Despite struggling to perform for most of the season, Bayern Munich are in a special position right now. Thanks to some favorable draws, through sheer coincidence, Julian Nagelsmann suddenly has a tiny chance of winning the Champions League this season. How? Why? Well let’s recap:
- All the European heavyweights got grouped together on the other side of the draw, with only Liverpool FC on Bayern’s end.
- Bayern drawing Villarreal gives the club time to slowly bring back long-term injured players like Leon Goretzka and Alphonso Davies before the UCL semis.
- Both the quarters and the semis will have the home leg played second, giving Nagelsmann a second chance if he doesn’t win the first leg.
However, even with these advantages, Bayern winning the Champions League seems like a tenuous proposition at best right now. So here’s a cheat sheet — five things that NEED to happen from now till the end of the season if Bayern are to win the Champions League. If all five happen, then the trophy is as good as ours. Sounds simple? It isn’t. Let’s get started ...
#1: Alphonso Davies comes back fit and in-form
The last three months of pain have proven that Alphonso Davies is the most important player at this club, at least under Nagelsmann. He is the lynchpin of the attack and a failsafe in defense, while also being indispensable to the team’s buildup play. The entire team, from Manuel Neuer to Robert Lewandowski, benefits from having him on the pitch.
Most of Bayern’s struggles in 2022 can be attributed to not having Davies for an extended period of time. However, it looks like the Canadian is finally making progress and could be back in time for the second leg of the quarter-finals against Villarreal (hopefully). If he does make it back, and his performances are good — neither of which is a given — then Bayern will instantly rise up a level in overall quality.
This is why getting an easier draw in the UCL QF is such a big boost. It buys Bayern TIME to get Davies and Goretzka mended and back into the thick of things. However, given how long Davies has been out for, there’s no guarantee that he’ll play like his usual self when he does come back. The problem is, without his talents, Bayern simply are not good enough to win the whole thing. It’s a variable that could make-or-break this campaign.
#2: No more additional injuries from now until the end of the season
Yeah I know what you’re thinking — this is a pipe dream. Still, it’s crucial that it happens so Bayern can actually fight for the Champions League. If Lewandowski gets injured again like he did last time, or if Gnabry catches COVID-19, or something else of that sort happens, then you can kiss our UCL hopes bye-bye.
Maybe there are a couple players whose absence Bayern could survive. But that’s a strong maybe. Even if Nagelsmann can get past Villarreal without a full strength squad (which isn’t a given), he won’t beat Liverpool without his main XI. So either the injury gods smile upon us, or the big-ears won’t come back to Munich this summer.
#3: Do NOT lose the first leg of the knockouts
First leg losses are the bane of a Champions League run. With the removal of away goals, it gets even more important to minimize the impact of away games. Bayern are scheduled to play both first legs away from home, so it’s critical that Nagelsmann does NOT allow the opposition to capitalize in front of their fans.
Taking back a 0-0 or a 1-1 to the Allianz Arena is enough. Then, you need to use your own home advantage to make the difference. That’s the key to winning these legs. Losing the first leg just puts more pressure the team and gives an opponent like Villarreal or Liverpool/Benfica to park the bus and target Bayern’s defense on the counter. That basically removes all the benefit of playing at home in the first place.
Nagelsmann cannot afford to be naïve. Attacking football is great and all, but it cannot come at the cost of basic pragmatism. That doesn’t mean you have to park the bus, but there’s a balance. Mentally, the team has to be on point — they need to be comfortable enough to control the first leg and not overcommit or panic. If the game is 0-0 going into the 80th minute, then shut up shop. Don’t commit more guys forward and lose the game. Don’t do what Pep did against Barcelona in 2015.
#4: Manchester City win their side of the bracket
Of all the teams in the other side of the bracket, Manchester City seem like the one that match up best against Bayern Munich. Their lack of a striker makes them a lot less dangerous than they could be, and their defense is far easier to break down than a team like Atletico Madrid, for example. In addition, Pep Guardiola is known for his tinkering — you just know that he’ll feel the itch to do something weird if he has to face Bayern.
Of course, this is getting waaaaaaaaaaaay ahead of ourselves. Bayern need to win the quarters and the semis first, and that’s far from guaranteed. So much stuff needs to go right, as we’ve discussed so far. Of course there’s one major factor still left ...
#5: Nagelsmann stops experimenting
No more back threes, no more hybrids, no more triple winger formations. Keep it simple — 4-2-3-1, aggressive gegenpress, get Goretzka and Davies integrated back into the side. Keep servicing Lewandowski as best as possible, keep the wingers from hogging shots. THAT is the key to success for Bayern Munich right now.
Julian Nagelsmann has been showing signs that he’s moving away from the random formation experiments and settling on a more simple system that gets results. That’s what he needs to build on going forward. Use the Bundesliga games to improve movement and coordination between players, make the team more used to the system, and sharpen the fundamentals such as positioning and pressing.
Bayern Munich needs wholesale improvement if it wants to win the Champions League right now. Literally every aspect of the team can be better in terms of execution, and that’s is in the coach’s hands. Julian Nagelsmann needs to do what’s best for the team right now, and that means abandoning his strange experiments for the next few months. He needs to focus on making the team BETTER, not making the team different.
Want more Bayern Munich content? Why not check out our podcast? We talked about what’s working/not working for Nagelsmann, the team’s chances in the Champions League, upcoming transfers, and more! Listen to it below or at this link.
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