The Case Against Bayern

Two seasons ago, Bayern won the Bundesliga by 25 points. Last season: by March. Bayern blamed its late season failure versus Real Madrid on an uncompetitive league season. Other Bundesliga clubs will hope the statement ‘Be careful what you wish for’ rings true. Bayern have not won the last two Bundesliga seasons after the World Cup (2007 – Stuttgart, 2011 – Dortmund). Bayern is rightly favorites but if this trend were to hold true, what would be the causes of Bayern’s failure?

There is currently an injury crisis in Bayern. Thiago, Javi Martinez, Mitchell Weiser, and Rafinha have injuries ranging from multiple weeks to multiple months. Javi Martinez is the strongest defensive midfielder and also moonlights as a central back. Losing Javi Martinez is essentially losing two players.

Former Leverkusen midfielder Arturo Vidal is the only “rumored to be available” transfer target to that has experience in both roles. The  price to obtain the Chilean from Juventus would likely exceed the 40 million Euro spent on Javi Martinez in the Summer of 2012. Vidal is arguably a superior player with Bundesliga experience. The question concerning Vidal is his right knee, for which he underwent surgery in May.

If pre-season friendlies are any indication of success, Bayern may come to regret not picking up the option to sign Emre Can. His first season with Leverkusen was respectable. With the inordinate amount of youth in the Bundesliga, Can was overshadowed. He began the season as a 19-year-old in the center of the midfield and matured as the season went on. In combination with Højbjerg, Bayern could have built a central midfield with freak athleticism for 10 years.

Can has shown versatility in being able to fulfill all of the roles of a central midfielder, and play fullback. Rummenigge has spoken of Rode as convert to fullback. Conversation would not be necessary for Can. The shame is the Rode conversion may signal an end of days for promising Köln youth Mitchell Weiser. The acquisition of Rode by Bayern seems to follow the pattern that Bayern has employed with limited success, the ” bought because it was a free transfer” philosophy that yielded Alexander Baumjohann and Jan Kirchoff.

The early opinion on Bayern’s acquisition of Thiago last season seemed to be that the Spaniard was “Pep’s pet” and “unnecessary, ”  but quickly that opinion changed to “a sensational player” after just a few touches. From Thiago’s chested goal in the Telekom Cup to his last second volley in Stuttgart and everything in between was class. It was a shame when knee injury did not allow him to showcase himself to the world.

Thiago may have had second consecutive successful summer tournament after last summer’s first half hat trick in Spain’s Under-21 championship. A knee injury cut his season short in May. He was expected to be back in two months. Almost three months later, he is still out with no date to return.

When was the last time Bayern had to sell an ascending German World Champion? There was no last time. This is what made Bayern, Bayern. Toni Kroos is only 24. His range of passing with both feet compares well to Xabi Alonso. Players who can effortlessly distribute tend to avoid wear and tear and have a timeless quality (see: Pirlo). Kroos sits deep in the midfield avoiding the rough tackles of barbaric central backs. Kroos achieving success in his all-white Madrid kit may create a  dark cloud of what could have been on the red side of Munich.

Of Bayern’s field players over 29 – Dante, Schweinsteiger, Lahm, Ribery, Robben, Pizarro – all but Pizarro played had a month of extra football in the summer or missed the tournament due to injury. Muller-Wohlfahrt has gone on record saying, “Schweinsteiger needs at least a six-week break.” Schweinsteiger will need to turn back the clock if Bayern have any chance to win the triple. Schweini has had ankle issues in recent years. Schweinsteiger is crucial to Bayern as the center of the midfield has lost Thiago, Javi Martinez, and Kroos since last season. The lack of depth in central midfield may be the greatest test in Pep’s coaching career. Pep’s Barcelona was built on the nucleus of a center midfield with Xavi, Busquets, and Iniesta effortlessly controlling possession. Lahm may be drafted into the central midfield role in place of Schweinsteiger. Without Rafinha and Lahm in the center, there are no longer any natural right backs. In an August 16th press conference, Pep declared intent to sign a right-sided player and confirmed Bastian Schweinsteiger needs more rest. Matthias Sammer will to close deals in the coming weeks to meet Pep’s shopping list and keep Bayern champions.

And Franck Ribery was not the same Ribery in the second half of last season. Hopefully, the knee issue that caused him to miss the Supercup will not linger. A positive for all is that Arjen Robben has successfully shed his label as injury-prone in the recent seasons producing his peak performance.

The Bayern roster has only three natural center backs. Bayern will need Holger Badstuber to recover from successive ACL surgeries. There is precedent for recovering from multiple ACL surgeries, as Giuseppe Rossi suffered two ACLi injuries in 2012-2013 and scored 16 goals in 21 matches for Fiorentina last season.

The main challenger to Bayern’s throne is Borussia Dortmund. If a season is a war of attrition, Signal Iduna Park could have doubled as a triage tent. Last season, Dortmund had to resort to coaxing 34 year-old defender Manuel Friedrich out of retirement to face Bayern. This season, Dortmund’s fourth center back is a 20-year old German international with 70 Bundesliga appearances. The trials and tribulations of last year’s injury- laden season were not in vain. Dortmund unearthed some interesting elements in Erik Durm, Jonas Hofmann, and Marian Sarr. The need for reinforcement may have caused the shrewd purchase of young midfielder Miloš Jojić  from Partizan Belgrade last January and inking him to a four-year contract..

Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang  have in the pre-season shown a confidence heretofore missing since arriving in Dortmund last summer.  Last summer, Mkhitaryan experienced an injury in pre-season and looked burdened by his price tag. He showed glimpses in the second tie against Napoli but missed an empty net versus Real Madrid in the second leg. Klopp stood by his record fee, and it looks like the right move. Aubameyang started his Dortmund career with a bang including his strong debut performance in the Supercup and hat-trick against Augsburg.

To beat Dortmund, Bayern will need Dortmund defectors Robert Lewandowski and Mario Götze to contribute significantly. Lewandowski is not much of concern. He replaces Mario Mandžukić.The Croatian striker seemed rooted in his loyalty to Jupp and mutual distrust of newcomer Pep, and even infamously denied a handshake with Pep. Surely Pep knows the value of a good handshake. Interesting, Kroos had a row with Pep where he threw off his gloves when substituted.

Götze is a World Cup hero with something to prove. Götze will need to compensate for Kroos’ distribution through direct play. Götze as the false nine was abandoned quite early last season. His slight frame does not provide the strength for the false nine prototype, Messi. Götze did not pay back much of his 37 million Euro fee last season. His high wages were reported to be a point of contention for Kroos’ camp. Bayern did not want to upset the wage structure by offering the same type of deal to Kroos  creating his exit. Seeing Bayern in a wage dispute must give other fans of Bundesliga teams a strong case of Schadenfreude.

Dortmund may be more patient with its players returning from long-term injury concerns such as İlkay Gündoğan, and Jakub Blaszczykowski due to more suitable depth. The argument against Dortmund depth is little knocks have appeared for Sahin and Schmelzer have already appeared this year. A job opening for a sports scientist may begin in the Ruhr valley if the trend continues.

The striker situation will need be solved quickly. They bought three to replace the departed Lewandowski: Ciro Immobile, Adrian Ramos, and Ji Dong-won. The first two names expected to jump right, and Dong-won’s only meaningful moment last season was scoring against Dortmund. If Dortmund thought replacing Lewandowski would have been easy, they would have sold him and reinvested last year. This is a club who willingly sold crucial players such as Kagawa, and Sahin in the past. Dortmund will keep a firm-eye and may hold a long-term trump card in Marvin Ducksch. Dortmund hope Ducksch will be more of a Robert Lewandowski than Daniel Ginczek.

The long season of 34 Bundesliga rounds, Pokal, English weeks and European competition with travel and games against top competition combined with the loss of Kroos and the mounting number of injuries at Bayern will make this year an unusually tough one for Bayern to add multiple trophies to their cabinet.  But a more competitive race for the Bundesliga championship will be welcome for most fans of German football.

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Andrew Wohlfort

Andrew Is a Borussia Monchengladbach supporter, a fan of cheap Mexican food and the National Basketball Association.

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