Was it injuries that ultimately ended Bayern Munich's UEFA Champions League run this season?

Joern Pollex

Bayern Munich players missed a significant portion of time this season due to injury. Was it injury that ultimately ended their Champions League run?

With two games left in the season, it's time to get a little retrospective. If you had to pick one work to describe the 2013/2014 Bayern Munich season, what word would you choose?

If you choose the word injury, you win a pie. If you didn't, you win something else, but it won't be as spectacular. Maybe a hex nut.

And injury more then anything else was probably the death knell for this Bayern Munich team. While they started the season tactically in their 4-1-4-1 shape and stuck with that shape for much of the Hinrunde, it was clear from the outset that there were issues. Bayern Munich were frequently exposed on the counterattack while using it, and with the glut of injuries, patching holes and or moving pieces around was nearly impossible for Pep Guardiola.

When Pep Guardiola addressed those issues over the winter-pausen, it's solution was to bring back the double pivot and the 4-2-3-1 in an effort to build from the back and restrain sides from being able to catch them out in transition play. The choice to return to the double pivot is a team oriented move though, and what really became clear as the season wound down was that the double pivot wasn't building effectively and it wasn't defending effectively. Players would restrain themselves by playing deep and attacks would falter with little help through the middle. Or both pivot players would integrally be involved in attack and the defense were caught out in rapid transition. And those problems chained down the field affecting Bayern Munich in attack.

But how much time did the Bayern Munich holding midfield miss with injury?

Players # Games Missed % of Season Missed
Javi Martinez 14 25
Thiago Alcantara 26 46
Schweinsteiger 15 27
Philipp Lahm 3 5
Toni Kroos 0 0

Between the five holding midfield players on this Bayern Munich team, they missed a combined 5,220 minutes of actual gameplay with injury (assuming they all played 90 minutes in the games they missed). They missed a combined 58 games. If you assume the standard rotation we expected out of this squad before the season started, it's basically the equivalent of missing two players for the entire season. And while they made due in terms of depth, filling in holes and plugging them as they opened, Bayern Munich were never able to effectively create a consistent dynamic holding midfield, especially in the second half of the season when all five players were available and the partners changed from game to game.

It's been a popular theme to compare this team to the squad Jupp Heynckes coached, and it rightly should be that way considering that's the standard Bayern Munich had to live up to following the first treble in German history. At the same time though, it's impossible to implement a broad vision for this team when the results are coming fast and furious while your players have little to no experience with each other in in-game scenarios. And where this Bayern Munich team had trouble in building their attacks from the back, they faced another huge issue in building the attack through the front, where key offensive players missed large portions of the season with injury.

Players # Games Missed % of Season Missed
Mario Götze 8 14
Franck Ribery 13 23
Arjen Robben 8 14
Xherdan Shaqiri 20 36
Thomas Müller 1 2
Mario Mandzukic 1 2
Claudio Pizarro 7 13

Those aren't minor misses for most players. Franck Ribery has missed almost a quarter of the season already and is most likely going to miss out on the final two games. Xherdan Shaqiri, while sometimes panned as a depth piece was often a large piece of the puzzle for Pep Guardiola, has missed over a third of the season. Combined with massive lost time for Mario Götze and Arjen Robben, that represents almost the entire core of the Bayern Munich attacking midfield.

With the instability in holding midfield, the instability in attacking midfield and players missing from practice for long periods of time, it's no wonder that when push came to shove against some of the best sides in Europe, Bayern Munich looked disjointed with few ideas beyond possession. While we've made much of the roster depth and the ability to patch holes all over the field, perhaps we've underestimated the problems with squad familiarity and the issue that bred as the competition got harder. In last week's win over Hamburger SV we saw Javier Martinez and Bastian Schweinsteiger back in their familiar double pivot pairing from last year. That game was one of the best controlled games from Bayern Munich in months, and while their were clear signs of rust in the system, it also represented a fundamentally brighter sign for this Bayern Munich team. Mayhaps, it's not that we should be asking who's the best to play in a role at all, but who can connect with his teammates the best.

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