Bayern completed a fourth winless game with a tumultuous defeat to Borussia Mönchengladbach. The game epitomised everything that has been wrong with die Roten in the past month and signals the start of a mini-crisis.
How did we end up here?
Four winless games is indeed the threshold for a mini-crisis at a club like Bayern. Right now, Real Madrid are going through a similar thing. However, Madrid’s downfall can be easily attributable to the departures of Zinédine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo. The former drove a very good team that lacked a tactical plan to three straight Champions League titles. The latter carried the side by sheer force of about fifty goals every season. Of course, the Merengue crisis cannot be simply reduced to those two leaving. But you could point to a difficult season before it started.
Bayern’s plight, then, is a more complex one.
My argument is that every level of the club is responsible in some degree. And thus we start.
Both Uli Hoeneß and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge went out of their way to argue that it wasn’t necessary to splurge for a big-name signing. They seemed quite proud to snatch Leon Goretzka and Serge Gnabry for free. Indeed, they are good players. However, they are not the sort of players Bayern needed. And while I agree that the transfer sum of a player is hardly an indication to their actual value for a team, die Roten should have been more aggressive and smart in the transfer window.
Take, for instance, the left-back position. David Alaba has been the undisputed starter for ages. Juan Bernat never really managed to give the Austrian a run for his money, but he was there. If Bayern decided to sell Bernat, they should have shopped for a replacement. Somebody who not only serves as an understudy for Alaba, but also brings much-needed competition to the position. Bayern started the season with three players for two positions. That is hardly enough depth. With two of them out, only Joshua Kimmich remains.
The hiring of Niko Kovač could also be a talking point. Let’s not fool ourselves here: neither Hoeneß nor Rummenigge thought of Kovač as a first option. Hoeneß spent most of last season trying to convince Jupp Heynckes to stay on board for another year in order to wait for Julian Nagelsmann. Rummenigge wanted Thomas Tuchel, but the club was too late and Tuchel signed for Paris St.-Germain instead.
Now, I’m not boarding the #NikoRaus train. But I will argue that he was not the club’s first choice. They slept on the decision of who should replace Heynckes.
That’s not to say the Croatian is free of blame. He started really well. The team appeared refreshed and with a new gearset, sporting a newfound balance between attack and defence.
Rotation seemed to be the name of the game for Kovač. However, his plan was quickly turned on its feet by injuries. Kingsley Coman and Corentin Tolisso were presumably critical to his rotation scheme. Both are indeed sensitive absences from the squad, as is Rafinha.
Still, there is a certain sense that Kovač is rotating for rotation’s sake. You could be forgiven for assuming that many of the spots in any given game are taken by players simply because they did not start the previous game. James Rodríguez can play alongside Thomas Müller one game, then on the left the next, then all by himself behind Robert Lewandowski. You get the feeling that Kovač’s rotation is not determined by a given idea and a plan to use players in a certain way. Rather, it’s simply guided by the driving idea that you have to rotate or else players will be burned out by April.
I was reading a Twitter argument the other day. It was a classic disagreement between people who insist on blaming Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry for everything that goes wrong in a game, and those who still see value in the pair. Regardless of your stance on the issue or mine, there was one comment that seemed to bring at least some fans together.
Robben and Ribéry believe. They put their heart and soul into playing for Bayern. They run and fight for every ball and every chance. And right now, the only other player I can think of that does something remotely similar is Joshua Kimmich. Now, I get that different players have different personalities. I can’t expect everyone to be a spearheading soldier that is positively vehement about every aspect of play. But you do get the feeling that some in the squad are lacking that flame that ignites epic campaigns – like in 2013. They just don’t care, dare I say.
In addition to that, there is what German media have started to report about the mood in the dressing room. Echoing his tantrums against Zidane in Madrid, James is said to be deeply dissatisfied with his playing time. He feels entitled to a starting spot every game, and will not mince words or gestures to indicate as much. Nevermind actually putting in the performances to justify that sense of entitlement; he’s more concentrated in voicing his discontent.
The club would be ill-advised to go into a knee-jerk reaction and fire Kovač. There are several reasons for this.
There has been speculation that discontent in the dressing room has meant that the players are making Kovač’s bed. If this is the case, it means that the players know they are essentially in control. They can force the board’s hand and essentially defeat the authority of the manager. Firing Kovač would add to that precedent and it adds petrol to the fire.
If this is not the case, then we are dealing with the consequences of the aforementioned negligence of the board, and a terrible mental slump. A few months ago, I argued on our old Bayern Central site that 2017-18 felt like 2012 all over again. But 2018-19 is not like 2013. The players still look complacent, unable to put chances away and completely disconnected from that feeling of hunger many of them voiced after last season and the World Cup.
It is by no means time to sound the alarms and speak of cataclysm. Bayern could easily bounce back with more than a few consecutive wins. However, it is time to ask questions of everyone involved. From Hoeneß and Rummenigge, down to Kovač and the players, everyone has to get their act together. And for that, it is crucial thay they see the chronic and acute problems of a squad that will not change until December, at the soonest. Until then, the manager and the players must sort themselves out internally and start clawing back together.