It’s been five years since Bayern Munich last won a treble, but now that Jupp Heynckes is back, everything should fall into place. After all, Bayern have that same formula from the legendary 2013 season, without men like Pep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti mucking it all up. The team already leads the Bundesliga by 17 points and recently dispatched a hapless Dortmund side with a thumping 6-0 scoreline. Be scared Europe, be very scared.
Except, not really. Don’t get your hopes up for another treble. Here’s why:
Bayern Munich are not as good as you think
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: this current iteration of Bayern Munich is better than previous seasons. The team’s combination of depth, talent, and experience is perhaps unrivaled in the footballing world. However, several issues remain. Despite all the great results, all is not well with Bayern Munich.
The team is, very simply put, not performing at the level of a European champion—at least, not when it counts. Back in 2013, at this stage Jupp’s Bayern were steamrolling the Bundesliga and Europe alike, including a decisive 4-0 aggregate win over Antonio Conte’s record-breaking Juventus. That team had a chip on its shoulder from the year before and was a complete machine in Europe from April onward.
This current Bayern Munich struggled to beat a Sevilla team that is in 7th place in the Spanish league table. A 2-1 away win was far from the thumping victory analysts predicted for the Bavarians. In fact, it was the smallest margin of victory in the entire quarterfinals. Real Madrid got a 3-0 away win over Juventus, while Barca and Liverpool both secured home wins by a margin of 3 goals. Wasn’t Sevilla supposed to be the easiest team in the draw? What’s going on? Well, there are a number of factors . . .
#1: The Bundesliga is no longer the top league it once was
In contrast to 2013, there are no teams that can give Bayern a stern test anymore. League dominance means nothing, because the Bundesliga has been utterly drained of talent. Year after year of selling its best stars has left the German top flight a husk of its former self, and Bayern is feeling the effects. There is no way the Dortmund teams of yesteryear would have lost 6-0 to Bayern. There is no way that a team like Frankfurt could find itself in a European spot by the end of the season.
Every league has at least a few really good teams to give the front-runners a challenge. In Serie A, Napoli is pushing Juventus, while the likes of Roma, Milan, and Inter are all quality sides and fighting back. The EPL is deep: Manchester City and Liverpool can test themselves against Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, and Arsenal. Real Madrid and Barcelona have each other, and Atletico Madrid, Villareal, and Valencia are all quality teams fighting for a place at the top.
What does the Bundesliga have? Schalke? Would they even beat Arsenal? Dortmund? They couldn’t beat Red Bull Salzburg, RB Leipzig’s Austrian feeder club. Even if we compare the Bundesliga to Ligue 1, everyone’s go-to punching bag for non-competitiveness, could Schalke beat Monaco? Could Dortmund beat Marseille? Could RB Leipzig beat Lyon?
The current level of competition in the Bundesliga is so low that if you put Sevilla—who Bayern just barely beat away—in the league, they’d likely be in second place, and at least in the top 4. That’s a huge problem for Bayern—the same problem that PSG face. Good results in the Bundesliga are misleading. When it comes to Europe, the opposition is a class apart.
#2: Jupp Heynckes is coaching a team built for Carlo Ancelotti
Here’s another problem: the roster. Carlo Ancelotti wanted to setup his squad in a specific way, and Bayern’s management obliged him. The club sold off Douglas Costa and brought in a bevy of midfielders to run Ancelotti’s fabled 4-3-3 system. Now that Ancelotti is gone, Jupp Heynckes has the unenviable task of coaching a team that was never intended for a coach like him.
It’s apparent when you look at the strange imbalance inherent in Bayern’s squad. There are at least four high-quality midfielders competing for the sole midfield spot alongside Javi Martinez, while the team is dangerously thin on the wings. Bayern’s veteran duo, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, are old and underperforming, and Kingsley Coman is injured—and may be out for the rest of the season. This means that players like Thomas Müller and James Rodriguez have to play on the wing from time to time, hardly an ideal situation. After all, what is the point of having a striker like Robert Lewandowski if you can’t supply him the ball? (Sound familiar? Where was Lewandowski again in the first leg against Sevilla?) Meanwhile, Jupp’s kingpin Javi literally has no backup—what happens to the system without him?
I am not at all criticizing Jupp Heynckes or his tactics—he has been brilliant—but I am making an observation about the state of the team. There is an obvious mismatch between the kind of football the squad is built to play, and the kind of football its manager wants. When you compare Bayern’s situation with that of its finely tuned Champions League rivals, the contrast is striking. That brings me to my next point.
#3: Bayern’s European competition, especially Real Madrid, has improved dramatically since 2013
Back in 2013, Bayern Munich was the top dog. Ribery and Robben were the best wingers in the world. The combination of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez was the best midfield in the world. Philipp Lahm and David Alaba were the best fullbacks in the world (by far). Manuel Neuer was, well, Manuel Neuer. We didn’t have a Messi or a Ronaldo, but we didn’t need one. We had a world-class team.
Fast-forward to 2018, and so many things have changed. The best midfield is at Real Madrid. The best defenders are at Barcelona. The best wingers are at Liverpool. Just look at Mohammed Salah—38 goals in 43 appearances, that’s more than Robert Lewandowski. Messi and Ronaldo still exist. In fact, they haven’t slowed down at all—and Ronaldo has arguably become even more dangerous.
Europe’s elite have come a long way in the last five years, but Bayern have not kept up. Real Madrid have made the Champions League their bread and butter, winning it three times in four years—and Barcelona winning it the other year. Real have an iron mentality, one that sees them perform internationally at the highest level. In Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool have an underdog mentality and a great manager who is in sync with the team. Barcelona—well, they have Messi, but not only him. They are undefeated this season in the league and in Europe, and have conceded a mere 19 goals in 47 games. That’s less than half a goal per game!
These teams are better prepared for European competition, and it’s going to hurt Bayern come the semi finals. When you take everything into account, Bayern Munich should not be viewed as a serious Champions League contender. There are too many weaknesses and defects, where the Champions League demands nigh perfection.
Uhh, could Bayern Munich win the Champions League anyway?
Of course. If there’s anything football has taught us, it’s that it is unpredictable. Anything could happen between now and the end of the season. If Bayern get lucky, things might go in their favor. Maybe Kingsley Coman will come back from injury before the semi finals. He’s arguably the most important player on Bayern Munich’s squad at the moment, after all, being the only winger with pace. Here’s a recent picture of him from his Instagram account (he’s still on crutches):
If Coman comes back and Bayern get a bit lucky for a change with the draw, injuries, and the refereeing—UCL refs really suck— then anything is possible.