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The Niko Kovač Conundrum: Where does the blame fall for Bayern Munich’s failures?

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Niko Kovač is feeling the heat, but Bayern’s poor performance this season is not entirely his fault

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As Bayern Munich has waffled of late, the loud — yet possibly premature — calls for Niko Kovač’s job have evolved from whispers to screaming from some subsets of the Bayern fan base and media. The difficult part to assess, however, is just how much of the blame should fall on the shoulders of the coach versus how much should be attributed to the players?

The truth lies in somewhere in between as both sides of this issue have played a huge part in pushing Die Roten to a disappointing and unsuccessful (by Bayern standards) run of play.

The Coach

It should not be a secret that there is doubt within the locker room and outside of it that Kovač is equipped to deal with the pressures of managing a team like Bayern. It is true that Kovač’s tactics have failed in translating to his team at times. It could also be argued that Kovač has shown either a resistance to change or a failure to acknowledge things that have worked in the past.

Most strikingly, Kovač’s reluctance to use Thomas Muller and James Rodriguez on the field together has left the team less creative and certainly with fewer playmakers who are capable of generating offense. Instead, a strong argument could be made that Kovač has over-rotated the team out of certain games. This rotation, while commendable as an attempt to keep the team healthy, has been an abject failure, since the team has neither remained fit, nor gained any sort of long-term consistency. Kovač’s struggles with player management could certainly be attributed to the poor results of his rotation policy.

Another example of Kovač’s questionable decision-making is the inability to commit to Thiago as the team’s “6.” The Spaniard had a tremendous run of play while sitting deeper, but prior to Thiago’s injury Kovač had decided to eschew that success in favor of playing Thiago at the “8” where Bayern has more capable players than it does at the “6.” Simply put, Thiago’s strength as an all-around player may should at least make him a consideration to sit deeper so that James Rodriguez or Leon Goretzka could help provide an offensive spark from the central midfield, therefore maximizing the strength of the overall XI.

If Kovač wanted to put his Champagne XI out, it is hard to discern exactly who that would include, since he has not consistently committed to any players aside of Joshua Kimmich, Manuel Neuer, David Alaba, and Robert Lewandowski.

The Players

The roster, as a whole, has under-performed. There certainly is not a single player who could look at himself and say, “None of this is on me.” The offensive players have — at times — shown a lack of creativity and finishing ability, while the defenders have been intermittently abhorrent. The midfield, which has typically been an area of strength for Bayern in recent years, has been inconsistent and sloppy, showing a lack of attention to detail when it comes to their defensive responsibilities.

Neuer has not been exempt from the squad’s run of poor play either. The world-class keeper has lost a bit of his luster on account of his performance this season, while he has not received much, if any, help from his defenders. In short, Neuer has been abnormally shaky throughout the season.

“Off the field” issues

One of the biggest themes of the season has been the multitude of issues that Kovač and his staff have dealt with off the field. Whether it was petulant, public outbursts like storming out of the locker room early or defiant looks of disgust by veterans when they are removed from games, public griping over playing time, or even the whispers of certain players wanting to leave Munich ASAP — it is clear that this is not the environment that Bayern wants to cultivate as a club.

Moving forward

Whether the responsibility for this season’s deficiencies will fall on Kovač, his players, or even upper management, the cold, hard truth is that someone will ultimately pay the price for continued failure.

Bayern needs to sort itself out both on and off the field to save its season. Die Roten can start making positives changes later today against Benfica, where Bayern will have a chance to take the first steps in its new season or possibly the last steps of the Kovač Era.

Whatever happens from here on out, both the players and the coach should be mindful of the consequences that lie ahead.