Happy New Year, Bayern family! Even though we are only halfway through the current season, a new year has dawned and it is a time to take stock and reflect on the events of the last twelve months. They have certainly been eventful.
Winners at home, losers in Europe
This time a year ago, Bayern Munich found itself six points behind Borussia Dortmund, playing catch-up after falling a full nine points behind after a slump in the fall in Niko Kovac’s first year in charge. Over the ensuing months, the team rallied while Dortmund sputtered. Bayern clinched the league on the final matchday with a 5-1 win over Kovac’s former team, Eintracht Frankfurt. Kovac beat them again in the DFB-Pokal to win Bayern’s first domestic double since Pep Guardiola was in charge.
But the Champions League was another story. Bayern drew Liverpool in the round of 16 and had to face the eventual victors without Thomas Müller, who was suspended for both legs after inadvertently kicking an Ajax player in the head. Bayern secured a 0-0 draw in Liverpool, but then had to host Jürgen Klopp at home without Müller and Joshua Kimmich, who was suspended for yellow cards.
Bayern lost 3-1 in a dismal performance that seemed in hindsight to seal Niko Kovac’s fate in the eyes of chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
2019 in transfers
Bayern bade farewell to three veterans that summer: Arjen Robben retired, Franck Ribery departed for Fiorentina, and Rafinha returned to his native Brazil. Mats Hummels, faced with the prospect of fighting for a starting role, asked instead for a transfer back to Borussia Dortmund. An unhappy James Rodriguez returned to Real Madrid at the end of his loan. And tarnished golden boy Renato Sanches eventually also left — at a loss — for Lille.
The 2019/20 season saw the arrival of several newcomers. Fiete Arp joined from Hamburg, but, alas, a string of accidents prevented him from playing — even for Bayern II — for practically the entire Hinrunde. Center-back, Lucas Hernandez, already present in Munich for months as he recovered from a knee injury, formally became part of the team. Injury likewise prevented him from contributing in more than a few games at the beginning of the season.
Benjamin Pavard from Stuttgart was a happier story: with Hernandez sidelined and starting center-back Niklas Süle also out indefinitely, Pavard played constantly, establishing himself as an excellent option at right-back and center-back. Ivan Perisic arrived from Inter Milan to reinforce Bayern’s constantly injured wings. Michael Cuisance surprisingly joined from Gladbach, and Sarpreete Singh from New Zealand. But the big blockbuster was, of course, Philippe Coutinho’s surprise loan from FC Barcelona just before the transfer window closed.
The saga of the summer, though, was the failed transfer of Leroy Sané, who tore his ACL in a glorified friendly literally days before a deal was to be struck with Manchester City. He thus remains the number-one target in 2020.
Turmoil and trouble
Bayern started the season with a 2-0 loss to Borussia Dortmund in the DFL Supercup, which I had the great good fortune to attend personally, courtesy of the Bundesliga. Results in the Bundesliga were mixed. The team’s opener against Hertha Berlin — who were eventually exposed as a very weak team — ended in a 2-2 draw. Bayern also retreated from RB Leipzig with a 1-1 draw, while securing victories over weaker sides.
Then came Tottenham: thanks to phenomenal finishing by Serge Gnabry, Bayern crushed the Spurs 7-2. It is incredible to think that just a month later, Niko Kovac would resign. But that is what happened: a loss to TSG Hoffenheim and a draw to Augsburg inaugurated a string of dubious results, culminating in a humiliating 5-1 loss to Eintracht Frankfurt.
The front office met to discuss Kovac’s future. They were prepared to give him a stay of two games, but Kovac surprised them by offering his resignation. Club and coach parted on amicable terms. It was one of the strangest managerial departures I have ever experienced, let alone written about. But sometimes reality is strange.
An improbable turnaround
Several of Kovac’s preferences had been the source of frustration for fans and players alike. The foremost was probably his effort to rely on Bayern’s “super-signing” Philippe Coutinho at the expense of Thomas Müller. Coutinho struggled, while Müller’s performances failed to justify his exclusion. Thiago Alcantara also struggled uncharacteristically in midfield, where Bayern remained vulnerable to counter-attacks, a persistent problem the year before. Outstanding performances by Robert Lewandowski and Serge Gnabry could compensate only so much.
When Kovac’s new assistant coach Hansi Flick took over the team, both Coutinho and Thiago were dropped for others — namely Müller and Leon Goretzka — and the turnaround was underway. Bayern crushed Borussia Dortmund 4-0 in a match few would have predicted a few months earlier.
Not all went smoothly, of course. Bayern lost to both Bayer Leverkusen and then-leaders Borussia Mönchengladbach despite solid performances. But Flick has guided the team to four consecutive victories since then, all of them by at least two-goal margins, including a 6-1 trouncing of Werder Bremen.
But the story under Flick has largely been one of delightful triumph. The need for David Alaba to play center-back has allowed Alphonso Davies to blossom into a star at left-back, and youth player Joshua Zirkzee dazzled us all before the break with two goals on his first touch in successive games.
What lies ahead
Bayern remains in search of a new head coach as we head into the new year. Hansi Flick will see out the season and could be the man to coach the team beyond, but everything will depend on his performance in the Rückrunde of 2020. Bayern has drawn Chelsea FC in the Champions League Round of 16 this year. Bayern may be widely considered the favorite, but Flick must ensure Bayern advances to the quarterfinals to have any chance of coaching the team next season. Rummenigge nearly ousted Kovac for that alone last season.
Bayern also finds itself in an interesting position in the Bundesliga. RB Leipzig under the dynamic Julian Nagelsmann has taken the lead from Gladbach. Bayern trails by four points. Anything is possible in the most riveting title chase since, well, last season. Leipzig looks like the real deal this season, beating Bayern on both goals scored and goals conceded (48 vs 46 and 20 vs 22) — Gladbach has scored a mere 33 goals, in contrast (but conceded just 18). Dortmund might also correct their downward trajectory (4th place with 30 points) with the signing of budding superstar striker Erling Haaland from RB Salzburg.
Bayern will play Leipzig in February and Dortmund in April. A lot can happen from now until then. Lucas Hernandez should return to the team soon, as will Kingsley Coman. Bayern might also make a winter signing to compensate for weaknesses and the loss of Süle to a torn ACL. There has been talk of targets at right-back and center-back.
How the club moves forward will also depend on the new members of the front office. Oliver Kahn, der Titan, has now officially joined Bayern’s executive board, where he will work alongside Rummenigge until he succeeds him as CEO. Uli Hoeness likewise made way for Herbert Hainer as the new club president this past November. Hoeness remains a presence at Bayern, but Hainer seems to prefer a less prominent role, giving Rummenigge and Kahn greater visibility and probably greater power. And Hasan Salihamidzic will also join the board at the end of this season. He already has established himself as a major factor at the top, media criticism notwithstanding.
We have an exciting season to look forward too now and beyond in 2020! On behalf of all of us at BFW, Happy New Year! Enjoy the winter break, and come rested for the Rückrunde.