Anyone watching the Bavrians’ games in Europe would be forgiven for thinking that all is wel,l but there are significant issues in the Bundesliga
With six wins from six games and a goal difference of +19, Bayern Munich have set the record for the best-ever group stage performance in the Champions League.
European dominance has been the club’s main aim for the past few years as winning their own domestic title seemed like a box to be checked.
Seven league titles in a row made it look impossible for anyone to challenge Bayern domestically, with Europe offering the real test. This season, however, despite Bayern’s European dominance, things are not going to plan in their home competition.
Double-winning head coach Niko Kovac was sacked in November just a month after beating Tottenham 7-2 in the Champions League as a result of inconsistent performances in the Bundesliga.
Temporary replacement Hansi Flick had the best start of any coach in Bayern Munich history, winning his first four games with 16 goals scored and zero conceded to gloss over the problems which ended Kovac’s reign.
As seen with so many teams, a coaching change can provide a ‘new manager bounce’ but the problems are often far bigger than the man roaming around the technical area.
Two defeats in a row in the league has seen Bayern Munich slip to seventh in the table, seven points behind current leaders Borussia Monchengladbach – the latest team to take Bayern’s scalp. Last weekend’s loss to Gladbach was their fourth of the season in the league. In the past four seasons, they have never lost more than four games in a single campaign.
Flick has inherited Kovac’s problems, which sees the team rely on the goals of Robert Lewandowski far too much.
The Polish striker has been better than ever in 2019-20 with 27 goals in 22 games in all competitions, including 16 goals in his first 11 Bundesliga games this season. When Lewandowski is not on the scoresheet, Bayern struggle, which is exactly what happened in the 2-1 defeat to Bayer Leverkusen a fortnight ago and then again against Gladbach a week later.
Lewandowski’s fitness levels mean that he is almost never injured and therefore starts and finishes almost every game as his goals are crucial to the club’s success. Teenage understudy Jann-Fiete Arp has yet to make his Bundesliga debut and is struggling with his own injury problems, but even if he was fit, he is unlikely to feature.
Bayern have created a lot of chances this season and have the league’s highest Expected Goals [xG] with 36.01 expected goals, but their second-highest scorer in the league is Serge Gnabry with four goals. Only three other players – Ivan Perisic, Philippe Coutinho and defender Benjamin Pavard – have more than one league goal.
As well as not taking enough of their own chances, Bayern are conceding too many opportunities to their opponents. Flick initially stemmed the tide as his high-intensity counter-pressing approach won back the ball quickly and in decent positions, but the old failings returned after a few games. Veterans Jerome Boateng and Javi Martinez struggle to keep up that kind of relentless press game after game.
“We’re greedy up front. Of course, that entails a certain risk,” Thomas Muller told AZ . “But we want to make things as difficult for the opponent as possible, so we can have good and controlled offensive actions.”
First-choice centre-backs Niklas Sule and Lucas Hernandez remain sidelined and Boateng and Martinez do not have the speed or energy to play this sort of game – something which was cruelly exposed by the fast attacks of both Leverkusen and Gladbach.
Bayern Munich missed out on one of their main targets last summer as Manchester City signed defensive midfielder Rodri. As a result, they are still without a proper number six and have to play either Joshua Kimmich or Thiago in that role, which weakens the side elsewhere. When Leon Goretzka lines out in midfield, his natural instinct is to go forward and as a result he does not protect the back four.
Bayern’s bosses will decide on Flick’s future after their league game with Wolfsburg on December 21, choosing if they will continue with the caretaker coach after the winter break. If they do stick with Flick until the end of the season, they will need to help him address the club’s problems in the transfer window.
Sule is sidelined until the end of the season, while Hernandez hopes to return by the end of January. This should help ease the defensive burden somewhat, but Bayern are still short of a defensive midfielder, an acquisition that would allow whoever is in charge to achieve the club’s goal of another Bundesliga win and a deep run in the Champions League.