It was a whirlwind of a Hinrunde to say the least for Bayern Munich. When the smoke cleared (in more ways than one - sorry Carlo!), the Reds had a familiar manager (looking more brilliant than ever), a renewed tenacity, a quality backup for Manuel Neuer and menacing depth. Our round table of inspired contributors have kicked around some of their thoughts in a retrospective look at the first half of the season.
Tom Adams: Although he didn't take the helm until midway through the first half of the season, Jupp Heynckes has completely reinvigorated Bayern Munich and has got them firing on all cylinders. More importantly, he's got the players in the squad believing in themselves again, which had been noticeably absent under Carlo Ancelotti for the opening stages of the season. Heynckes' man management has been incredible, too. A lot of players that were experiencing slow starts to the campaign have turned their fortunes around for the better — namely James Rodriguez, Jerome Boateng, and Arturo Vidal.
Joshua Sampson: While Robert Lewandowski is proving to the world that he is the best striker on planet Earth, someone else gets my pick for the first-half MVP: Joshua Kimmich. “The kid” is on another level this season as he continues to cement himself as the present and foreseeable future right-back of the German national team and FC Bayern. To put in perspective how good Kimmich is playing, think about the number of people stating that they wish Phillip Lahm was still playing. Not many! That is because Kimmich is teaching a masterclass on how to play right-back. With ten assists in 27 matches for FC Bayern in all competitions this season, Kimmich is my first-half MVP.
George Rudnik: Plenty of candidates for this one, including Robert Lewandowski, Mats Hummels, Sven Ulreich and Kinglsey Coman, but I have to give this one to the savior that rode in on the white horse to save Bayern's season, Jupp Heynckes. The 2013 triple-winning coach came in and immediately stabilized and mended a fractured and disjointed team in absolute record time, posting a 14-1-1 record across all competitions. He is winning, he is rotating, and, most importantly, he has put a smile on the players' faces again. Let's call this knight in shining armor, Sir Jupp!
George Rudnik: Yes, he is a former starting goalkeeper who is (age-wise) in the prime of his career, so it shouldn't be surprising that he is capable, but Sven Ulreich had acquired a reputation of making the occasional gaffe at the worst possible time. When Manuel Neuer went down with a long-term injury back in the middle of September, many a fan hung their head, thinking that Bayern's chances to catch Dortmund were over. He has improved tremendously since then, and appears to have gotten an additional boost from Heynckes. Sven has come up with crucial save after crucial save across all competitions, and even co-leads the Bundesliga with six clean sheets, despite only playing 12 games.
Tom Adams: The Hoffenheim duo and how well they've done. Coming into the season, it would've been easy to assume that neither Niklas Süle nor Sebastian Rudy would be seeing a great deal of minutes in a star-studded midfield and back line, but the two have been impressive when they've been called upon, which has been quite often, especially for Süle. Injuries have unfortunately plagued both Bayern's midfield and back line, so the two have seen increased minutes in the opening half of the season, especially Süle, given the injury problems that Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng have suffered. Süle made a total of 21 appearances across all competitions (16 starts), adding a goal and two assists, while Rudy also made a total of 21 (12 starts) appearances, tallying one assist. Eventually, one of Rudy's specialty volleys is going to find its way into the back of the net!
Joshua Sampson: Not drawing Arsenal in the Champions League. In all seriousness, Sven Ulreich for me gets the nod. When Manuel Neuer went down, Ulreich stepped in and stumbled. After a string of poor performances, almost every FC Bayern fan thought goalkeeping would be the Achilles’ heel for the Bavarians. But as the spotlight shone brightly on the former Stuttgart man, Ulreich stepped up and rose up from the dead — or back of the net — to become one of the best goalkeepers in the Bundesliga. #SvenTheWall is a legitimate hashtag now on Twitter. Didn’t see that one coming.
Joshua Sampson: This doesn’t boil down to a single player or coach (*cough* Carlo *cough*) for me. However, it does simmer down to something that affects multiple FC Bayern players: injuries. Heading into the season, everyone prayed that “Robbery” would stay healthy this season. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Additionally, Thomas Muller picked up an injury, Neuer suffered yet another foot injury, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels both got injured throughout the first half and David Alaba suffered an injury spell as well. Though we are in the driver’s seat in the Bundesliga and have a favorable match-up in the Champions League, the amount of injuries at FC Bayern this first half is undoubtedly the biggest disappointment and frustration this year.
Tom Adams: That Champions League night in Paris. Even though it may have been Ancelotti's proverbial last nail in the coffin, the nature of the defeat was pretty devastating. Everything that was wrong with Bayern under Ancelotti was highlighted during that loss, and the uproar for leaving Boateng, Hummels, Franck Ribery, and Arjen Robben on the bench was completely justifiable. Retrospectively, that loss ultimately kept Bayern from finishing first in the group heading into the knockout stages of the Champions League, but we still have a favorable matchup against Besiktas, considering some of the other opponents we could've been drawn against. Seeing what we did to PSG at the Allianz Arena just begged the question: Would we have fared differently if Ancelotti had already been sacked prior to that first match in Paris, or even if he had just fielded our strongest eleven?
George Rudnik: This one isn't even close: Carlo Ancelotti! By a country mile! I was disappointed that Bayern wasn't able to keep Pep Guardiola for another few years, because I was a big fan of the direction he had taken the team, but my frown was turned upside down when they announced Carlo as his successor. What was there not to like? A big-name coach, popular with players, and a Champions League pedigree on top of all that? Last season wasn't too bad, but I think everyone agrees that he just mailed it in this year. He didn't seem to care anymore, ran really lax practices -- to the point that some key players had to organize their own at an undisclosed location -- and completely lost the locker room. His antics -- and lineup -- in Paris confirmed that he just plain gave up.
Tom Adams: Plain and simple, since I've rambled quite a bit already, Jupp's first match in charge after taking over — a 5-0 rout of SC Freiburg at the Allianz arena. The convincing performance put the first foot forward for Heynckes, cementing the feeling of rejuvenation as Bayern went on to win 8 matches in a row after that, with the only real hiccup coming in the form of the 2-1 loss to Borussia Monchengladbach.
Joshua Sampson: After the 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain, Ancelotti exited Bavaria with little to no pride. With his successor being unclear, the man, the myth and the legend Jupp Heynckes came out of retirement to rejuvenate a dysfunctional FC Bayern side. Heynckes instantly righted the somewhat sinking ship and brought new life and confidence to every player on the FC Bayern roster. Still shocked how he didn’t win “Time’s Person of Year” award this year.
George Rudnik: Even though the return game against Paris St. Germain at the Allianz Arena was a nice statement to show everyone that Bayern's demise had been greatly exaggerated, it wasn't as big a "moment" as the two games in a span of three days against RB Leipzig in October. Jupp Heynckes had celebrated his triumphant return to the Bayern bench with three consecutive victories, but all were against mediocre opponents — SC Freiburg, Celtic Glasgow and Hamburger SV — and didn't really give an accurate picture of where the team stood. But, after a gripping win on penalty kicks in Red Bull Arena in the DFB-Pokal, it was followed up with a dominant 2-0 win at home.
In the end, it may have been stalwart Thomas Müller who provided the best summary on how Bayern shook off the early trauma to re-establish itself as a world power: “We are still Bayern.” After the club rebounded with a dominating November and December, I am not sure anyone will forget that any time soon.