New head coach Niko Kovac got off to a flying start with Bayern Munich when Bayern emphatically beat his former side, Eintracht Frankfurt, 5-0 in the DFL Supercup. Since then, Bayern has hit some significant speed bumps on their way to the end of the season, including a Champions League exit in the round of 16 at the hands of Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool.
Bayern is still in the hunt to secure its seventh consecutive Bundesliga title this weekend and could also complete the domestic double by beating RB Leipzig in the DFB-Pokal final at the end of the month.
Is that enough, though?
Many critics are still asking whether Kovac the right man to lead Bayern for the long-term future, even if he were to win the double. We asked our writers to weigh in with their assessment of the season under Kovac.
A domestic double is absolutely nothing to sneeze at. Considering the state of the squad and the harsh realities that typically come with a transitional year, winning the league and the Pokal might be more than we could have reasonably expected. Our limited wing depth, continued run of injuries to key players like Coman and Tolisso, a shaky Manuel Neuer, and an aging squad have all been overcome to take down Bremen and Leipzig in the cup and overtake a previously scorching Borussia Dortmund. It is also worth noting that the Bundesliga is more competitive than ever with talented squads from top to bottom. A brutal draw in the Champions League against arguably the best team in the world coupled with an extremely conservative approach saw the Bavarians crash out of the UCL earlier than is the norm, but a replenished squad should be primed for a return to the semifinals next year. I’d challenge anyone to find a more successful “rebuilding” year in soccer or sports in general.
It’s difficult to say. Both yes and no. There are a ton of variables that we need to take into account. First of all, it was a difficult squad situation for Kovač to begin with. Bayern had a good start in the league, but then came the notorious crisis. The Rückrunde was very good; there was a sign of hope, but then we were knocked out at home by Liverpool.´, and Bayern witnessed a few lukewarm performances. It might be put down to as managerial inexperience.
In conclusion — the double is great. But how we managed to get there is still not very “Bayern-like.” Last year I was really bitter how UCL and DFB Pokal ended, since we played better football than both Real Madrid and Eintracht Frankfurt. This year, when I look back at all the games, I’m surprised how we are battling for the double. In one of our worst seasons in the past decade, we are still first in the Bundesliga and in Pokal final. That tells you more about the state of Bundesliga than the state of Bayern. But our performances did improve, and I believe that we can expect good things of Kovač next season.
In short: Yes.
Considering it has happened twice since the 2012/13 triple, winning the domestic double has to be considered at least a good season. Another two victories and Niko Kovac’s Bayern would secure the first double since Pep Guardiola was on the sidelines. Bayern spent just €9m in Kovac’s first season, while they spent €55.8m and €63m for Guardiola and Ancelotti. The quiet transfer window and the aging, arguably declining, squad all contributed to why the expectations before this year were lower than normal and why I think this season should be regarded as a successful one if Bayern wins the double.
The main argument in favor of labeling the season mediocre is the poor Champions League display, Bayern’s worst since 2010/11. Being eliminated to the potential winners should not overshadow the fact that Bayern lost a tie where the final game was played at the Allianz Arena. I believe the poor European campaign, alongside the fact Bayern has currently no titles, are why rumors of Kovac’s potential departure from Munich have persisted all season long. But Bayern didn’t lose to Liverpool unluckily, they went home from the Allianz as deserved losers. It’s clear the squad needs re-energizing in order to compete in Europe.
In the context of the season, I think the domestic double would be a success. It’s well understood that this season was a transition period, and the amount of injuries to the squad that Kovac has had to deal with hasn’t helped. I think that Dortmund had an incredibly successful transfer window last summer without spending too much money. That helped them close the gap on Bayern after we really didn’t make any big acquisitions in that same window. Adding a new coach to the mix, who came from a Frankfurt side that plays a different system from what Bayern is used to — all things considered, I think two trophies at the end of the season should’ve been what’s expected from Kovac.
I think a lot of our readers here know that I’m also a massive Liverpool supporter, but there’s absolutely no shame in losing out to them in the knockout stages of the Champions League; they’ve shown the world that they are incredibly well-suited to an aggregate-based knockout competition. Every defense in the competition had difficulties containing Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, and I think the 3-0 at Barcelona really flattered Barcelona, to be fair. That said, Kovac lost out to one of the Champions League’s finalists and could still potentially win two titles; that’s not bad at all for his first season in transition.