It’s still bitter. Bayern Munich getting knocked out of the Champions League Round of 16 to Liverpool certainly isn’t what any Bayern fan would’ve been hoping for, but we shouldn’t let it define us or the current state we’re in — we have to take it for what it’s worth. Yes, Bayern are in somewhat of a transition phase, and yes, some of our performances have been well below par. But, the reality is that although many have already written off the season as unsuccessful, we still have the opportunity to take home the domestic double under a new manager whom many people wanted gone in the fall.
Following these two results against Liverpool, there’s a number of things to take away from this difficult draw because — let’s be honest — Liverpool are one of the teams nearly everyone wanted to avoid in the first round of the knockout stage.
Champions League aggregate suits a team like Liverpool
The Champions League knockout stage is the perfect type of competition for a Jürgen Klopp team. Their ability to counter-attack and gegenpress with such electrifying pace makes them so dangerous, especially the front three of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané, and Mohamed Salah. Psychologically, it often gives them the upper hand because their opposition want to setup tactically to mitigate the risk of being caught on the counter-attack with numbers committed forward.
But Liverpool are arguably better when they have less of the ball and can run at you. By stark contrast, they have a tendency to struggle against teams that sick back defensively against them, causing them to have the lion’s share of possession. It’s not rocket science to figure out how they made it all the way to the final last season, scoring goals at will.
It was clear that Niko Kovac wanted to set up conservatively in both legs against Liverpool, and you can’t really blame him for doing so. With the players he had available, he made tactically sound decisions to try and absorb all of the pressure Liverpool were going to throw at Bayern. His side proved how effective an organized defensive block can be in the first leg, but Liverpool made the most of their chances in the all-important second leg as Bayern had to be more aggressive going forward.
Bayern actually out-possessed Liverpool in both legs (51%-49% in leg 1, and 58%-42% in leg 2). It just goes to show that Liverpool really are much stronger when they have less of the ball against high-caliber opponents. It’s also interesting to wonder, “How might the second leg have panned out had Manuel Neuer not come off of his line to try to deny Mané?” Football really is a game of momentum and the result could’ve been very different if Bayern had scored first.
It’s also no secret that Liverpool are an entirely different beast from any team Bayern face in the Bundesliga. What works so well domestically for Bayern won’t necessarily work against a team like Liverpool. We can’t forget how much our form in the Bundesliga has changed for the better, walloping Borussia Mönchengladbach and Wolfsburg in our most recent outings. Still, as Raphael Honigstein put it in his recent column for ESPN, “There is an urgent need for this team and the club as a whole to reinvent and admit that things cannot go on as before.”
Bayern’s transition phase was inevitable
With a relatively aging squad, Bayern was bound to go through a genuine phase of transition. As players like Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, and Javi Martinez approach the end of their careers, the club must focus on revamping the squad and injecting some younger talents. Players like Serge Gnabry, Kingsley Coman, Leon Goretzka, and Joshua Kimmich have shown that they can become future leaders of the club, but they all have a ways to go before they realize their full potential.
Benjamin Pavard has already agreed to join from VfB Stuttgart and he’s doing his best to convince his compatriot, Lucas Hernandez, to join from Atletico Madrid. Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge have already promised a big summer in the transfer window in an effort to revamp the squad. With the right additions in the right areas, there should be no reason why Bayern shouldn’t be pushing on all three fronts next season.
A domestic double and a big summer?
There’s still a lot to play for. A domestic double is still on the cards, which would be one more trophy than Bayern collected last season if they pull it off. Yes, Bayern made it to the semi-finals of the Champions League last season, but they fell short in the DFB-Pokal final in Kovac’s last match in charge of Eintracht Frankfurt. Call me crazy, but I think it would still be a successful season if we’re able to secure the domestic double and win one more trophy than we did last season, especially considering the transitional nature of the 2018/2019 season.
Kovac has had his struggles, but Bayern’s hierarchy have continuously backed him and avoided making any knee-jerk reactions regarding his post. He was always going to have big shoes to fill taking over for Jupp Heynckes, who inherited a team that was left slightly broken by Carlo Ancelotti. The glass can still be half full while we’re still being honest with ourselves. There’s still an opportunity to win two trophies, but it won’t be easy. After that, we should expect a big summer in the transfer window, and if that doesn’t happen, then we can start to ask some more serious questions. Onward and upwards, AUF GEHT’s!