Ideally, Bayern Munich’s first treble should have come in the 2000/2001 season in the most dramatic of fashions. A last gasp league victory left Schalke 04 fans, already out on the pitch celebrating, dumbfounded as Bayern found a point against Hamburger SV in the dying seconds on the last Match-day. They won the Champions League in similar fashion; Oliver Kahn’s heroics led to a shootout victory over Valencia CF.
It is in the DFB Pokal where Bayern floundered; fourth division side, Magdeburg, knocked them out on penalties, 4-2, in the second round, after the game ended 1-1 in normal time. In fact, Bayern found themselves behind in normal time, down a goal after the 66th minute. A certain beloved sporting director of ours, Hasan Salihmadzic equalized shortly after to take the game to extra time.
Two decades later, we find ourselves in the same situation. The difference is now that Bayern is, as far as the metrics of trophies are concerned, the best team in Europe by and far. That Bayern team from 2000/2001 was not too shabby either; two club legends missed in the shootout after all: Jens Jeremies and a personal favorite of mine who is currently an ambassador for the club, Giovane Elber. The captain of the side was the legendary Stefan Effenberg.
So, considering what happened today, is Bayern Munich in a crisis then?
We all knew the famous stat coming into Friday’s game against Borussia Mönchengladbach: Bayern had gone behind eight games in a row and not lost one of them. We also knew another famous stat: Hansi Flick had won more trophies than he lost games. And to our collective amazement, Bayern, for once, took a 0-2 lead at Borussia Park. This clash, a cornerstone of German soccer, was seemingly going to be boring. It was anything but. Gladbach came back and won, 3-2.
However, this is not the first time that Gladbach came from behind to beat Hansi Flick’s Bayern. So, after a relatively inconsequential league loss followed by a cup loss on penalties, why is the question of a crisis even being raised aside from the fact that, in the German game, when Bayern lose, everyone cries out “crisis”?
Bayern is not in a crisis!
Are you calling for Hansi Flick’s sacking? Are you questioning Hansi Flick? The first is out of the question! Mind you, less than six months ago, this coach, a former player who played more than one hundred games for the club, had just delivered Bayern’s second treble in seven years, a completely unexpected gift in light of the humbling loss to Liverpool in Munich in the 2018/2019 season. He took over in the midst of a season in which Bayern looked unlikely to win any trophy let alone a treble and then, implemented a high-octane pressing style with a high defensive line within a matter of weeks. Bayern took a few losses but eventually became the best in Europe.
However, the latter question can be asked only to some extent. I have found myself questioning the continued inclusion of David Alaba when he has not played well, the exclusion of Marc Roca when he has delivered whenever on the pitch as well as the exclusion of Lucas Hernandez on some occasions. However, Flick has found himself short of his best personnel again and again. Injuries to both Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka, Bayern’s best defensive midfield pairing, has left the defense more exposed. Injuries and lack of form across the back four have led to inconsistencies in the back-line. Injuries to Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry as well as a lack of goals from the latter have let down the offense.
Flick’s system works when everyone is equally involved and when most players are fit. Every part of the team has to work in tandem. While most blame has rightfully fallen on the back four, being caught out by long balls over and over again, I have felt at times that teams have played through the midfield far too easily this season. Thiago and Kimmich were both protecting the back four last season extensively while Kimmich was a part of the back four sometimes as a right-back. In addition, new players haven’t bought into the system fully. Leroy Sané holds on to the ball too long; he does the special things well such as Arjen Robben-esque goals and beautiful free-kicks, but he needs to improve on doing the simple things well. Douglas Costa is not very effective at helping build attacks. Coman’s absence seems to particularly hurt the attack and not surprisingly so as he has been the most consistent winger this season.
Furthermore, Bayern has lost a grand total of two times — yes, TWO times — in regulation time this season. One was a tired loss to Hoffenheim and the other to a team Bayern has a poor record against anyway, Gladbach. A shootout loss to a second division side is absolutely no reason for a meltdown either.
Trust in Flick. He brought home a treble.
Another argument that can be debunked is the motivation argument. Bayern looked ready today to avenge the loss against Gladbach by doing better. You could argue that the Bavarians had gilt-edged chances in the first half, which, if they had converted, would have seen Kiel defeated within the first 45 minutes. Thomas Müller’s reaction after the game should erase any questions about hunger within this team to win more.
Bayern might be in a crisis soon
However, what cannot be ignored is the manner of the losses against Gladbach and Kiel. Bayern has conceded more goals than any other side in the top six of the Bundesliga this season — this statistic does not surprise me. Bayern was very lucky to not concede against Lyon in the semifinals of the Champions League in the first 15 minutes last season and the team was labeled as a slow starter as a result. That does not excuse losing leads in games though.
At 0-2 up in Borussia Park against a Gladbach side short of both Marcus Thuram and Alassane Plea, two of their standout performers among others, Gladbach should not have even been given the chance to come back. In fact, I thought Bayern was lucky to have the two goal advantage; Robert Lewandowski’s penalty was Bayern’s first shot on target in that game. Leon Goretzka’s goal was special and a very high quality strike but not one borne out of excellent interplay between the attackers.
Gladbach provided most of the visionary passes between Lars Stindl, Florian Neuhaus and Jonas Hofmann. A Bayern team should ideally not lose a game after being two goals up. Yes, it happens. In fact, I witnessed the last time that it happened in 2011 against Köln. If my memory serves me correctly, the team at the time had a reputation for taking its foot off the gas too early. And today, I was reminded of that at 1-2. Bayern allowed Kiel to grow into the game while not pressing too much for a third. If we know one thing about this Bayern team, they can score goals like no other. A third was well within sights for them.
The next few games are crucial for Bayern, particularly, a big clash against Freiburg on Sunday. Last season, the clash in the first half of the season was a close one between the two and needed a last gasp Joshua Zirkzee goal to rescue all three points. Bayern needs to deliver a strong performance against a team flying high in the league. Augsburg, Schalke and Hoffenheim follow that match; all three are beatable on paper and Bayern needs to win all three convincingly considering where those teams are situated in the table.
If not, and if Bayern concedes first or drops points, we can start talking about a crisis.