Bayern’s self-inflicted mess could cost them the Bundesliga

Bayern’s self-inflicted mess could cost them the Bundesliga

There are four weeks left in the race for the Meisterschale and anyone who only casually follows the Bundesliga will assume they know what’s going to happen to Bayern Munich next.

Yet outright assuredness that an 11th successive title is now virtually guaranteed has not permeated the ranks of Bayern supporters themselves. Far from it. This season is too unpredictable, too capricious. In other words, it’s not very “Bayern-like” (an English-sounding expression that has worked its way into German language).

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Look at the past few matchdays, since just before Bayern’s bosses dismissed Julian Nagelsmann in favour of Thomas Tuchel. The lead at the summit of the table has changed hands no fewer than five times. From Bayern to Borussia Dortmund to Bayern to Dortmund and back to Bayern again. It feels a bit like football’s answer to musical chairs. Who will sit in the winning seat when the music stops on May 27?

Bayern have a one-point lead but the arithmetic still means that a single draw by the Rekordmeister could hand the title to the Black and Yellow. Given Bayern’s drama on and off the pitch, that is not a comforting position to be in.

You can make a coherent argument that of all the fixtures remaining for the two title protagonists, Bayern have the thorniest one of all in RB Leipzig at home on May 20. Leipzig may desperately need the win to try to haul themselves into next season’s Champions League, a minimum goal for them.

How did Bayern get themselves into this precarious position? Much of it has been self-inflicted, and right now, the decision to jettison Nagelsmann in late March appears more than questionable. Put it down to panic and timing after Bayer Leverkusen outdid Bayern right before the March international break, on the back of a Dortmund hammering of FC Cologne that lifted BVB into top spot for the first time in 3 ½ years.

The events of the following few hours were swift and remarkable. Nagelsmann going off skiing didn’t sit well and it so happened the highly regarded Tuchel, a man Bayern had dithered over before, was available there and then.

Nagelsmann had supposedly “lost the dressing room” in the minds of the higher-ups, but there seems to be scant evidence of that; in fact, his ideas and manner were a good fit for Bayern and impressed players such as Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka. They had lost only three Bundesliga games all season (against FC Augsburg, Borussia Monchengladbach and Leverkusen), were still alive in the Champions League and DFB-Pokal and about to face their chief rivals.

The two primary decision-makers — sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic and CEO Oliver Kahn — took a gamble that was certainly not in keeping with Bayern of old. But Tuchel’s availability and the danger of being seen to have lost out on him for a second time, coupled with doubts of their own about Nagelsmann, set in train a series of events that no one could have envisaged just a few weeks ago.

There has been no new-manager bounce: Bayern are 3W-2D-3L since Tuchel took over. Even the 4-2 win over Dortmund was more down to a horrific night at the office from their opponents. Confidence drained away after that game, with a series of uncertain performances and noticeable dips in form from most of the Bayern players that accompanied a shock Pokal exit, disappointment twice against Manchester City in the Champions League and just one point from two Bundesliga games against TSG Hoffenheim and Mainz.

Tuchel has so far been absolved of responsibility, with polls showing the bulk of Bayern fans blaming Salihamidzic and Kahn in that order for the Bayern crisis. In the six-minute summary of the 3-1 defeat in Mainz on ZDF’s weekly TV institution, das aktuelle Sportstudio, there were 11 closeups of the stunned pair, variously grimacing, yelling or generally looking ready to explode. After all, they were the ones who created this mess when there was no clamour for Nagelsmann’s departure.

A few months ago, Salihamidzic was being richly praised for his excellent squad-building work, with the signing of world star Sadio Mane seen as the jewel in the crown. Now, Bayern resemble a collection of good and in some cases very good individuals, but part of a flawed mix and flavour that’s missing key ingredients.

When Robert Lewandowksi left for Barcelona, most were beguiled by the idea that Bayern could succeed without a top-quality centre-forward by focusing instead on a fluid, versatile and dynamic attack featuring Mane, Leroy Sane, Serge Gnabry, Thomas Muller and Jamal Musiala. That mistake, the absence of an established finisher, must now be addressed this summer. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting is a fine backup and well-liked in the dressing room, but a team of Bayern’s ambitions needs a top-performing striker.

Tuchel also wants a true defensive midfield specialist next season, which is a slight indictment of the Kimmich-Goretzka partnership. Goretzka has been off form for weeks and will miss Saturday’s trip to Werder Bremen (12:30 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+) through suspension. To be fair to Kimmich, he put in a two-assist performance on Sunday in the nervy win over bottom club Hertha Berlin.

For various reasons, the jury is still out on summer signings Noussair Mazraoui and Ryan Gravenberch, but fellow offseason arrival Matthijs de Ligt has been a huge success and regularly shows his defensive and leadership qualities. Yann Sommer, signed out of necessity in January because of the season-ending leg fracture Manuel Neuer suffered while skiing after the World Cup, was always going to find it difficult when compared to a man whose interpretation of the goalkeeping position is hard to match.

Overall, Salihamidzic gets a passing grade at best for his management of the personnel available to first Nagelsmann and now Tuchel.

Right now, Bayern are in day-to-day mode. There’s a huge cloud hanging over Salihamidzic and Kahn, while Tuchel is charged with just getting the Rekordmeister over the finish line. Kahn incidentally says he will be staying put despite suggestions that his fate could be sealed at a supervisory board meeting later this month.

The narrative that Bayern are wobbling is very real, and although they now have control of the table again, no one can say with absolute conviction that their past four matches (at Bremen, home against Schalke 04 and Leipzig and away to Cologne) will end in victories. Very little at Germany’s biggest, most successful club in recent weeks has been “Bayern-like.”


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