There were a handful of different aspects that all meshed together for Bayern Munich last season the led to them exiting both the DFB-Pokal and Champions League earlier than they would’ve liked. For the DFB-Pokal in particular, it was the second straight season that they were shockingly knocked out in just the second round of the competition, at the hands of Holstein Kiel and then Borussia Monchengladbach. While the exit was earlier in the Pokal than it was for the Champions League (quarter-finals), there was no reason, on paper, that Bayern should’ve lost out to Villarreal, who were ultimately beaten by Liverpool in the semi-finals.
For Julian Nagelsmann’s first season in charge of the club, the expectations were much greater than just winning yet another Bundesliga title, and the reinforcements they’ve brought in over the summer have even raised that bar. This season, there’s no excuses barring any major injury crises.
Reflecting back on last season, which was hampered with injury problems, COVID cases, and various suspensions for a handful of players, Hasan Salihamidžić said that there was also a noticeable mentality problem in the squad. “We didn’t have the right attitude going into the Villarreal (away) match. Perhaps we felt a little too confident. It was like, ‘We’ll be OK. There’s always the second leg in Munich’. But you can’t win a game in the Champions League, nor in the Bundesliga, with 85 per cent,” he recently explained to journalist Raphael Honigstein (The Athletic).
This season, Bayern has a 100% record in the Champions League, having beaten both Inter Milan and Barcelona 2-0. They’ve sputtered a bit in the Bundesliga with three consecutive draws against the likes of Gladabch, Union Berlin and VfB Stuttgart, but they’ve shown little signs of a lack of goals up front in the wake of Robert Lewandowski leaving during the summer transfer window. Nagelsmann has been forced to make rotations during the English Weeks, which can help partially explain their recent slip-ups in the Bundesliga, but Salihamidzic can notice just how good they are on their day.
At this juncture, he doesn’t see much of a mentality problem and the hunger is there from most of the players despite their recent dropped points domestically. “You see now how good our team can be when they’re determined and aggressive from the get-go. We have plenty of footballing quality but forget it — first, you have to fight your way into a match and win the 50-50s. If we do that, we can beat anyone with our quality. Without the basics, no team in the world are any good,” he explained.