July 22, 2017

Bayern’s 5th Title on the Bounce: a Lost Year for the Bundesliga?

When Bayern stand in front of their fans at the end of the season to celebrate their 5th Bundesliga title in a row most fans and pundits are going to state that this what had to be expected. The Bundesliga has turned into a two class system, where Bayern is on top all of the time whilst the rest of the league fights for the scraps behind them. It is worrying to see that Germany for the first time in a long time wasn’t represented in the semi finals of both the Champions League and the Europa League. Yes, one might say that the ref got the better of Bayern towards the end of the second match against Real Madrid, however, anybody who watched the entire clash over both matches is not going to argue with the ultimate result of the tie.

One might say that Bayern’s dominance and their willingness to purchase players of their fiercest rivals has made the Bundesliga less exciting in terms of the title race. Additionally it may even had an adverse effect on the Bavarians, as they’ve been missing a team that has pushed them all the way domestically, keeping their minds sharp towards the business end of the season. Arguably this could have cost them dearly in some of the European ties which ultimately were lost. Measuring this is, of course, impossible. However, it is striking to see that most teams who have won the Champions League over the years have experienced stronger challenges at home than what Bayern has faced over the last few years in Germany.

There’s very little doubt that the Bundesliga needs Bayern’s path to the title be more tough than it has been of late. The fact that the team wins the league by 10-20 points each season has led to the German league being referred to as a one team league. Over the last few years the teams of the league have decided to increase their efforts in terms of appealing in an international fan base. However, Bayern running away with the title every season is not exactly going to project an image of exciting football being on display and it might lead to potential fans looking elsewhere to get their thrills.

Ancelotti Has Work to Do

After 32 match days in the Bundesliga and a one title season most Bayern fans are unlikely to be thrilled about the team’s performance during Carlo Ancelotti’s first season at the club. Uli Hoeness and Karl Heinz Rummenigge have managed to set Bayern apart from the rest of their competitors over the years. Nowadays both the wage bill and the transfer budget dwarfs what the other 17 teams can spend on their squads. In that regard winning the Bundesliga is the bare minimum of what Bayern’s fans and the board expect from their team. This season in itself has seen the team leading the table comfortably most of the time despite the fact that they struggled more than they used to in certain matches.

It seems like there are cracks in the armour, which has been showcased by a few odd results during Ancelotti’s first campaign in Germany. Draws against the likes of Eintracht Frankfurt and 1. FC Köln are events that rarely occurred over the last few years. The fact that Ancelotti’s 4-3-3 system hasn’t worked as well as it did at Real Madrid was obvious time and time again. Furthermore, it seems like a few of Bayern’s players have stagnated under the Italian coach’s leadership. At the moment the Bayern leadership are looking for anything that could give them an edge in the Champions League, as they are desperate to win that title again, but hiring Ancelotti hasn’t been it so far.

Bayern’s Generational Shift

One of the key criticisms of Ancelotti’s tenure so far is his disposition to give older players a lot of playing time. The likes of Arjen Robben (33-years-old) and Franck Ribery (34-years-old) have been preferred to younger players like Kingsley Coman and Douglas Costa. Robbery might still work well enough in the Bundesliga, but does this elderly duo still posses enough quality to ask probing questions of the best defensive line ups in Europe? Furthermore, both Philipp Lahm and Xabi Alonso played vital roles in Bayern’s starting line up week in and week out. Both of these players are ending their careers after this season. Replacing them and blending in new players should have been a priority this season, but very little has been done in terms of that.

Robben and Ribery are going to be in Munich for at least another season. And alongside them the Bayern squad is currently getting a lot older. This month Arturo Vidal is going to turn 30, and next year a staggering amount of five players are going to do the same (Ulreich, Hummels, Boateng, Martinez and Lewandowski).

The likes of Renato Sanches and Joshua Kimmich would have represented alternative solutions to Bayern’s aging line up, but both players (particularly Sanches) are probably unhappy with the roles they have played this season. Thomas Müller, one of the few players left that were produced by the Bayern academy, has also played a dreadful season by his standards. Most fans of the reds are probably not happy about the fact that Bayern haven’t produced any sort of star players at the Säbener Strasse since Louis van Gaal left the club. Both the under 19s and the under 17s have won the German championship this season, but these days there’s a lot of doubt about any of these players being able to break into the Bayern squad (nevermind the first team line up). It seems rather doubtful that Ancelotti is the coach who is going to change that.

New Challengers

Given all these factors – Ancelotti’s tactics not really working out well all the time and the aging Bayern squad in particular – one might almost be tempted to state that the other teams in the Bundesliga have been disappointing. Why hasn’t this Bayern side that is probably going to undergo a transformation over the next 2-3 years not given a fight for the title until the end of the season? Since the Rückrunde started there never really was any doubt of who was going to win the salad bowl in the end.

The next years are going to show if the Bundesliga indeed has become a league of mediocre teams and Bayern, or if 2-3 sides can step up to the mark and make the league exciting once again. Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig are looking like the best contenders to do so as of now. Hoffenheim are coming of a great season with their young and energetic coach Julian Nagelsmann, but the team from Sinnsheim is going to be faced with Bayern having bought two of their best players for next season. If they can overcome that obstacle they could potentially have outside chances of giving Bayern  some problems.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 30-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball and on the @AufstiegPod.

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