darmstadt, but also allowed them to showcase their strongest attributes.

In Coman’s case, he demonstrated his customary ability to beat a man, which he did on three separate occasions, while also showing a good understanding of when to float towards goal. During the first half, he made a good run to latch onto a cross from Gotze, and although his header ended up wide of the mark, he made up for it later on.

This time around, in the second half, he noted that Sebastian Rode was motoring forward at pace. Stuck out on the left, Coman soon made an outside-to-in run to make himself available, charging diagonally towards the area. Rode showed enough composure to cut the ball back across goal, and as it fell into Coman’s path, he was able to strike it first time and find the back of the net.

In this instance, Coman’s invertedness again assisted him. Instead of having to take a touch in order to work the ball towards his right foot, or risk shooting first-time on his left, Coman could simply address the ball with confidence. He never looked like missing as a result, with his right-footed effort converted with aplomb.

It was the perfect way for the 19-year-old to punctuate his first start for Bayern, and with his tricky mix of athleticism and sharpness on the ball, Rode was right to assert that Coman is “great news for our (Bayern’s) game.”

Costa, meanwhile, continued to produce from the flank. He has divided his time between the two sides so far this season, but with such a wicked left-foot at his disposal, he seems to be most deadly from the right. In the build-up to Arturo Vidal’s opener, for instance, Costa cut infield and assisted the Chilean’s thunderbolt. Granted that was a straightforward pass for a player of his ability, so when handed the chance to play a more elaborate ball later on in the contest, Costa naturally jumped at the opportunity.

Again, he opted to dribble infield after receiving possession out wide. He outfoxed his direct opponent in the process, before, in an efficient motion, sliding a through ball in the direction of Rode. The German took advantage of it, too, as after firing his initial shot into the post, he calmly slotted home the rebound to make it 3-0.

That proved to be the game’s final goal, and after Costa’s three key passes and three successful dribbles, not to mention the five shots he thumped towards goal after cutting infield, it was easy to see why Guardiola rates him so highly. “I think he will become one of the five best wingers in the world,” he said. “Douglas can achieve great things.”

It may sound like a strong assertion, but if the 25-year-old Brazilian can get anywhere near that level, he will go a long way towards replacing the eventual departures of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery. Coman could assist in that transition as well, and as things stand, Bayern are clearly stacked with quality in the wide areas.

Depending on personnel, both Coman and Costa are likely to play on both sides of the pitch this season. But in this tussle against Darmstadt, the dynamic duo were extremely influential when deployed on the “wrong” side of the pitch, as inverted wingers.

Given their attributes and the way they like to operate, this kind of role might just end up being the one that suits them best.