Bayern are three days away from the start of the preseason for 2019-20. With a barrage of departures and a busy transfer window ahead, what should our expectations be for the upcoming campaign?
Regardless of what you personally thought of it, Bayern’s 2018-19 was a rocky one. Some fans argue that winning a domestic double is a remarkable achievement however it came. Others talk of a bittersweet mood, not least brought about by the long spells in which the team did not really seem like it was playing exciting, dominating football.
My impression is that the players and the staff share the latter view. Joshua Kimmich said in an interview with SportBild that no player could be 100% happy with how the season went. “Dortmund helped us, and we didn’t march in the cup”. And while Uli Hoeneß has made no secret of how much the incessant questioning of Bayern’s performance has annoyed him, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge paints a picture of much more caution and scepticism.
I think that neither extreme is particularly beneficial. There are no laurels to rest on, but no fire in the house either.
Les grandes equipes
Perhaps the single greatest factor staining the 2019 double is Bayern’s early exit from the Champions League. Bowing out against the eventual winners may act as a slight palliative, but the conclusion remains that it is unbecoming of die Rekordmeister – perhaps even unacceptable – to be toppled in such fashion from Europe’s premier competition. Carlo Ancelotti endured plenty of scrutiny when Bayern broke their semifinals streak in 2016-17.
Make no mistake: Bayern will give the Champions League increased focus in 2019-20. Everyone, from the management to the players, to the fans, is thirsty for European glory. You could even say, gauging from the comments after the past season, that a momentous reclaim of German titles does not suffice.
Transition is no more
Many fans and commentators insisted tirelessly that 2018-19 was a season of transition for Bayern. Some even hinted that expectations should be lowered accordingly. Well, the outward bit of the transition is all but over. Not only did Franck Ribéry, Rafinha and Arjen Robben leave. James Rodríguez opted to ask the suits not to exercise the purchase clause and Mats Hummels completed a surprise return to Borussia Dortmund. Jérôme Boateng might also leave.
Suffice to say then, that the team has sustained some heavy losses. As it stands today, Bayern is the Bundesliga team with the least outfield players in the squad at 17. And while a short squad might be a good thing in some respects, Bayern’s squabbles with injuries are a stern deterrent for having too short a squad.
First things first
Now, Bayern secured the signings of Lucas Hernández and Benjamin Pavard before the end of last season. This, in days of yore, used to be how die Roten conducted their business. In today’s market, that has become difficult. We have become all too familiar with myriad rumours linking players to Bayern. Then, and almost invariably, either the club pulls out or the player decides they don’t want to come. I will not address those rumours here.
However, it remains clear that Bayern still have much work to do in the transfer window. This is the first thing we should expect. More signings. The wings are the obvious problem spot, but left-back and backup striker also raise eyebrows, even with Jean-Fiete Arp coming in. The centre-back position might also present a problem, but it’s one where Javi martínez can provide solutions. Additionally, if the club don’t sign another CB, it might give Lars Lukas Mai a shot at a solid place in the first team. I think he deserves it.
The signings will conclude the administration’s part of the effort. Come the end of July, hopefully, the squad will be final and Niko Kovač will have to get to work.
The first order of business is establishing a system. Conflicting reports have pointed to Kovač favouring a three-man defence line, a 4-2-3-1 and even orders from upstairs to adopt a certain playing style. We know that Kovač indeed played three at the back at Frankfurt. With Bayern’s options in midfield, I reckon he would be well-advised to keep the four-man scheme. A 3-4-3, 3-5-1-1, 3-5-2 or anything remotely similar might come in handy in specific games, but it should not be the system of choice.
This is a critical part of Kovač’s second season in charge. A while ago, when I spoke to Ezequiel Daray, he asserted that most Bayern managers generally cruise along with the way the team has played before them in their maiden season. After that, they start making changes and tweaks to mark the team with their signature. This climate is part of what afforded Kovač a second chance at the helm.
However, Kovač should not be out to reinvent the wheel. Not only because it is inconvenient but because he’s proved that he is more of a pragmatist. He knows that Bayern cannot afford to fall further behind the English teams, Real Madrid, Barcelona and the rest of them. He will need to make his squad competitive at the highest stage.
This leads me to my next point.
Bayern’s ability to take a step back into the European elite will be determined mainly by the choices of the technical staff and the board. The combination of their efforts is the first and most crucial step towards reclaiming that arguably lost spot. In the face of ever-inflating market prices, the lure of figureheads like Pep Guardiola in England, and the overblown amounts of cash in the other big leagues, the challenge is sizeable.
If 2018-19 was a phase-out of the remnants of Bayern’s treble generation, 2019-20 is when the club strikes back. At least on paper. There are boxes to be ticked in every area of operation, and it remains to be seen how much of a makeover the “Bayern way” requires to restore their European credentials.
Last season was hard, and this one doesn’t look to be much easier. But have faith! At least until the transfer window closes.