As Bayern Munich limp into the second half of the season with a whole host of injuries, there have been calls from all corners — fans, players, the coach, and the media — to sign new players. Hansi Flick has said that reinforcements are needed to achieve the goals of the season, while both Thomas Müller and Joshua Kimmich have said that the squad is too thin.
Despite all this, sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic has remained mum on potential transfers, and it seems like the club will head into the Rückrunde with an unchanged squad. While there are good reasons for Bayern to refrain from winter transfers, it seems like the club is making a potentially costly gamble that could have deep ramifications for this season and beyond.
So why, exactly, does Bayern Munich need new signings this winter? Well the reasons are many:
An injury-prone squad
As of right now, Bayern have huge injury problems in two key areas — the wings and the defense. Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman have always been injury-prone players, and once again at least one of them is set to miss the Bundesliga restart against Hertha Berlin. With Alphonso Davies preoccupied at left-back, the club has only Ivan Perisic, Philippe Coutinho, and Thomas Müller left to man the flanks, none of whom are ideal candidates for the job.
Bayern may well beat Berlin without real wingers — but what about the likes of Chelsea, Leipzig, and Liverpool? Bayern need their best players to perform in crunch games and, as we’ve seen in seasons past, Coman and Gnabry cannot be relied on to stay healthy. A lack of a suitable backup for the Frenchman, for example, derailed Bayern’s campaigns right before key games in 2018 and 2019. How many more times do we have to say — “if only [X] was fit then we could’ve won”?
Meanwhile, Bayern have a Niklas Süle-sized hole at the back, and there’s no one around to fill it. Jerome Boateng seems to have completely checked out, Javi Martinez is too slow to be useful at center-back, and Lucas Hernandez is fragile and not likely to coexist alongside fellow left-footer David Alaba in central defense.
The obvious answer is to move Benjamin Pavard to the middle, but the Frenchman is currently preoccupied at right-back because Joshua Kimmich wants to moonlight as a midfielder (which is a whole other discussion). Spending some cash for a quality right-back this winter would immediately fix situation in defense, if Kimmich can’t be persuaded to vacate the center.
The toughest Rückrunde in years
An injury crisis at Bayern Munich is not new — what is new, however, is the sheer competitiveness of the fixtures the team is set to play. The level of play in the Bundesliga this season has skyrocketed, with Julian Nagelsmann and Marco Rose leading the charge at their respective clubs. Unlike last season, where Bayern’s only opponent was an over-performing Borussia Dortmund, the title challengers this season are legitimate contenders.
The difference between the two seasons is reflected in the expected points table (Understat). Last year at the halfway mark, Bayern were six points behind BVB. However, BVB had outperformed their xPTS (expected points) by 9.50 — a huge margin. The numbers practically predicted their second half collapse.
This season, in contrast, RB Leipzig have performed exactly on par with their xPTS — 36 points to 36.22 xPTS. They’re not getting lucky wins; their points tally is a reflection of pure quality.
Gladbach are over-performing slightly, but only by 3.98 points. Even if their points tally regresses in the second half, it won’t be a BVB-esque collapse. While the points gap is smaller this season, Bayern Munich will find it much harder to catch up, because the teams in front are less likely to drop points in the coming games.
In the Champions League, it doesn’t get any easier. This was the first year that no teams outside the top five leagues qualified for the round of 16, so there are no minnows to beat up. In years gone by, Bayern have had the luxury of facing some easy opponents in the early knockout rounds — Porto, Arsenal, Benfica, Shakhtar, etc. This year, however, the Bavarians face a formidable opponent in Chelsea in the very first game, and the fixtures will only get tougher. And the tough games in the UCL will make an already-difficult Bundesliga schedule even harder.
Given the context, this upcoming Rückrunde promises to be the hardest the team has faced in a very long time. With that in mind, and in light of the fact that last year’s early exit to Liverpool still a sore spot for the team, this time it may be prudent for the board to open their purse and spend on reinforcements. The cost-benefit calculations that were sound a season ago are just not applicable anymore.
It’s one thing to wait until the summer when you’re steamrolling the league and your first decent opponent is in the semi-finals — it’s quite another when you’re fighting for every point at home and in Europe. This time, choosing not to buy players may have disastrous consequences for the season.
Hansi Flick’s time to shine
The final big reason to make winter signings is Hansi Flick. The former assistant Bundestrainer has been a revelation this season — since taking over from Niko Kovac, his team has often dazzled on the pitch, and the performances have been praised from all corners. Comparisons to Jupp Heynckes have been made — premature, perhaps, but the interim coach has ambition and the tactical nous to deliver on expectations.
Bayern Munich may have a legitimate new coaching phenomenon on its hands. However, Flick’s future depends on the second half of the season. If he fails to meet the sky-high expectations of the club, he will be forced to step down for another.
The problem is that Flick’s tactics rely on his team executing a very high-intensity pressing game, as players follow their man and track back religiously. Compared to Kovac’s tenure, his team puts in more work per game, and he needs a bigger squad to compensate.
When the decision was taken last summer to slim down the squad to keep players happy, it was made in consultation with a coach who is no longer in charge. The circumstances have changed, and the coach’s demands on the squad have also changed since the summer.
Hansi Flick could legitimately be a few signings away from delivering a Champions League title or even a treble. However, we’ll never find out if we don’t back him. If the poor man is forced to play Perisic and Müller on the wings against the likes of Manchester City, then how can we judge him if he loses?
But Bayern’s culture means that he won’t get the benefit of the doubt — if he doesn’t win at least the Bundesliga title and reach the semis in the UCL, the bosses will surely opt for Thomas Tuchel or Erik ten Hag in the summer. How do we know those coaches are actually better? If Liverpool canned Klopp based on his results during his first three years, they would never have seen their current levels of success. However, Bayern are not the kind of team to lower their standard. So, if Flick is to be given a fair shot, the man needs signings.
The solution: who’s on the market?
Of course it’s very easy to talk about signings without giving any names. So here are some feasible targets for Bayern Munich this winter. As Brazzo has said in numerous interviews, the player has to have the quality to play for Bayern; the club doesn’t do stopgap measures. So, given the squad’s current areas of need, who could the Bavarians sign?
- Niklas Stark: Hertha Berlin’s defensive stalwart Niklas Stark is a calm, versatile, ball-playing center-back who can also play in defensive midfield. He has represented Germany at the youth stage countless times, so fitting in at Bayern shouldn’t be an issue. Berlin are not likely to ask for an incredible sum for his transfer — €25-30m could seal the deal, plus incentives if need be.
- João Cancelo: If a center-back isn’t signed, a right-back is the next best thing. Cancelo finds himself lacking minutes at Manchester City and might be looking for a move. If Bayern really need a RB, then the 25-year-old Portuguese star might be the answer. City paid a sizable sum for his services, but they may let him go if Bayern allow them to break even on the transfer. Spending €65m on a RB sounds steep, but Cancelo can also play on the wings, and if Bayern are hell-bent on getting a new fullback, he’s not getting any cheaper in the summer.
- Federico Chiesa: If Joshua Kimmich can be persuaded to return to right-back, then the main area of concern is the wings. Chiesa has been linked with a move away from Fiorentina for some time now, and even their owner admits that he could leave soon. Having watched the young Italian play with Franck Ribery, I think he would get along well at Bayern. Chiesa is a hard worker, tracks back, and has a strong nose for goal. He wouldn’t be cheap — €65m is a rumored price — but if we could get Ribery to whisper some words in his ear, Fiorentina might lower their price just to prevent him from going to Juventus.
- Leroy Sané: He’s coming to Bayern anyway, why not do it now? Sane’s ACL is a worry, but if he’s on the path to recovery as Guardiola claims, then he could still help Bayern a lot this season. He wouldn’t be cheap, but having an extra quality winger in the latter stages of the UCL might make the difference for Bayern.
- Unai Nunez: Another center-back, who has been linked with Bayern from time to time. Nunez has a cheap €30m release clause in his contract, which makes him a supremely get-able option for the Bavarians on short notice.
There are options out there, if Brazzo and the board are willing to look. Half of January has already passed us by, so if anyone is to be signed, there’s no time to waste.