With his first 100 days as Bayern Munich trainer under his belt and the next international break upon us, now would seem a good time to reflect upon the start made by Jupp Heynckes’ successor. They say that the first 100 days are the most crucial to a US President and the same could be said for the head honcho at the Allianz Arena.
The President has a wave of support behind him and the ability to implement new legislation, but also has the pressure of highest office weighing on his shoulders right from the outset. Forget Trump, how has Niko Kovac fared?
It is fair to say that Eintracht Frankfurt’s Pokal-winning coach wasn’t a universal choice for the Bayern post. Many pundits had Thomas Tüchel as the favourite until he lost patience with Bayern’s dithering (or Karl-Heinz Rummenigge’s apathy) and joined Paris St Germain. Julian Nagelsmann and Ralph Hasenhüttl were touted as contenders, but ultimately fell by the wayside before ‘one of our own’ Niko Kovac got the nod.
At his unveiling press conference Kovac said all the right things about being part of the Bayern family, knowing how things were done, and what was expected.
“I’ve been away a while, but I’m back” he beamed. “I know what makes this place tick and that you have to be successful. The coaching staff and I are prepared for it. We know what we have to do.
“I lead from the front, I like to work, I set examples of the things I want to see, and I expect others to follow suit” he added.
On your marks, get set, Niko!
The Supercup in August handed him an instant reunion with his former employers Frankfurt and the chance to earn some revenge for the Bavarians’ shock defeat in the Pokal final some weeks earlier.
Bayern tore the Adler to shreds with Robert Lewandowski grabbing a hat trick and the 5-0 scoreline was somewhat flattering for Adi Hütter’s side and sent out a chilling message that it may only be pre-season, but Bayern meant business. Then came the DFB Pokal first round clash with minnows SV Drochtersen/Assel, which was a real slog for Bayern after the fireworks of the Supercup. They made extremely heavy work of the Regionalliga Nord side and only managed to eke out a 1-0 win.
However, that lacklustre showing was soon forgotten when the Bundesliga got underway. An opening day win over Hoffenheim set the tone and they followed that with consecutive wins over VfB Stuttgart, Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke, with a Renato Sanches-inspired Champions League debut over Benfica to added to the mix.
Any hope of there actually being a title-race to speak of was looking dead in the water. Bayern were going to dominate and Niko Kovac was overseeing a seamless transition. Mia San Mia indeed!
The Seven-Game Itch
Like many a marriage, once the honeymoon is over and the years pass, you come to a slight bump in the road that tests the relationship. This is just the scenario playing out for Bayern right now with a series of poor results jolting them out of their comfort zone after a seemingly faultless start to the season.
The first blip came at home to Augsburg on matchday 5 when a Felix Götze goal late in the second half earnt the Fuggerstädter a share of the spoils at the Allianz Arena. Bayern as an attacking force were not their usual selves and the result was certainly a shock.
They were the first dropped points of the season, but worse was to come on matchday with a first defeat. Hertha Berlin capitalised on another poor Bayern display to inflict a 2-0 loss on Niko Kovac’s side and show the rest of the Bundesliga aspirants that the giant was not flawless.
A home Champions League tie with Ajax gave Bayern a chance to get things back on track, but another disappointing display saw them emerge only with a 1-1 draw (although it could have been worse had Manuel Neuer not saved late from Lasse Schöne). Defensively they were a shambles and the old guard of Robben, Ribéry and Javi Martinez were especially found wanting.
What you need when you are in the midst of a mini-slump is a reaction and a performance, but they were both sadly lacking as Borussia Mönchengladbach put Bayern to the sword 3-0 at the Allianz Arena in their last Bundesliga outing. Three shots on target in the entire 90 minutes was very un-Bayern and results elsewhere saw the reigning champions languishing in 6th at the end of matchday 7.
Sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic believes the team have to “come together again” in order to get back on the right track. “Then the situation will pick up again, but for now of course we have some work to do,” he added.
Time to panic?
So what has gone wrong for Niko Kovac and what needs to be done to get this marriage back on track?
The intervention of Sporting Director Hasan Salihamidzic into affairs might be required should the internal disappointments of players being rotated threaten to break-out into potential revolt. How true the story was about James angrily berating Kovac that; ‘It’s not Frankfurt here’ is unclear, but if the rotation policy is to continue (and surely it must with so many stars), then the frustration of certain individuals will need to be handled with care.
I can’t imagine for one minute Matthias Sammer for example sitting back and observing in a case like this.
Another area for concern is the apparent lack of an attacking plan. Leaving the array of attacking talent at his disposal to just ‘sort it out’ through pure latent ability seems folly. The decision to extend the contracts of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry, while welcome on an emotional level, may come back to bite Bayern on the backside on a playing level.
Bayern under Kovac haven’t enjoyed their traditional success down the flanks and Kingsley Coman’s injury hasn’t helped. An alternative attacking option through the centre hasn’t be found as yet. Does Kovac have a Plan B to the Robben/ Ribéry attacking system?
Reported mutterings of discontent about the intensity of training sessions and the fact that the coach insists on talking to assistant Robert Kovac and goalkeeping coach Toni Tapalovic in Croat rather than German is being said to irk players and co-assistant Peter Hermann.
Is this a crisis? Will Bayern and Niko Kovac get over it? Well, maybe and most probably yes. One thing is for sure, the feared Bayern stroll to yet another Bundesliga title seems to be less likely with clubs gaining confidence from the results gained by Augsburg, Hertha and Mönchengladbach.
The Bavarians have the quality to bounce back, but the tiger is wounded and Niko Kovac is going to have to win over the doubters and prove that he has what it takes to deliver on his promises from July 2nd.
The first 100 days have proved fascinating. What will the next 100 days brings for Niko Kovac and Bayern Munich?
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