In many ways, the second leg against Real Madrid was a reflection of Bayern’s fortunes over the last four years. Have die Roten realised they are only going in circles?
Such a shame.
A combination of bad luck with injuries and poor refereeing meant Bayern Munich lost 6:3 on aggregate to Real Madrid in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday evening. For the first time in six years, the German champions failed to reach the semi-finals of Europe’s elite competition.
But that is not why this Bayern supporter is shaking his head.
Symptoms of a deeper malaise
In many ways, the two hours against los Blancos on Tuesday were a reflection of Bayern’s post-treble journey. Remember those heady early Pep days? He was the best coach, we were the best team. Together, we would re-scale the dizzying heights of 2012-13 and even more. That was the feeling during the first ten minutes last night as well.
Except, we lost. Pretty badly too. And who was to blame?
Back in 2014, it was the “German” way, according to Guardiola. There was no reason to question him: Bayern had won the league with seven matches to spare, bettering the record set in the treble season. Perhaps his way was the way going forward?
The seeds of doubt were sown.
Gain of possession, loss of identity
One might say Bayern played well in the first half last night. That, however, is the all-too familiar illusion of domination in possession.
Carlo Ancelotti set his team up in a system prone to counter-attacks. The centre-backs were semi-fit, the wingers are ageing and the defensive midfielder should be a coach by now. This, against an attacking team as fierce as Real Madrid, spelt trouble.
The result was expected. Bayern registered zero shots on target in the first half (one if we include Thiago’s blocked attempt) while conceding at least three clear-cut goal-scoring chances (Manuel Neuer’s saves off Cristiano Ronaldo and Dani Carvajal and Jérôme Boateng’s goal-line clearance). If not for our goalkeeper, this tie would have been over long before the refereeing decisions came into play.
But yes, we dominated in possession. We had three goals over two legs to show for it: one from a corner, one from the penalty spot, one an own-goal.
It was a painful reminder of the 4:1 defeat at the hands of VfL Wolfsburg two years back. Which begs the question, how much have we progressed since then? Is this way any better?
Back to the drawing board
The board of directors, which has over the years been exemplary in its running of the club, is equally to blame for this loss of direction.
The acquisition of Javi Martînez, Dante, Mario Mandzukic, Xherdan Shaqiri and Claudio Pizarro in the summer of 2012 was what propelled the team to the zenith of Europe. It was a squad which included three international forwards, had players like Toni Kroos, Shaqiri and Luis Gustavo on the bench and did not miss Arjen Robben during his injury spells.
Compare this with the present squad, which has no back-up forwards or centre-halves. The wingers identified to replace Robbery have not lived up to the mark yet and Philipp Lahm’s retirement means the club might be held to ransom in transfer negotiations for a world-class replacement.
How did it come to this?
The present state of squad management is sadly similar to a team Bayern regularly beat. Average squad players, check. Injuries galore, check. Vulnerability to counter-attacks, check. Underwhelming domestic and European targets, check, which have not been reached this season, check.
Congratulations guys, we are the rich man’s Arsenal. Maybe the 50+1 rule has been kind to us after all..
Choosing the safer option over ambition
The sending off of Arturo Vidal last night was unfortunate, but even more inexplicable was what happened next. Ancelotti brought off Robert Lewandowski for Joshua Kimmich.
The Italian coach did not want the out-of-form Thomas Müller in midfield with Thiago and preferred having him alone upfront. In doing so, he returned to the toothless setup which had invited Real to launch attack after attack in the first leg.
That, and the repeated omission of Müller for Alonso in big games is reminiscent of Guardiola’s approach to the semi-final against Atlético Madrid last season. For all the promises of more vertical football, Ancelotti has but followed in Guardiola’s footsteps, opting for ‘balance’ even when goals were higher priority.
More importantly, it is symbolic of the current psychology of the club. For some reason, Bayern after 2013 have found satisfaction in safety. The aversion to undertaking risk for greater glory has seeped through all levels of the club, from investment and squad management to the playing style itself.
Which, again, is unfortunate because the Bayern Munich of 2013 knew no fear. The club wanted to move forward in all aspects, knew its strengths and did what needed to be done to remove weaknesses.
It is quite possible we would have ended where we are that way as well; one cannot, after all, expect a treble season every year. But it would have, at the very least, been the way we had once achieved perfection. Emulating that moment of utopia should have been the aim.
Instead, we went in circles, much like that ball on the pitch and the only direction was away from that moment. Overwhelmed by the talent and potential of the team, we experimented, mismanaged and ultimately bungled its development.
Four years on, the great Bayern of 2012-13 is on the cusp of disbanding and nothing screams louder than the retiring skipper ending his final Champions League campaign before the semi-finals.