Seventeen Bayern Munich players were called up to the FIFA 2022 Men’s World Cup, held through this year’s unusual mid-season break. The tournament began in late November and concluded nearly a month later with Argentina’s thrilling win over France on penalties on December 18. With the Bavarians one of the heaviest in terms of participants, has this been a detriment to the team? Let’s look at the different angles: injuries/fatigue, form, and mentality.
Injuries and fatigue
Not everyone is of the opinion that the winter-season World Cup put an unusual strain on players. For example:
The World Cup was 5 weeks of warm weather training for many and the few that played all 7 games only played the same amount of football they would've played anyway. That's why there'll be no World Cup hangover. https://t.co/ZEMJBpf7Dh— John Nicholson (@JohnnyTheNic) December 27, 2022
Granted, June was packed with four Nations League fixtures, but the summer was otherwise free. And thanks to Germany’s flameout, most Bayern players didn’t play that many games.
Of course, there are two major season-ending injuries — Lucas Hernández (playing for France) and Manuel Neuer (being too tough for ski danger advisories) — but they might fall more in the category of freak accidents than caused by the tournament itself. Lucas was injured about ten minutes into the opening game. Sadio Mané is also out for a spell, but the Senegalese forward didn’t even make it to the tournament after getting hurt at the close of the Hinrunde.
Benjamin Pavard and Kingsley Coman both played bit roles under Didier Deschamps, despite Les Bleus making it to all seven of seven possible matches. Matthijs de Ligt was out of favor for Louis van Gaal’s Dutch side, and Josip Stanišić didn’t get many chances for Croatia. Eric Choupo-Moting and Alphonso Davies didn’t make it out of the group for Cameroon and Canada, respectively...joining seven German teammates in that unfortunate distinction.
That leaves Morocco’s Noussair Mazraoui as one of the more run-down players. Morocco national team coach Walid Regragui was a revelation in Qatar, and Mazraoui played his heart out in between and through injury issues of his own. Fortunately, at Bayern his position — right-back — is also well-covered by Pavard.
Of course, it doesn’t help that the player who played the most, center-back Dayot Upamecano, had nothing close to a ‘training camp’ experience in Qatar. And Upamecano is apparently intent on going to Bayern’s upcoming actual training camp...also in Qatar.
A couple months without match practice means it can be tough to get back into the groove. For at least a few players, though, it was the best of both worlds: not too packed a slate of games, and solid performances.
Germany’s Jamal Musiala stood out among these. The teenage wunderkind showed the world just what he was capable of and can count himself unlucky to miss the goal by narrow margins or the post on a number of occasions. The same could be said for Alphonso Davies, who lit up the field every chance he got for Canada, even if he plays in a more advanced position there than he does at Bayern.
Elsewhere, striker Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting got himself a pivotal goal against Serbia. And Josip Stanišić was rewarded with a start — and ninety minutes — in Croatia’s third-place triumph over Morocco.
Maybe the player who had the toughest outing among the regulars was Thomas Müller. But in two respects, even the Raumdeuter’s time in Qatar could be viewed positively. He had rarely featured for Bayern since his COVID-19 bout all the way back in September — walking off the field against Viktoria Plzeň in the first half of his comeback and scarcely getting minutes since. For Müller, the World Cup was a few run-outs on his way towards getting into match shape again. And with his Bayern future apparently at the nine, it was also good cross-positional training. He orchestrated the press well against Spain in the finest match, tactically, of the entire tournament. That's something to take into the Rückrunde.
This is the most difficult one. While upcoming Champions League opponent Lionel Messi is riding high following Argentina’s extraordinary run to the top, Bayern players experienced a lot of lows otherwise.
Joshua Kimmich was quoted as saying he feared he’d “fall into a hole” after Germany’s exit...which, being the second straight such result, has caused an extra heaping of recriminations.
Leon Goretzka, one of the players who reportedly organized Germany’s admirable team protest against FIFA’s ban on the OneLove armband several nations were intending to wear, has found that action the subject of much snipping and precious little support from club or team officials afterward. Nevermind that the other teams who declined to protest at all didn’t win, either, or that outspoken critics in the Wales and Belgium camps promptly fell even harder on their face. The topic has instead turned to an apparent lack of unity within the German team itself — as if it would have been better to be disunited and silent.
France, too, was subject to heartbreak — falling at the last after getting so, so, so close. It wasn’t just that result, either. Kingsley Coman missed a crucial penalty in the Final and found himself on the receiving end of a torrent of racist comments. Benjamin Pavard was frozen out by Deschamps after the Australia game and apparently the main topic of this tournament’s round of Les Bleus drama. And De Ligt...practically asked to be benched by openly saying he wasn’t so compatible with the Netherlands style of play?
There’s also Dutch teen sensation Ryan Gravenberch, whose lack of playing time for Bayern led to his exclusion. He’s been reportedly unhappy about his role in his first year in Bavaria since even September, and missing out on a dream — especially for a team that could really have used him — has to be deflating.
It’s been a weird time for a lot of players. There are some silver linings from match practice, to be sure, and it could have been a lot more draining.
But overall, it sure seems like a good thing the Bundesliga isn’t jumping right back into it, the way the English Premier League has already. The German domestic league will be by far the last of the Top 5 to reopen; it’ll be three weeks to Bayern’s next competitive fixture, at RB Leipzig on January 20.
That’s time that should be well spent by the players and the front office alike. The second half of the year will need a reset, and maybe some transfer window reinforcements besides.