Tactically Naive: So long Niko Kovac, you were fine and that just won’t do

Tactically Naive is back after a two month hiatus! This week: Good bye Niko Kovac, what’s left of the EPL season, and how to appreciate a goal from the halfway line.

Hello, and welcome to SB Nation’s soccer column, Tactically Naive. We’re back after a two-month hiatus. *trumpets, ticker-tape, fireworks* Hope you’ve all been well.

Godspeed, Niko Kovac. And thank you.

Kovac’s time in the FC Bayern Munich dugout, which ended this weekend after a 5-1 loss to his former club Eintracht Frankfurt, has always been something of a comfort to Tactically Naive. It wasn’t inspirational, as most sport stories have to be. Nor was it a disaster. It was just: acceptably fine.

And we all need a bit of acceptably fine in our lives. Take the classic Disney sports movie formula, but then invert it halfway through: the (kind of) unexpected (sort of) underdog gets the shot at the big time, and then — Surprise! Ah hah! Oooh! — nothing spectacular happens.

Kovac got the job basically by accident, after Bayern spent so long trying to persuade Jupp Heynckes to stay that every other option found something better to do. Then he kept the job for a season and change not because his team were particularly good, but because they were never consistently bad enough not to win the title.

A very good squad continued to get pretty decent results, with the occasional slip-up. Nobody got too attached or invested. Time passed. Nobody learned anything particularly profound or grew in any significant way. There were fun bits and not-so-fun bits. Nobody did anything too silly. Then things wound down at about the right moment. We’re all a little older.

You can see why FC Hollywood might not be into that sort of thing. This isn’t FC Mumblecore. The point of Bayern Munich is to strut around the Bundesliga and the Champions League hitting peasants around the head with an ivory-handled walking cane, and it’s hard to strut when your manager looks just happy to be there. Bayern need re-energising and re-organising, but they also need re-arrogantising, and no, they don’t have to care that “re-arrogantising” isn’t a word.

So Kovac had to go. For a start, he’d never use the word “re-arrogantising”; for an end, he’d certainly never be part of it. But Tactically Naive salutes him for his radically naturalistic interpretation of the role of Big Club Manager. Hopefully the Oscars take heed.

The Premier League is over! Almost.

It was a strange weekend in the Premier League. A lot of the individual results were quite interesting, but the picture at the top of the table is congealing fast.

Liverpool’s late winner at Aston Villa kept the gap to Manchester City at six points, and more importantly kept the THIS IS IT, WE’VE GOT THIS, FINALLY, HERE WE GO, IT IS INEVITABLE, BIG JURGEN COMING THROUGH, THIS YEAR IS OUR YEAR feeling humming along at 1 million percent. Perhaps the long process of summoning a title challenge into being through sheer desperation is finally approaching a close.

Meanwhile wins for Leicester and Chelsea, and a draw for Arsenal, extended the gap between fourth and fifth out to another six points. That gap looks even bigger than the one at the top, because Arsenal are bad and every team below Arsenal is worse.

There is, of course, still room for chaos. Manchester City go to Anfield next Sunday in what experts are calling an “all-the-pointser.” If City win, Liverpool go into their chaotically busy winter with the hot breath of the champions on their neck. It’ll follow them to Qatar, to the Club World Championship. It’ll follow them back again. It’ll follow them everywhere. (A Liverpool win and the season world is over, obviously.)

Equally, Leicester’s and Chelsea’s smooth starts could stutter, or Arsenal could fire Unai Emery into the sun and appoint Brendan Rodgers or Frank Lampard, or Manchester United could [message lost]. All sorts of things could happen. You could fall off the chair that you’re sitting on right now …

… careful.

But that top four feels right, on the basis of what has happened and what seems likely to happen. Particularly if the other notional big teams start making changes or rebuilding towards next season. Ditching Emery might send Arsenal rocketing back up the table, but more likely it would mean half a season of working things out for next time around. Of trying to persuade Aubameyang and Lacazette to stay. And maybe a tilt at the Europa League if they haven’t accidentally fallen out of it by then.

Look, we’re not going to say definitively that the Premier League needs a City win next week. But on the off chance Liverpool do take all three points, then Tactically Naive will be getting right into the relegation battle. Time to start cooking up some Watford takes, just in case.

Two goals from the halfway line? Two?!

Let us consider the goal from the halfway line. Of all the various forms of Great Goal, it is perhaps the easiest to dismiss. Flowing team moves, thumping drives, flying volleys, mazy dribbles … all have something unstoppable about them. But the goal from halfway always has a strong air of goalkeeping negligence; a sense of a door left unlocked.

Oh no, whatever could we have done?

You could have stood 10 yards to your left, mate.

But perhaps this is unfair. Perhaps much of the unstoppability is hidden from view. The reason they don’t happen all the time is twofold: one, it’s quite hard to actually kick the ball into the goal from that distance, and two, there’s rarely a good moment. Keepers are usually standing where they’re supposed to stand, or close enough. Who even checks?

The genius, then, lies not just in the execution but in the realisation that there is, in this moment, something to be executed. It’s not a door that’s being left open but a tiny window, way up high, that nobody even really knew was there. Just a crack. But just enough.

At least, that’s what Tactically Naive thought before we saw the video below, in which Montedio Yamagata’s Shun Nakamura and Tatushiro Sakamoto score two such goals in 90 seconds. Now we’re back to blaming the keepers. What the hell.

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