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Four observations from Bayern Munich’s draw with Hertha BSC

Identity is such a fickle thing

Hertha BSC v FC Bayern Muenchen - Bundesliga Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images

After the drama that has surrounded Bayern Munich all week, they desperately needed a win against Hertha BSC. They didn’t. Instead what they got was a dysfunctional performance, at times dominating and at others woefully inept as Bayern blew a 2-0 lead halfway through the second half, earning a 2-2 draw against Hertha BSC.

My name is Javi Martinez, you killed my father, prepare to die

The first 45 minutes of the match against Hertha BSC were as dominating a defensive performance as we’ve seen from Bayern Munich in many a year. At the center was Javi Martinez who returned to defensive midfield. In partnership with Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels, the more mobile Martinez was inimitable. He harassed and harried Hertha BSC for much of the first half, winning balls time and again and launching attacks forward. This was a brief glimpse of the Martinez-led Bayern Munich defense that won them a treble five years ago.

However for all their strength in the first half, their early second half performance belied a partnership that was green. When Hertha was able to get behind Martinez, Tolisso’s poor defensive showing exposed Boateng and Hummels who tried to compensate. Genko Haraguchi’s slalom run through the entire Bayern defense en route to Hertha’s first goal was proof enough of a set of players lacking familiarity with their positional relationships.

As Thiago ticks, so too does the Bayern Munich midfield

Despite Bayern’s showing in defense, their midfield still left a lot to be desired going the opposite way. Corentin Tolisso while solid in distribution was poor in playmaking. Too often he would shuttle play out to the wings quickly or attack into wide spaces on the dribble. This left Thomas Müller as the sole arbiter of attack in midfield.

When Thiago came on for Arjen Robben, it breathed new life into the Bayern midfield. They found themselves creating wide with Tolisso and driving through the center with Thiago while Martinez anchored the defense. They roundly controlled the game from that point forward, but without any offensive punch wide, Bayern struggled mightily to get the ball in front of goal.

It’s time to pull the plug on Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery

This is definitely indelicate given the serious injury Franck Ribery picked up in today’s match, but it’s time to say their careers are over. Arjen Robben was a shell of a performer today, always behind the ball, two steps too slow to break Marvin Plattenhardt. He notched just a single shot and just a single touch inside the box all game and this has been par for the season. How much of Arjen Robben’s form under Pep Guardiola there remains to be resurrected is something we could wait and never see materialize.

Robben’s decline over the past year hasn’t been done any favors by the strife and training practices that developed under Carlo Ancelotti. A new coach needs to mean a clean break and making it clear that he will be a supporting star should be paramount for Bayern Munich. How Bayern do that when they sold Douglas Costa and just lost Franck Ribery is the next question.

Which brings us to the matter of the Frenchmen. Ribery was Bayern’s only bright spot in the offensive third today. The remaining question isn’t whether he still has something to offer Bayern, but whether Ribery will ever be able to play soccer again given the potential severity of the injury.

Where does Bayern Munich go from here?

A performance coming four days after a coaching change and coming on the heels of a gruesome 3-0 loss, typically doesn’t carry much connotations for the future of a club. In this case it does.

The strife between Carlo Ancelotti and the players largely centered around their older core. And that older core floundered today under Willy Sagnol. This was a statement match for the likes of Ribery and Robben that they could still hang. This was their referendum.

It failed.

What they brought was bad offense, the worst Arjen Robben performance I can ever remember, a gruesome knee injury to Franck Ribery, and a jekyll-and-hyde defense. Whenever Bayern Munich actually get around to announcing a new coach, it has to be in conjunction with a major shakeup of this team’s identity and a new phase of their story.

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