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What went wrong with Bayern Munich during their loss to Borussia Dortmund?

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The best description of Bayern’s performance? Confused.

Borussia Dortmund v Bayern Muenchen - Bundesliga Photo by Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images

Will the real Thomas Müller please stand up?

Thomas Müller is no stranger to what Carlo Ancelotti is asking him to do. Between drifting around in the middle and combining with Robert Lewandowski or attacking wide as a winger like he does for Germany, Thomas Müller is a great player. He can play this role that Ancelotti is asking of him.

For some reason trying to put the two together causes everything to fall apart. Thomas Müller doesn’t have a Bundesliga goal to his name and the season is already a third over. He’s also barely scored outside the league. While Borussia Dortmund does deserve credit for putting him on ice in this game with their 3-man backline, Müller is better than the way he’s playing now and he needs to actually perform. At a certain point, you need to start asking whether Müller needs to be on the bench for a while despite the fact he’s one of the best attacking players on the planet.

Bayern Munich lived, and died, by the cross

For the vast majority of the game, Bayern Munich had one attacking plan: overload the left with David Alaba and Franck Ribery and pump in cross after cross into the box for Müller and Lewandowski. While Ribery and Alaba were up to the challenge, the strategy itself was half-baked.

Dortmund’s 3-man backline ensured that while two of the trio covered Lewandowski and Müller the third, usually Sokratis, was able to clean up the danger again and again. That tactical stagnancy made Bayern Munich predictable and allowed Dortmund to focus on shutting down the Bayern left early. Without wide outlets, Bayern weren’t able to control the game against a compact Dortmund high press nor were they able to create sustained penetration in the Dortmund half.

Douglas Costa’s introduction in the second half gave Bayern a more balanced attack but again that third free centerback was freely allowed to clean up second balls and close out crossing lanes. Bayern Munich simply never adapted their approach and it cost them.

Philipp Lahm should not be starting anymore

It’s time to make it official. Philipp Lahm is done. He’s 32 and this season he has fallen off the proverbial cliff. His defense is shambolic, he’s easily beaten like he’s never been in his career, and his ability to control the right side on his own is gone. If Carlo Ancelotti is going to rely on Thomas Müller to play freely and drift inside, they need a controlling presence on that right side. Lahm isn’t showing that he’s capable of being that player anymore.

Whether it’s Rafinha or Joshua Kimmich or a complete tactical change, Ancelotti needs to figure out how Bayern Munich is going to balance their attack when they play with Lewandowski and Müller in the middle.

Bayern Munich needs midfield balance

Between Thiago Alcantara and Xabi Alonso, Bayern Munich have some very good possession oriented talent in midfield. But it was telling this match that the more aggressive of the two was the aged red-head. That’s not a recipe for success. While Joshua Kimmich was invisible for much of the game (an effect induced by quality defense from Mario Götze), neither of the other midfield options for Bayern really bought into taking up the attacking slack.

This resulted in separation between the Bayern midfield and their attacking threats. Only with the introduction of Renato Sanches was Bayern able to control the midfield and create links with their attacking threats. It was just too late in the match to break down a potent Dortmund defense.

How Important is Team Identity?

Play style and team identity is one of those nebulous concepts that’s hard pin down. Does it really matter to winning and is it ok not to have one? Right now, Bayern Munich look lost. They don’t play possession football and they also don’t play on the counterattack. They’re somewhere in the middle, drifting from one to the other with no apparent focus to their efforts. Strikers push high and attack weak areas while the centerbacks pass around trying to build out of the back.

No one seems to be on the same page with respect to the gameplan. Whether’s that the fault of the coach or the fault of the team is impossible to know, but right now it’s costing Bayern Munich precious points at a time when Dortmund is rising and RB Leipzig is staying strong.