Regressing to the mean
Bayern Munich were pitiful today. The dominant run to start the season is now a thing of the past. The 7-game winning streak to start Niko Kovac’s run papered over the cracks in this Bayern team that have appeared over the last few seasons. Chaotic defending, rudderless attacking and a general lack of identity came to the fore against a solid but inferior opponent. Poor individual performances reminded everyone why this team has failed to make the next step to Champions League glory since 2013. This does not come down to Kovac alone, but he will need to put his stamp back on this side. He is going to have to tighten his grip and probably tick off a few players along the way.
The old guard are not good enough
Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and Javi Martinez were atrocious today. Their frustrations with playing time and ego are unwarranted and even harmful at this point. Robbery were abysmal on the wing, other than Robben’s early assist to a wide-open Mats Hummels and a couple decent crosses. Ajax was able to pack the box and focus on Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller, as neither of the legendary wingers were able to pose much of a threat. Similarly, Javi Martinez made it clear why he has found himself behind Thiago in the pecking order at defensive midfield. He was too slow and hung Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels out to dry on multiple occasions. There were times I actually forgot he was on the field. He is no longer the shield he used to be and his role should be off the bench, not starting significant matches. The Rekordmeister need to rip off the Band-aid and relegate these three to the bench, or they will pay the price in the knockout rounds. Despite the risk of losing factions in the locker room, Kovac will have to show ruthlessness to take this team to the next level.
Too little too late
For reasons unbeknownst to me, the Croatian manager waited until the 60th and 74th minute to bring on James and Serge Gnabry respectively, while Robben and Ribery toiled on the wings. Despite the fact that the team was crying out for pace, creativity and a finishing touch, Gnabry and James were forced to wait their turn and Leon Goretzka was left on the bench all together, while Martinez remained on the field despite the urgent need for a goal. The German winger and Colombian playmaker provided an instant spark and grew into the game beautifully, keeping the Ajax defense on their heels. Although they were unable to provide a decisive moment, they could have and should have been on the field terrorizing the Dutch back line from the beginning. Rotation is necessary and will help to mitigate the current injury crisis, but it has to be done within reason. Gnabry and James need a run of games to cement themselves in the first XI sooner rather than later.