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Setting expectations: Realistic goals for Jupp Heynckes’ fourth tenure at Bayern Munich

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It’s not as easy as it looks.

Jupp Heynckes Returns To Bayern Muenchen As Head Coach Photo by Jan Hetfleisch/Bongarts/Getty Images

When Bayern Munich won the treble in 2012-13, the future seemed so bright. Having won all there is to win, venerated veteran coach Jupp Heynckes stepped aside. His successor, former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola, was a younger man with bright ideas who was supposed to take Bayern to the “next level.”

Fast forward four years, and things haven’t quite worked out for the Bavarians. Pep took over a Bayern team that had won everything and he kept it winning. However, his tenure was dogged by injuries that kept him from the grand prize, the Champions League. When Carlo Ancelotti was hired, it was hoped that he would provide the final push, something to get the Bavarians back to where they thought they belonged.

Now, over a year later, Carlo Ancelotti finds himself without a job and Bayern Munich seem to have come full circle. Jupp Heynckes is back, albeit as a caretaker. His assistant, Peter Hermann, was brought in from Dusseldorf. Hermann Gerland, having left the coaching position just a year before, put aside his youth center duties to rejoin the first team as an assistant.

The current situation

Jupp Heynckes takes over a Bayern Munich squad with many problems. While the squad he inherited from Louis van Gaal wasn’t a treble-winning side (or even a Bundesliga-winning side), it had all the ingredients to form a dominant team. The right mix of youth and experience already existed, the team had natural leaders, and whatever deficiencies were present could be rectified by an intelligent transfer window.

Today, the situation at Bayern Munich is very different. Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger are both gone, leaving the squad lacking both their performances and their leadership. Manuel Neuer and Franck Ribery are out with long-term injuries and won’t be available for much of the campaign, while age seems to be catching up to Arjen Robben. Finally, key players like Thomas Muller and David Alaba are hopelessly out of form and have been for well over a year.

Bayern Munich sit second in the Bundesliga table, 5 points behind a high-flying Dortmund side. In the Champions League, they are second in their group on goal difference, after a humiliating 3-0 defeat to Paris Saint-Germain in Paris. In the Pokal, a daunting fixture looms at RB Leipzig, just a little over two weeks away.

So, what can Bayern Munich realistically achieve? What does Jupp need to do in his fourth stint at the club?

Objective #1: Fix the defense

Fixing Bayern’s dysfunctional defense has to be Jupp Heynckes’ number one priority in his second tenure. Ever since Pep Guardiola took over at the club, Bayern Munich have been guilty of naive defending, especially in the Champions League against quality opposition. Devastating losses to both Real Madrid and Barcelona come to mind, but the true standout performance remains the debacle against PSG.

Bayern Munich haven’t been a good defensive side for a long time now. In the last 10 games against TOP opposition in Champions League knockouts (Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, and Atletico Madrid), the team has conceded 22 goals at 2.2 goals per game. Compare this to Real Madrid, a side not traditionally known for defending, who have conceded only 0.8 goals per game against similar quality opposition in the Champions League knockouts.

In more recent fixtures, Bayern have squandered 2-0 leads twice in a row in the Bundesliga, leading to dropped points where there all three should have been collected. It’s not as if the club has poor defenders - Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels are a World Cup winning center-back pairing and David Alaba is rated among the best left backs in the world. While no Philipp Lahm, Joshua Kimmich is no slouch either, being Germany’s starting right back.

A strong defense is the backbone of any title-winning squad, whether it be domestically or within Europe. If Jupp Heynckes wants to add to his silverware collection, then he will have to tackle this issue first.

Objective #2: Lay a foundation

This is more complicated and a difficult job to explain, and it relates to Jupp Heynckes’ role as a caretaker. His tenure is, by definition, temporary. It is understood that he will step aside at the end of the season for a new manager — possibly Julian Nagelsmann, although other names have been suggested.

For a transition to go smoothly, Heynckes has his work cut out for him. First of all, he has to address the issue of rapidly aging players. Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery seem almost past their sell-by date, while Arturo Vidal is on the wrong side of 30. Their successors are likely already on the squad - James Rodriguez, Kingsley Coman, and Corentin Tolisso all need minutes to show that they have what it takes to succeed.

As the squad composition changes, Jupp may need to figure out a new lineup. His traditional 4-2-3-1 may not be the best answer anymore. With Robbery’s decline Bayern might not find it viable to play as wide as they once did, so a narrow formation could be on the cards. With Sebastian Rudy, Jupp will also have a new kind of player to work with — a deep-lying playmaker like Xabi Alonso.

The tactical decisions that Jupp will make will determine the squad’s composition for the foreseeable future. To have truly fulfilled his role as a caretaker, Jupp will need to leave behind a strong foundation for his successor to inherit, whoever that may be.

Objective #3: Get underperforming players back on track

If anything personifies Bayern’s struggles at the moment, it is the plight of Thomas Muller and David Alaba. Both world-class players who set the world on fire under Pep Guardiola, their general standard of play has plummeted over the last 18 months.

David Alaba has struggled in his role as Bayern’s starting left back for a while now. Pep Guardiola’s emergency decision to use him as a center back in the back end of 2015-16 seems to have left a lasting impression, as the Austrian has underperformed ever since.

Thomas Muller meanwhile has not been the same since his penalty miss against Atletico Madrid. Carlo Ancelotti’s inability to figure out his best position hurt his consistency and playing time, and the player has effectively been in limbo for the better part of a year. Muller seems to lack confidence in his play and the team no longer seems setup to accommodate his unique set of skills — that of a raumdeuter.

Restoring these players’ confidence is necessary if Jupp Heynckes wants to return Bayern Munich to the highest level in world football. He has worked with them before - Muller played almost every game in the treble season, while David Alaba’s reputation as the world’s best left back came from his performances under Jupp. So if anyone can bring these players back into form, it’s Jupp.

Objective #4: Make a deep run in the Champions League

Bayern Munich’s reputation as a European powerhouse is in jeopardy. The treble was four years ago, and since then Bayern have failed to make a final even once. Defeats to Spanish teams in each of the last four seasons have further tarnished the club’s reputation on the European stage.

With the advent of new Premier League TV deal, things are only going to get harder for Bayern and the Bundesliga in general. In the last two European match weeks, Bayern’s 3-0 win over a 10-man Anderlecht remains the only win, with RB Leipzig’s draw with Monaco the only other respectable result. Bayern in particular have suffered due to their defeat to PSG and subsequent sacking of Carlo Ancelotti.

The Champions League is the biggest stage in European football, and Bayern cannot afford to have an off-year. If they do, then Real Madrid, Barcelona, PSG and the English clubs will all be eyeing unsettled players and try to lure them away with the promise of more money or greater competitiveness. Jupp Heynckes will need to do everything he can to make sure his team qualifies at least for the quarter-finals, and take it from there.

It is a tall order, but if the other three objectives are met then this should come automatically.

Objective #5: Win silverware

Now this may sound a little bit far fetched considering the start Bayern have had to the season, but the squad is still loaded with quality. When Heynckes last came to Bayern as a caretaker, only five games were left in the Bundesligsa. This time, he has more fixtures to work with.

It’s still only October, so with over 80 percent of the season remaining there is still enough time to turn the season around and compete for trophies. While a treble is almost certainly out of the question, Bayern should be in with a shout of winning every competition they are in, and Jupp is the man to guide them.