Have you ever wondered why Real Madrid keep winning the Champions League and Bayern Munich don’t? I have. It’s been five years since Bayern last played in a final. In that same time period, Real Madrid have won the damn thing four times, and the one time they didn’t, Barcelona won the treble. Four out of five years, we were knocked out by the eventual winners of the competition. This is despite having a strong team and making it to the UCL semifinals on a regular basis.
What is going on? Is it bad luck? Injuries? Are the players not good enough? Some combination of all three? Well, those factors likely all have a part to play. However, it’s been five years and we can’t just keep putting our failures down to one-off occurrences. There is an underlying cause here, and if you go back and examine every knockout fixture played by Real Madrid and Bayern Munich these last five years, it becomes obvious.
Bayern Munich’s defense is not cutting it in knockout games
Bayern’s lack off success in Europe has unfairly been blamed on its offence in recent years, mainly Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller. I can barely begin to describe how wrong this notion is. Let’s start with a few basic stats. In the last five years of knockout rounds, this is how many goals were scored and conceded by Bayern Munich and Real Madrid:
Games played: 28
Goals for: 61
Goals against: 38
Goals scored per game: 2.18
Goals conceded per game: 1.36
Real Madrid: (excluding finals because Bayern didn’t play any)
Games played: 30
Goals for: 62
Goals against: 28
Goals scored per game: 2.07
Goals conceded per game: 0.93
As you can see, Real Madrid have scored almost as many goals per game as Bayern have during the years of their unparalleled dominance. It’s actually a massive coincidence, but the numbers don’t lie. The discrepancy shows up when you examine the goals conceded. 0.94 for Real vs 1.36 for Bayern — virtually half a goal per game (or a goal every two games) difference. Considering that both teams score about the same number of goals, this adds up to a staggering goal difference.
When you dive a little deeper into the actual games played and look only at fixtures against top quality opposition (Real, Bayern, Barca, Juventus, and Atletico Madrid), and an even starker contrast emerges:
Bayern Munich (against top 5 opposition):
Games played: 12
Goals scored: 15
Goals conceded: 22
Goals scored per game: 1.25
Goals conceded per game: 1.83
Real Madrid (against top 5 opposition):
Games played: 17
Goals scored: 35 (15 of those AGAINST Bayern, amazingly)
Goals conceded: 17
Goals scored per game: 2.06 (1.82 if you take out the Bayern games)
Goals conceded per game: 1
While on the surface it may seem that Bayern score fewer goals against top teams, a big chunk of Real’s goals came from games against us. Remove those and you see that the offenses are mostly even. It’s the defenses that are skewed. Bayern concede close to one goal per game more than Real in the knockout stages of the Champions League.
This is no ordinary problem
0.8 goals per game is no laughing matter. It belies a systemic inadequacy in the defense that cannot be compensated in other areas. People think that if our strikers score more goals then there’s no problem, but it’s not that simple. If we want to outscore an opponent with such a handicap, then our current output has to rise by 60%. To put that number into context, let’s think about the Bundesliga.
Last season, Bayern scored 92 goals in the Bundesliga. A 60% increase on that would mean scoring 147 goals in 34 games. Let that number sink in. Imagine if the only way for Bayern to win the Bundesliga was to score one hundred and forty seven goals. That’s madness. No one in their right mind would say that’s possible. They would instead demand that the defense be fixed so that we don’t need to score as many goals.
However, this is the problem that faces us in the Champions League, and people want to blame our attackers. It’s not their fault. Bayern are scoring at a perfectly acceptable rate, even compared to Real Madrid. The problem is that our defense has let us down at every turn.
Forget transfers. Forget new forwards. Forget coaches. Forget our twenty billion midfielders. If Bayern wants to have another shot at the Champions League with the team we’ve got now, then our defense has to shape up first and foremost. We don’t even need to be uber-defensive walls like Atletico Madrid or Juventus — just being at Real Madrid’s level will suffice.
With the likes of Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, Niklas Sule, David Alaba, Joshua Kimmich, and Manuel Neuer, shouldn’t we be able to do that bare minimum? Does everything have to be so difficult? Does every season have to end in heartbreak? All we can hope is that Niko Kovac sees this and fixes this problem, or Bayern Munich will go nowhere in the Champions League for one more year.