What is happening at FC Bayern Munich?
We sat down with Michel Munger from the Straight Red Blog to discuss all things Bayern...
What have you made of Bayern’s season so far?
Michel: Being in seventh place in the Bundesliga table and trailing Borussia Mönchengladbach by seven points? Wow. Let's talk about the threat of relegation soon! Kidding aside, this situation is hardly going to make anyone happy at the club and among fans, but I urge people to be patient. The team faces the same challenges as last year, with an incomplete generational change, instability in the dugout and a foggy rebuilding strategy. The seven straight league title wins, the Champions League triumph in 2013 and the semis that followed were the result of a rebuild that started in 2007. It didn't happen overnight.
Were the club right to relieve Kovac of his duties?
Michel: Yes and no. Coach and players shared responsibility for the early season's problems, although only one man took the blame. The players were dragging their feet, reacting negatively to Kovac's poor man-management and frigid tactics. We saw this dynamic last season, but the squad rallied to clinch the Bundesliga title and win the DFB-Pokal once the club's top managers gave Kovac a public backing. The players had been cornered, and they had no choice but to deliver. The club didn't back its coach this time, so he had to leave.
In my opinion, Kovac handled players such as Thomas Müller and Javi Martinez poorly, started diplomatic rows in the team, and failed to implement tactics such as defensive pressing. However, how much of a mandate did he have to reform and rebuild? Did he get the transfers that he could have expected? Did he have a world-class youth academy to tap into?
How have the new signings fared? Has Coutinho delivered?
Michel: Benjamin Pavard is the standout signing to me. His defensive awareness and pace make him reliable as either a centre-back or right-back, and he corrects his own mistakes. Ivan Perisic's signing was heavily criticized by fans, but he is effective and seemingly happy as a "super substitute". Big clubs need "depth players" like him to be strong in three competitions.
Philippe Coutinho started very strongly, directing play and finding spaces to create scoring chances for his teammates. However, he slowed down a tad and fell out of favor as pressure mounted for Thomas Müller to get more playing time. He's like a bear on melting polar ice on the left wing, so the coaching staff either has to start both Coutinho and Müller centrally for them to thrive. Otherwise, one of them will be unhappy.
Despite the up and down season, one man who’s been performing week in and week out is Lewandowski. Could you sum up the big man's performances this season?
Michel: He has been spectacular so far, and this coincides with a change of mindset. There was a time when he would whine like a baby if he didn't receive passes while competing with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for the title of top scorer in the Bundesliga. He would get discouraged after missing a couple of chances. Today, he is more of a relentless team player and he helps mentor younger teammates.
However, don't drool too much when watching Lewandowski's scintillating performances at this time of the year. Since he joined Bayern, his Bundesliga dominance and greatness in the Champions League group stage failed to translate into big-match opportunism. He often fell silent against Europe's elite. It's one thing to demolish Red Star Belgrade in November, and another thing to down Real Madrid or Liverpool later on.
Who would you like to see as the next manager of FC Bayern Munich and why?
Michel: I'd be insane if I didn't blurt out Jürgen Klopp's name, because his success at Liverpool has elevated him to sainthood. I despised him for running his mouth against Bayern as he worked for BVB, but admire the way he reshaped Liverpool into a formidable juggernaut. On the other hand, I don't think he's coming to Munich anytime soon. Liverpool are likely to say "over my dead body" as Klopp's contract runs until 2022. The man himself may need a breather after a long run at a massive club.
In the meantime, I recommend waiting to see how Hans-Dieter Flick does until the end of the season. What if he fits the bill? If not, Erik ten Hag from Ajax Amsterdam may be available in the summer. His tactical playbook promises attractive football. My only concern is that his team tends to choke under pressure.
Will Flick be within a shout and what have you made of his start at the club?
Michel: I wish that the club would give him a chance, but I don't expect it. FC Bayern players, managers and fans will only respect a coach with star power after having had the likes of Louis van Gaal, Jupp Heynckes and Pep Guardiola in the last decade. They won't let someone cut his teeth and learn on the job, even if it means going through a short-term downturn.
I was quite happy with the way things started with Flick, but I suspect that the incredible inspiration we saw at the beginning was the result of a "new coach effect". Players felt like they had to perform. Some were probably happy to say "bye Niko." A coaching change always brings a short-term honeymoon anyway; Carlo Ancelotti and Niko Kovac themselves enjoyed several weeks of early success. If Flick wants to impress and be more than a caretaker, he has to squeeze great performances out of the players on a regular basis, and do it sooner than later.
Lastly, how do you see the season going for Bayern? Can they still win the title and challenge for the UCL with all the managerial uncertainty? Will they need to spend in January?
Michel: I love it when my club wins titles, but running the table across all competitions is highly unlikely. I'll be happy if the team wins the Bundesliga and makes it to the Champions League quarters. However, part of me wishes Borussia Mönchengladbach to get the league this year. Uninterrupted domestic dominance isn't in the league's interest and it doesn't serve Bayern. A good challenge at home, such as BVB's two successive league wins in 2011 and 2012, makes Bavarian top dogs bark and bite harder due to their survival instincts.
Did you enjoy this article? Check out more of Michel’s piece over on the Straight Red Blog‘s site https://t.co/XkQT3dQkcF