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Why der Klassiker will shape the remainder of the season for Bayern Munich

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The locker room, the manager’s job and a lot more could be at stake in arguably the biggest matchup of the season thus far

Bayern Muenchen v Borussia Dortmund - Bundesliga
Players tussle during a corner
Photo by Alexander Scheuber/Getty Images Fuer MAN

Bayern Munich are facing various problems this season, which are glaringly visible on the pitch. Be it constant “brain farts” on defense, an unparalleled lethargy and lack of ideas in attack or an absence of a motivation of any kind, the team is undergoing an underwhelming phase of football.

And now we face Dortmund, who are literally flying on top of the Bundesliga. So what exactly are our main problems at this point? Let’s take a look.

An attack devoid of identity

Bayern’s attack is facing a problem that has plagued them consistently this season - their total shots amount to crazy numbers, but the shots on target are just disastrous in comparison. Looking at the stats during the Bayern vs Freiburg game and the Bayern vs Mainz victory just a week ago, we could surmise that Bayern should have outscored its opponents every game by at least three goals, but the results suggest otherwise. An underwhelming performance against Freiburg saw Die Roten register a meager six shots on target out of a total of 24; out of which only one managed to find its way back into the net. Absolutely scandalous.

Robert Lewandowski is working hard this season, just like he normally does. He just doesn’t get the support he deserves from the wings. Whenever Franck Ribery plays, the entire attack just slows down, and Arjen Robben isn’t doing great either. When looking at offensive contributions, we see that Ribery has done almost nothing. Transfermarkt cites his offensive contribution to be one assist in a total of 961 minutes of Bundesliga time this season. This is outrageous for a winger for what is touted as one of the big three clubs in the world.

Gnabry isn’t doing amazingly well, either, and that is more or less largely due to how little time he got on the pitch at the start of the season. His decision making in the final third is also highly questionable at times, and one can hope he only gets better as the season progresses.

James Rodriguez and Thomas Müller, meanwhile, are the conundrums. Niko Kovač clearly knows that they play amazingly well together (just watch Don Jupp’s regime, doubters!) but he has somewhat seldom paired them together this season. James is also getting increasingly frustrated with his playing time, and I would be too, if I were a player of his caliber. Add to this his ‘reluctance to offer Brazzo a handshake’ and you have one amazing player who wants to leave Bayern for a huge international rival.

These issues have to be addressed soon, but Coman’s absence could prove rough against Dortmund, a dynamic attacking side. One can only pray that our attack steps it up.

The clueless midfield

Make no mistake, Bayern has one of the best midfield groups in the world, if not the very best. In Corentin Tolisso, Leon Goretzka, Thiago Alcantara, James, and Renato Sanches we have players brimming with potential and class. Unfortunately, our current situation leaves us with two of those five players injured (Tolisso and Thiago) and a sole defensive midfield option in the ridiculously slow Javi Martinez.

Martinez is obviously a very experienced DM, and was one of the main reasons Bayern won the 2013 Champions League, but the 30-year old is definitely not getting better with age. His sometimes absurd runs into the final third leaving acres of space behind (witnessed against Ajax) coupled with his lack of speed on-and-off the ball make him more of a lineup liability. Sure, he did well against AEK, but here we’re talking about a Greek club that consider themselves lucky to even have qualified for the Champions League Group stages.

Sanches, on the contrary, has definitely underwent a resurgence against Kovač. Bad passes are very rare, and his darting runs into the opposition third make him a menace for opposition defenders. A little refining in decision making, and he could have a bright future. Unfortunately, the attacking midfield is where we have tight competition, with James and Müller also vying for the same position.

Goretzka has the makings of a brilliant player. He could be our go-to DM as he has experience playing in that position for Schalke. Schalke being a team that rely largely on the counter, Goretzka found himself comfortable darting in from deep after winning a duel to put the ball behind the net. But guess what? This isn’t Schalke. This is a huge possession based club that holds the ball more often than not, and faces defensive “Let’s park the bus!” sides. I, for one, feel that if Kovač instills more defensive discipline in Goretzka, we could have a solution to the DM role.

The disturbing defense

Bayern’s defensive performance against AEK was a huge relief to many fans. Bayern didn’t concede to a Greek, minnow club at home, but such is the state of the Bayern defense that even this seems like monumental achievement. Defensive “brain farts” have plagued us throughout the season, where a few ridiculous momentary lapses in concentration cost us and we ended up scraping past with a win, draw, or even losing to an inferior side. Case in point? The games against Augsburg, Hertha Berlin, Borussia Monchengladbach, Mainz, and Freiburg. The exact reason to this is unknown, but Kovač has to look into this issue and make sure it is resolved before bigger teams like Dortmund can “exploit and destroy” the back line.

Niklas Süle is our go to CB at the moment. His amazing vision, blistering speed and huge demeanor make him a formidable force to reckon with. Boateng and Hummels can be among the top defensive pairings in the world on their best day, but they have often been mistake-prone this season. If addressed, though, the duo could be the cause of a potential victory over Dortmund and some other big clubs in the future.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: Süle is so good at his defensive duties that he could even be our CDM solution, a role in which we’ve seen him excel once last season.

Finally, there are a few matters off the pitch that are concerning and need addressing to.

The manager and the players have to LEARN from previous mistakes

It has almost become a customary thing for Bayern players to come back after every underwhelming performance and tell us that ‘they made too many mistakes’ or afforded the opponents ‘too much space’ and that they will ‘show a reaction in the next game’, and so on. What we are seeing, however, is the same team chugging along with a lack of passion; with the essentially just papering over the numerous cracks.

If Kovač is genuinely being disliked by members of the roster, and there are some issues between the players and manager, those need to be sorted out quickly because the situation has potential to escalate. If Bayern ends up sacking its manager, it could face huge problems within the squad.

Kovač has a lot of work to do, and I think Bayern needs to go a little easy on the coach. After all, he’s managed to do decently well in the Champions League with depleted wings and an injury ridden midfield.

The Brazzo issue needs to be resolved

If (big if actually) it is indeed true that our players don’t take Hasan Salihamidžić seriously, then Bayern simply needs a change. A sporting director should be respected by the team players and should give a sense of comfort and confidence to the club. If him being here hinders any of this, he really should be shown the door as soon as possible.

Our medical department requires massive changes

Bayern being plagued by injuries has become almost normal at this point, and fans are actually relieved after every game if the team does not en up losing two or three players to long-term injuries. This is a really sad state to be in, and if any of this could be attributed to the medical department (I strongly believe so) then we need to introduce changes and bring about modern medicine and equipment, as well as staff who don’t use “goat hair” and “horse blood” as cures to ligament tears and angle fractures.

Comparing our medical department to say, FC Barcelona, it makes you wonder how their players manage to return so quickly from injuries. This should really concern the Bayern authorities, and it’s about time some action be taken to ensure we don’t get nicknamed FC Injury.

Looking ahead

Der Klassiker is going to be a joy to watch for the neutrals. It will be a tactical duel between a possession-based team that has dominated German football for years and an emerging counterattacking monster that is intent on ripping Europe to shreds.

For Bayern, this match could be the barometer that would indicate the direction the rest of the season is going to head. A loss could even lead to a change in manager, while a huge win would make the team’s confidence skyrocket and give the squad some much needed momentum.

So, is Bayern ready to reduce the gap in the table to just one point?