Have you ever heard the tragedy of Darth Berni the Wise?
I thought not. It's not a story the Schwarzgelben would tell you. It's a Bayerische legend.
With Matchday 29 in the books, it's time to start looking at what's going wrong for Bayern this season, both overtly as well as under the hood. We'll also be taking a look at parallels in other divisions, as well as what this season may bode for Bayern's near future. This is the first of a 3-part series that will hopefully be completed before MD30 begins.
Part I: Strike me down, and you will become less powerful than you could possibly imagine. – Robert Lewandowski, probably
Take a look at this chart:
On its own, it means little. Bayern Munich is slightly underperforming, while teams like Borussia Dortmund, SC Freiburg, and Union Berlin are performing well above expectations, and teams like Hertha Berlin and VFB Stuttgart are getting a bad rap this season.
However, take a look at these charts:
Note: ASV and AVL are the same team. Oops.These four graphs tell a story. In any average game, Bayern are recording fewer points than their expected goal differential per game would suggest they should be getting, while Borussia Dortmund are recording far more. This could be chalked up to randomness, but look at the other three charts. In the 20/21 season, Bayern had the world-beating edition of Robert Lewandowski who scored 41 goals in a season, resulting in them actually outperforming their expected points per game total. Looking at the Premier League tells us a similar story. Liverpool, after their traditional attacking trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané, and Roberto Firmino fell apart, went from a team slightly above average in this respect to one who is struggling to turn shots into points. Meanwhile, Manchester City underperformed by about the same amount as Bayern Munich is currently in the 21/22 season, when their main striker was Gabriel Jesus, a player closer in style to Mané than Lewandowski. This season, they are starting Erling Håland at the 9, which has them right back to about average.
All of this is to suggest that the board is right in pursuing an expensive striker this summer. Contrary to common belief, the traditional number 9 is not on its way out of football, but remains integral to a certain style of play — one espoused by Bayern. Strikerless football can work, and the numbers support it: see Arsenal outperforming the regression line for 2 consecutive seasons with Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli as the leading scorers. But in order for it to work a team may need a few transition years to properly implement the personnel and system. Remember, Arsenal have not played in the Champions League since going out 10–2 (5–1 twice) at the hands of Bayern in the 16/17 season. Bayern's board needed to be aware of that going into the Nagelsmann era, and backing out of the project in the first year without a true superstar striker has left the squad in a shambles, a team with no tactical direction being coached by a coach who plays with a striker. For what it's worth, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting has performed admirably, however expecting him to play like Lewy is completely unreasonable. All of which leaves one option for the board: to hope and pray the player they sign at striker this summer is capable of consistently putting away the chances that Bayern generates with ease. If they fail, it is likely that Bayern's performances will get worse before they get better.
(Statistics from the always excellent fbref.com. Scatterplots made with scatterplot.online.)