clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Think tank: Some potential reasons why Bayern Munich is struggling

Four diagnoses for the ills underpinning the Bavarians’ recent stumbles in the league.

Matthijs de Ligt throws his arms out in frustration during the FC Augsburg match.
“Don’t ask me, I just got here!”
Photo by Tom Weller/picture alliance via Getty Images

A dominating DFL-Supercup, plus strong four games to open the Bundesliga season — including the improbable Gladbach draw, which may have been the best of the performances — followed by three straight clunkers coinciding with the return of English weeks. How serious is the crisis at Bayern Munich, and what can be done about it? Let’s explore four of the possible narratives behind the recent Bavarian mudslide.

Is the fire gone after ten Bundesliga wins?

What happens when the spectacular becomes routine? The lean, mean, Bavarian machine have celebrated each successive title with increasingly little fanfare, and who can blame them? The extent of the dominance has become almost embarrassing — for the German league as well as its perennial victors.

Meanwhile, the Champions League is still the big prize — to the extent that the domestic competitions might almost be taken for granted. Bayern have also been drummed out early in the DFB-Pokal in both 2020/21 and 2021/22.

“Some players probably believe the Bundesliga can be considered secondary. That’s unacceptable,” remarked CEO Oliver Kahn acidly after the loss to FC Augsburg.

Ten wins was a decade of a milestone. Eleven just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it? And with the Men’s World Cup just around the corner, perhaps a competition that has lost some of its international luster has simply fallen unwittingly onto the backburner. It’s a flame not easily rekindled.

Is Julian Nagelsmann failing to command the dressing room?

Julian Nagelsmann only turned 35 this summer. He’s younger than his captain, Manuel Neuer, and far younger than the typical coach of a club of this stature. Yet he’s also been doing this for a long time, having been appointed to TSG 1899 Hoffenheim at only 28. By comparison, Arsenal FC’s Mikel Arteta — also considered precocious within the coaching ranks — is 40.

And so reports abound that players don’t buy in to everything Nagelsmann is selling. Some German tabloids would insist that, contrary to the outward portrayals of close comity, players within the dressing room are openly criticizing tactics and chatting with reporters about their gripes with the manager’s style.

For those that do buy in to this line of thinking, buyers beware: it can be a long and arduous road back from such a mutinous climate. Arteta finally won over his dressing room after a protracted purge of veterans and has one of the Premier League’s youngest sides — with the Gunners enduring a finish outside of European competition in the meantime. Bayern do not have similar luxuries.

And if the sensationalist reports do indeed have merit — rather than drama-starved outlets trying to will FC Hollywood into existence to all efforts by the club to the contrary — then the same players stirring the pot should have cause themselves to worry. An experienced disciplinarian could come in and decide that cleaning house is needed.

But Bayern have a cast of characters — from senior players like Joshua Kimmich and Thomas Müller, to front office figures like Herbert Hainer and Oliver Kahn — who exemplify professionalism. Striving and conflict are normal, yet these figures, one would hope, all understand the baseline importance of a crew that rows in the same direction.

Otherwise, merited criticisms or not, the whole ship splits asunder in a mess of finger-pointing. And it won’t make a lick of difference in the end who was right and who was not.

Does Bayern’s tactical setup lend itself to poor finishing?

It’s clear that Bayern have the pace and power to break games wide open — and from there, to pour it on and rain down the goals. But what happens when games stay 0-0 or the Bavarians go down early, and face a compact, physical defense?

Troubling xG trends go back to last season — with Robert Lewandowski, mind — where Bayern dropped points routinely in games they dominated. There’s also the distinction between shot-based and non-shot xG — against FC Augsburg, for example, Bayern doubled in the latter category, 4.4 to 2.2, per 538. They are dominating opposing teams but watching the advantage vanish by the time they shape to shoot — and drop even further by the time the scoreboard is updated.

Are Bayern tactically set up, with their narrow focus in chance-creation, to make heroes of opposing goalkeepers? Expected goals are calculated based on a number of factors, like position of the shot on the pitch. But one thing they might not take into account very well is the overall scheme. Bayern fashion their chances overwhelmingly through the center, while the average shot keepers face from these positions might more commonly come from a more spaced out pattern of play. Is everyone pulling a Yann Sommer — truly a stupendous performance for Gladbach that game by any measure — or is it a product of Bayern’s intent?

Players have already spoken this season about raising the level of finishing but after so many repeat results, don’t seem to have gotten any closer to a solution. What if the answer is just that — what looks to be a monster chance-generating scheme actually doesn’t fashion moments of real danger even in the hands of an assembly of the most technically gifted attackers on the planet?

Or — is nothing wrong at all?

To put into perspective, Bayern are still the bullies in the European clubhouse that took down Inter Milan and FC Barcelona to the cool tune of two-nil apiece. They’ve dropped points in the league while being the better team, but that’s nothing unusual — since 2018/19, they’ve had ten, eight, ten, and ten combined draws+losses in the Bundesliga season, all while winning the league handily — which they are still favorites to do once more. The physical and mental demands of this year’s schedule are unusual, to say the least, but nothing more than a challenge the team will navigate.

In this view, the biggest threat to the team is the impulse to stray away from staying the course. Getting exposed by the likes of FC Augsburg — yes, that might be a crisis. Dominating such a game with 77% possession but getting sucker-punched — that’s football.

The randomness of results, the fact that things can change so thoroughly on a dime, it’s what makes the game so thrilling and compelling. Every wondrous goal was a few inches or a slightly lesser touch away from being over the bar and forgotten. Yet on the balance of an entire season — which won’t spare anyone in knockout formats — quality will bear out. There’s always something to improve, especially in mentality and focus. But why fix what’s fundamentally not broken?

It’s easier to destroy a project than to build one up. And when things don’t go one’s way the temptation to throw everything into the fire is strong. Yet hot and cold streaks can be illusory, as, say, NBA players shooting threes know well. A string of misses? It happens — no need to do anything more than keep plugging away.

And at FC Bayern, perhaps that’s precisely the only antidote required: to shun all the noise and the fury, and return with the nose to the grindstone.

What do you think is going on with Bayern Munich — and how should they address it? Let us know in the comments!

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Bavarian Football Works Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Bayern Munich news from Bavarian Football Works