Bayern Munich defender Dayot Upamecano may be fierce in the heat of battle, but Julian Nagelsmann says his centre-back is so peaceful he would hesitate to swat a fly.
Both Upamecano and Nagelsmann joined the Bayern ranks in the close season, leaving RB Leipzig to join the nine-in-a-row Bundesliga champions.
On Wednesday, Bayern take on Benfica in the third round of Champions League group games, looking to extend a dazzling start that has seen them beat Barcelona 3-0 and score a thumping 5-0 victory over Dynamo Kiev.
Manuel Neuer is in line for a 100th appearance in the competition with the Bavarians, which would make him the fourth player for the German giants to reach the landmark.
In front of Neuer, Upamecano is establishing himself as a fixture at the heart of the Bayern backline, and head coach Nagelsmann is convinced there is a hardman element to his game, as well as the nature of a gentle giant.
“Upamecano has taken an incredible development, he has an incredible defender’s gene,” said Nagelsmann.
“He loves to defend. Obviously, he has a good physique. He seems mad when looking at him but he’s the opposite. He is a really kind and peaceful person that has a great character. I like working with him. He’s rather shy and introspective but he is a great human being.
“He looks a lot more evil than he is. I think he has never in his life hit a mosquito on the wall and probably won’t do that in the future. Also from his family, he got a lot of positive things on his way while growing up. You still notice that today.”
— FC Bayern English (@FCBayernEN) October 19, 2021
Bayern thumped Bayer Leverkusen 5-1 in the Bundesliga on Sunday, scoring all their goals by the 37th minute as Robert Lewandowski and Serge Gnabry both hit doubles.
The result sent Bayern to the top of the table, their now familiar position.
“There’s always potential to improve,” said Nagelsmann. “The question is if you have to improve or stay at your level. We’d be happy if we could keep the level of the minutes seven to 45 from the Leverkusen game. Then we could have a great away game in the Champions League.”
Speaking in his pre-game news conference, the Bayern boss added: “I expect Benfica to be typically like a great team from Portugal with great footballers. They have two, three key players who I don’t want to mention here because then they could prepare accordingly. But basically they’re a team that like to have the ball and are used to it from their league. They had different possession stats in the first two Champions League games than in the league.”
Bayern have never lost to Benfica in European competition, posting seven wins and three draws in their 10 previous games, including two victories in the Champions League.
In the history of the European Cup and its subsequent Champions League guise, Bayern’s eight unbeaten games against Benfica (W5 D3) is the joint most achieved by one team against an opponent since the tournament began in 1955. That means a record could be achieved on Wednesday, surpassing Bayern’s eight-game undefeated record against Spartak Moscow (W5 D3) and Barcelona’s proud record in clashes with Lyon (W5 D3).
The omens are good: Bayern Munich are on a run of 19 unbeaten away matches in the Champions League (W15 D4), since losing 3-0 at Paris Saint-Germain in September 2017.
They must be wary, though, that Benfica drubbed Barcelona 3-0 last time out in this competition.
Nagelsmann addressed the question of whether the Bundesliga might be becoming boring, given Bayern are clearly so strong compared to their rivals. It would be a major surprise were they not to carry off the title again this season.
29 – FC Bayern have scored 29 goals in their first eight Bundesliga matches this season, equalling their own Bundesliga record at this stage of the season from the 1976/77 season. Attack. #B04FCB pic.twitter.com/vqUrjhiWCX
— OptaFranz (@OptaFranz) October 17, 2021
“I don’t know, I’m on the other side now,” said Nagelsmann, previously boss of a Leipzig team that fought to challenge the Bavarian giants. “I think it is always easier to do everything yourself to be successful and not get into whining mode. I always acted like that and I think it’s better that way.
“Of course, it is easier to speak from my position as Bayern manager now. It is easier managing a team with this quality, this greed and the desire to confirm your victories. I think that our team is being rated unfairly, leaving out the lack of tension in the league.
“But first, you have to give credit if a team is able to become champions 10 times in a row and still having this greed after [the treble-winning campaign of] 2020 and wanting to continue. I think it is remarkable to talk about our effort of character and not just the quality that we have, that’s for sure.”