The last match in the UEFA Champions League in which Bayern Munich was coached by Julian Nagelsmann ended in a 2-0 victory against PSG. That day, the team played a standard 4-2-3-1 with Thomas Müller, Jamal Musiala and Kingsley Coman behind Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka in midfield and with Yann Sommer in goal shielded by a backline of Dayot Upamecano, Alphonso Davies, Matthijs De Ligt and...Josip Stanišić.
That night, Bayern’s academy product rose to the occasion as he famously shut down Kylian Mbappé. However, when Bayern names a squad for Lazio this time in the Round of 16, he will not be in it. As far as the lineup is concerned, one can bet that among all the players mentioned, only Musiala and Upamecano are certain to take part. A team that was slowly getting itself together played against PSG; a team that is falling apart at the seams will take on Lazio.
And yet, it seems that Bayern Munich, so long the standard of excellence, has suddenly decided that mediocrity is alright as long as the man at the helm is the incredible manager and the best Germany has to offer, Thomas Tuchel. In fact, he is so good that Bayern, despite already having broken a transfer record to get him the defensive midfielder, Harry Kane, is set to do away with their entire squad if he deems it necessary.
Bayern, if anything is course correcting for the Nagelsmann firing. However, in truth, the team should have done everything to keep Hansi Flick. Flick was the manager when Bayern last played Lazio. With Müller out sick, he slotted Musiala into the team and the youngster blossomed in front of our eyes into a world class player. The Musiala who will take the pitch on Wednesday looks lost, tired and devoid of a plan. Yet, senior figures at the club have come to Tuchel’s defense.
It does seem that the result against Lazio does not matter as far as Tuchel’s future is concerned; it certainly does not carry the significance the Villarreal result carried for Julian Nagelsmann. It seemed that Nagelsmann’s second campaign was forever overshadowed by that defeat and so, when things were going slightly poorly, and just as Nagelsmann was actually beginning to get things right, the board reacted. The result of that reaction means that Tuchel still has a job and the Bayern board has been extra patient with a manager who words can be quite acerbic.
Some of the arguments presented for having patience with Tuchel involve the idea of a squad rebuild. Let us imagine that Bayern is going through a rebuild. Then, a calming presence is needed at the helm, not a manager who will hang his players out to dry and whose volatile personality will be the story of the day.
Another argument that is often used is that replacing Tuchel without an alternative is not a solution. However, whenever Matthijs De Ligt, a defender in his prime, rots on the bench because Eric Dier, who could not get a game for Tottenham Hotspur, starts ahead of him, then the coach’s decision making must be questioned. Bayern risks losing world class players because of their coach. At this point, getting an alternative cannot hurt but keeping the current coach could indeed hurt.
Speaking of bad decisions made by the coach, an unhappy Benjamin Pavard was Tuchel’s defender of choice ahead of Josip Stanišić. Bayern’s youth academy has produced a talented group of players in Frans Krätzig (out on loan), Aleksandar Pavlović (hung out to dry against Bayer Leverkusen), and Stanišić. Bayern can save themselves a lot of headache by using them. If the Bavarians are fine with going trophyless for the sake of Tuchel, why did the club simply not bet on the young players? In fact, then what was the point of bringing in Kane when it might have been a better idea to simply integrate Mathys Tel? Kane was brought in to win trophies. Bayern shows no signs of winning one at the moment although the Bundesliga and Champions League are far from over. They show no signs of being a coherent team unlike the Bundesliga leaders, Bayer Leverkusen, coached by Xabi Alonso.
If there is one big contrast that can be made between the two managers, it is that Alonso makes the most out of what he has. Tuchel complained about injuries; Alonso could have made the same noises about absentees due to international duty and injuries: Exequiel Palacios, Victor Boniface and Odilon Kossounou, three key players for Leverkusen in the Hinrunde, are all out. And yet, he makes do. Due to the absentees, he promoted one of Bayern’s own to the lineup in Stanišić and was rewarded.
Josip Stanišić might not come back to Bayern. And this is perhaps the most damning evidence of the problems with Tuchel’s evaluation of his squad. He had from March 2023 to August 2023 to understand them but deemed Stanišić average and deemed Benjamin Pavard a starter. Bayern spends money on the academy so that Bayern does not have to pay for Sacha Boey, Ronald Araujo or whoever else Bayern plans to bring in. And yet, under Tuchel, without any plan, they went ahead and purchased Boey instead of trusting their own.
Imagine if Louis Van Gaal had done so in 2009/10. An entire generation of Bayern talents would have ended up elsewhere. The successes of the next decade would most likely not have followed.
Bayern would do well to heed Van Gaal here and listen to their own. In fact, before Van Gaal signed, Bayern was having trouble preventing their big players from leaving the club. Bayern finally put their foot down with Franck Ribery and that allowed the club to move forward. The club does not want to find themselves in a similar situation once more. While it is all well and good to think that Leverkusen’s success will be limited to one season as Xabi Alonso will inevitably leave, it is worth remembering that all it takes is for one figure to say ‘No’. If Alonso stays, Leverkusen will be here to stay.
Thomas Müller spoke about missing energy and freedom in Bayern’s game. Tuchel is solely responsible for that. With the Champions League final in Munich next season, a joyful Bayern is needed. And if Tuchel cannot provide that, then, perhaps, Bayern should reevaluate.
As far as Lazio is concerned, it will be of no surprise if Bayern crashes and burns on Wednesday. It will not even matter. This is Tuchel’s Bayern. The standards have well and truly slipped.
Where does Bayern Munich go from here? Let’s discuss on the Bavarian Podcast Works Show on Spotify or below: