As February rapidly approaches and the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 is just over the horizon, Bayern Munich face an important stretch of games that could determine the outcome of the entire season. Games against RB Leipzig and Chelsea are sandwiched between deceptively easy fixtures such as Mainz and Paderborn, and there is also the must-win Pokal tie against Hoffenheim, a team that has already beaten Bayern once this season.
Bearing that in mind, Hansi Flick has several important decisions to make. It’s all well and good for a coach to orchestrate a one-off masterclass against a team like Schalke, but it’s quite another to maintain a steady level of performance against teams of varying quality. For example, in the Hinrunde, Hansi’s team suffered a sharp decline in performance after the players suffered fatigue and injuries from trying to implement the coach’s high-pressure pressing game. The winter break saved Bayern that time, but there won’t be any lifelines in this half of the season.
If we take a look at the team’s upcoming games, and the number of rest days for each, we can get an idea of how the coach may want to tackle the coming fixtures:
Date: 2nd February, 2020 (Saturday)
Days of rest: 7
Mainz have struggled this season, and their record against Bayern is poor, even at home. The Bavarians have a 100% win rate at the Opel Arena in the last three seasons, scoring 7 goals and conceding only 2. However, with Hoffenheim coming up in midweek, Hansi Flick’s task will be to orchestrate a minimum-effort win while giving Serge Gnabry some minutes to get him back up to speed.
There is no point in winning a blowout victory like the team’s 6-0 result against Red Star — only to lose the very next game.
Competition: DFB Pokal
Date: 5th February, 2020 (Wednesday)
Days of rest: 3
While they have lost Julian Nagelsmann, Hoffenheim remain a dangerous opponent, and Bayern Munich have already lost to them once this season. While three days of rest leading up to a home game is a good thing, the follow fixture is against RB Leipzig, so Flick must also think about conserving some energy. Avoiding extra time will be of paramount importance, as Bayern’s high-intensity press tends to take a toll on its players — even robust starters like Thomas Muller and Joshua Kimmich.
Date: 9th February, 2020 (Sunday)
Days of rest: 3
With the Bundesliga race as tight as it is, this game could be THE game of the Rückrunde. If the team manages to avoid extra time against Hoffenheim, then Hansi will likely come into this game with a mostly-unchanged starting XI. That can be good for rhythm, but bad for the team’s stamina. Avoiding fatigue-induced lapses in concentration will be key. Given Timo Werner’s form at the moment, he will punish any mistakes from a complacent Bayern back line.
Date: 16th February, 2020 (Sunday)
Days of rest: 7
With a full week between this game and the Leipzig one, Hansi Flick will have the luxury to rest some players and try different combinations. Reintroducing Kingsley Coman to the lineup would be a start, and also giving minutes to players like Alvaro Odriozola and Philippe Coutinho while resting Benjamin Pavard, Joshua Kimmich, and Leon Goretzka.
Although Köln were putting together a run of good performances recently, their 5-1 loss to Borussia Dortmund serves as a reality check. However, the Billy Goats still manage the occasional upset at home, having beaten both Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg this season. If the team gets too overconfident, then they could get punished.
Avoiding injuries will also be important, as Köln have the second-worst disciplinary record in the Bundesliga — 46 yellow cards and 3 reds at the time of writing. Not what you want to see weeks before a crucial UCL game.
Date: 22nd February, 2020 (Friday)
Days of rest: 5
Coming just days before the Chelsea game, the Paderborn fixture is likely one where Hansi Flick will field his strongest lineup, just so he can get them into form for the UCL. While Paderborn are unlike to be anything more than a punching bag for Bayern, the team must beware complacency and injuries — Paderborn have the 4th worst disciplinary record in the league with 41 yellows and 1 red.
Competition: Champions League
Date: 25th February, 2020 (Tuesday)
Days of rest: 3
Here we are, the big one — Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. While Frank Lampard has experienced his fair share of woe this season, his results against the top teams aren’t half-bad. The Londoners have beaten Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur this season, and played convincing games against both Liverpool and Manchester City. Hardly a pushover team by any means — especially if Bayern are carrying any unfortunate injuries.
Fatigue almost ruined Bayern in the final stretch of the Hinrunde, and if Hansi Flick isn’t careful, it could creep back into the team very quickly. A high-intensity gengenpress can’t be sustained without top-tier conditioning, something that Bayern Munich certainly lack, so the coach has to get creative to preserve the stamina of his players while getting results.
In recent years, Bayern Munich have been guilty of apparent overconfidence in UCL fixtures, stemming from big wins in the league in the buildup to the game. Here is some evidence of the claim:
- Season 18/19: A 6-0 win over Wolfsburg was followed by a 3-1 loss to Liverpool at home.
- Season 17/18: A 3-0 win over Hannover 96 was followed by a 2-1 loss to Real Madrid at home.
- Season 16/17: A 4-1 win over Borussia Dortmund was followed by a 2-1 loss to Real Madrid at home.
- Season 15/16: A 2-0 win over Hertha Berlin was followed by a 1-0 loss to Atletico Madrid away.
- Season 14/15: A 3-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt was followed by a 3-1 loss to Porto away.
With a home game against Paderborn just days before Chelsea, Hansi Flick should be wary of repeating the past and keep his team laser-focused on the task ahead. You don’t want to head into the second leg at the Allianz Arena with a deficit to make up, especially against Chelsea.
Games against Köln and Paderborn just before the clash with Chelsea put Bayern in a difficult position. While the team is expected to walk over such opponents, these are the games where reckless challenges are made and the referee is least likely to protect the players in red.
Overexertion is another concern, where the team ends up with needless injuries due to an overzealous attempt to go for goals. In 16/17 for example, Robert Lewandowski put his body on the line to win a penalty against Borussia Dortmund in a game Bayern already had in the bag. While the Polish striker scored as a result, he hurt his shoulder in the clash with Roman Burki and ended up missing the first leg against Real Madrid a few days later.
Game management can avoid these problems, but Hansi Flick has a group of players who are tough to say “no” to. Hopefully, despite his lack of experience in this area, the coach will figure out what’s best and guide Bayern through a potentially rocky fixture list. Bayern have just experienced their best-ever start to the second half of the season, and keeping up the momentum will be key to the club’s aspirations for a treble.