The season is over now and Bayern defended their Bundesliga title. Time to look at the predictions. Where I was right and where I was wrong? Judgement Day:
1. Bayern win their fourth Bundesliga title in a row
Impressive. Admittedly not the boldest prediction, but I was right last summer with the assessment, that the investments in the quality of the squad would pay off. No club in Bundesliga history was able to win four league titles in a row. Bayern managed four three-peats in a row (72-74, 85-87, 99-01 and 13-15). Borussia Mönchengladbach once (75-77).
In 1978 the Foals blew they history chance only due to the worse goal difference against champions Cologne. In Bayern’s history only the sometimes underestimated – because european title lacking – 80s generation with Pfaff, Augenthaler, Matthäus and Wohlfarth really got close to the fourth triumph in a row. Four points were missing in 1988 to Werder Bremen. Besides then Bayern rather experienced a significant drop in performance after winning the league three times in a row, especially with their 10th place in 1975.
“It would be a really big, historic thing,” I wrote in the summer. It was.
2. The biggest competitor is Dortmund
What today sounds perfectly logical, was not necessarily to be expected in summer 2015. After the Klopp era and a turbulent season that ended in seventh place, there were many question marks around the major competitors of recent years. Thomas Tuchel has managed to tactically develop the Dortmund team tremendously, especially with the ball. Bayern’s 5-1 victory in the first Bundesliga match-up this season did not really reflected the real balance of power. The hard fought 0-0 with a slight advantage for Bayern in the second match-up was nearer to the truth.
“The distance in the table was not so big in recent years, because Bayern’s first 11 was so much better than the competition. The difference was the constancy of Bayern against the Hannovers, Berlins and Bremens in the world.” That’s what I wrote last summer and it held true for the season. Dortmund dropped unnecessary points against Darmstadt, Cologne, Frankfurt or Hamburg, while Bayern won their tough 50/50 games almost completely until late in the season. Bayern has also benefited from the additional burden of Dortmund’s 16 (!) games in the Europe League, 10 during the first half of the season. Bayern managed to extend their lead early on.
It is also interesting that Dortmund have conceded twice as many goals in the league compared to the record champion (34 to 17). Despite giving up just 0.8 more shots per game (8 to 7.2). This suggests that Dortmund allowed more clear cut chances, for example by early turnovers or a lack of securing against counters. It is quite fair to say that Bayern’s defensive quality in this Bundesliga season made the difference to Dortmund.
3. Xabi Alonso goes into partial retirement
Yes. Naw. First of all one has to say that Xabi Alonso has enjoyed perhaps the best season of a 34-year-outfielder in Munich since Lothar Matthäus. Alonso, who has been identified as a potential problem in Bayerns centre due to his sometimes slow way of playing and visible speed deficits in the previous year, had a great part in the outstanding first half of the season and was also noteworthy in the second half. Alonso played as few minutes as never before in his career and was benched in the first leg against Juve and Benfica – to speak of a part-time employee, would however be exaggerated. In the Bundesliga Alonso started 23 games. Guardiola was clearly trying not to use him more than once a week.
Alonso changed his role somewhat compared to last year. He dropped back less, played more direct and overall was much less involved in the build-up game. Per 90 minutes played, the experienced Spaniard had 15 passes less compared to the previous season. On the other hand, he set-up more shots himself. In the Champions League even two per 90 minutes. A clear sign of his changed playing style.
There are only a few players who wore the Bayern jersey where one had the feeling that they are as a personality somehow bigger than the club. In Alonso’s case this is due to his remarkable career before his transfer to Munich. After two years in the Bayern shirt the sympathetic oldie looks like a natural in red. In the 2015/2016 season he has proven that he can still help the team even at this level. Nevertheless, the partial retirement is approaching.
4. Robert Lewandowski is even more valuable when he learns to score the simple goals
“If he succeeds, the top scorer in the Bundesliga is almost an automatism.” I wrote before the season started. On point, I would say. We can make it short. Last year, the finishing was the only real weakness in Lewandowski’s game. He needed 8.8 shots in the penalty area for each goal in the previous season. This season that number dropped to less than 5. In the Champions League even to 4.5. That’s still more than the 3.3 shots per goal from Mario Gomez in the 2010/2011 season, but the trend is clearly positive. The top scorer trophy was logical indeed.
With Robert Lewandowski Bayern have one of the top five number 9s in Europe in its ranks. It remains the faint feeling that Bayern could only be a stopover for him. Let’s see if it just remains in a feeling.
5. More back three than last season
Weeeeeeeeeeeeellll. This prediction is tough to decide. The main reason is because Guardiola moved back and forth between back three and back four several times even during games. Additionally, the Catalan almost exclusively played a back four in the second half of the season after the injuries of Badstuber, Boateng and Martínez. Nevertheless: The overall impression is that the back three was a more natural part of Bayern’s formations in the first half of the season compared to last season. In more than 10 official matches, it was the starting lineup at kickoff.
The 5-1 against Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga is well remembered as Jérôme Boateng initiated the victory by being a playmaker in the back three. It will be very interesting to see whether Carlo Ancelotti will occasionally use the back three. Bayern has the players for it.
6. Kimmich will collect 25 competitive matches
Of course I had foreseen that Joshua Kimmich with 20/21 years will play in 35 games and start 24 of them on six different positions, and thus will quite rightly be nominated for the European tournament in France this summer. Totally.
Kimmich has clearly exceeded expectations in his first year. The fact that he also benefited from injuries, is undeniable. But how he – with very few exceptions – took advantage of his opportunities and also appeared on an unusual position in central defense (14 games) is worth all the praise. Kimmich, as the second youngest in the team, had the third-best passing accuracy (over 92%) of all Bayern players.
There are no guarantees for next season but Kimmich’s versatility, his game intelligence and his calm on the ball offer Ancelotti however sufficient reasons to frequently field the young man.
7. At least two players are released in the course of the season
On August 12th in 2015, I named Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Jan Kirchhoff, Dante, Sinan Kurt and Mario Götze as candidates for an exit. 4 out of 5. Furthermore Gianluca Gaudino went to St. Gallen. And the Götze topic could be hot again later this summer.
8. It’s not the same without Robben and Ribéry (yet)
It still holds true. It is pointless to discuss whether Bayern’s Champions League campaign would have been different with Arjen Robben on board. The fact that he was missing in the second half of the season, was visible. Robben took on significantly less dribblings in his 18 season appearances than in previous years (4 times per 90 minutes). Just about half as often as Kingsley Coman (8.2), Douglas Costa (7.6) or Franck Ribéry (10.7). His winning rate is also not sticking out. Nevertheless, he was involved in more shots on goal than any other Bayern player (6.5 per 90 minutes).
Ribery’s performances were volatile, but so convincing that Guardiola started him at home against Atlético in the most important game of the season. The arrival of Coman and Costa ended the absolute dependence on the two experienced wingers, but they were still needed for the big moments and games this season.
9. Rode remains the substituion king
Hngggmmpppfff. Although it is formally correct, this bold prediction does somehow hurt. In this season – at least in the Bundesliga – nobody in the Bayern squad was subbed in more often than Sebastian Rode (12x), but it has to be mentioned that his minutes have stropped from over 1,000 to under 500 compared to last season. The Energizer missed 11 games in the fall with a tendonitis. After that he was no longer an integral part of the team.
He could well be valuable in the coming year as a specialist coming from the bench depending on the game situation. However, his talent and his age (25) does not satisfy this role. Rode will leave the club in the summer. Whoever gets him, can be lucky to get a bundle of energy with a pretty decent passing game, a very good tackler who knows his role and place in the team. Not so much about his Twitter account.
10. Benatia is the guy next to Boateng
Benatia started the season as a partner of Boateng and was injured after 36 minutes in the second match against Hoffenheim. Thigh problems (63 days), muscle bundle plan (67 days), thigh injury (21 days). Medhi Benatia missed 23 games injured in the 2015/2016 season. His muscles have destroyed my perfectly derived prediction. David Alaba was the constant next to Jérôme Boateng, until he got injured himself and the situation in central defense became even more complicated.
It is unclear at the moment how to proceed with Benatia in the summer. He has allowed himself one really bad game in the Bayern shirt. At the 4-2 against Juve, as he let the quite massive 1.90-man Alvaro Morata look like the fastest striker in the world. Benatia was subbed off at halftime. That he started in both Bundesliga defeats (against Gladbach and Mainz), is indeed striking – but only partially to blame on him.
The Moroccan remains an absolutely adequate central defender, that excellently harmonizes especially with Jérôme Boateng. However both were together in the starting XI only five times due to the mutual injuries. After all, Benatia collected 21 games – including some pretty impressive ones at the end of the season. With the arrival of Mats Hummels, the air gets thin for him. On the other hand Boateng and Hummels will play a tiring tournament in the summer. Badstuber and Martínez have injury-related question marks. A transfer of Benatia is not a safe bet for this summer.
11. The 4-1-4-1 returns
Jackpot. Although formations are only aids and basic orders of a more complex system, of course, the return of 4-1-4-1 is a clear trend of last season. 21 times Bayern beganwith this basic formation according to “Football lineups”. Among them in two games against Juventus and each a game against Benfica and Atlético. Unlike in previous years, Guardiola abandoned again and again clear 8-roles and pushed the nominal 8s in possession far forward to allow a more direct game in attack.
Exciting was also the “lineup of Death” formation with five real attackers (here mostly: Lewandowski, Müller, Coman, Costa and Robben) in front of a sole six, named after the Golden State Warriors winning formation in the NBA this season. Costa, rarely Robben usually took here a much more central role. This combination produced 30 Shots per 90 minutes. Too bad that Guardiola did not pursue this formation with all its consequences.
Overall, the 4-1-4-1 worked significantly better than in the first Guardiola-year, as next to the sole six large gaps in the counter securing occured. That was the case only in very exceptional circumstances in the current season.
12. Bastian Schweinsteiger plays in the 2015/2016 season at the Allianz Arena
Oh Basti ….
13. No chance for the youngsters
“Except Joshua Kimmich (20), the 2015/2016 season is not a good year for the young guns. Julian Green (20), Sinan Kurt (19), Gianluca Gaudino (18), Fabian Benko (17) and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg (20) will have a tough time to get into the spotlight.”
That’s pretty much true. Like almost every year the young players gained some momentum during the summer. The stories about Bayern’s promising youngsters were premature. The jump in the senior squad is as far or as high as never before in the history of the club.
We have repeatedly reported about the plans and hopes in the youth development of Bayern. The jump to the pros will remain big. Even experienced players like Sebastian Rode have little chances of regular playing times. Even with Højbjerg the signs are now on permanent farewell. Nevertheless there is, for example looking at the U17, reason for hope. The 2015/2016 season was certainly not highly touted for the young quartet.
14. Pep Guardiola extends his contract
Well. Nope. I wrote already, that it was a complete 50/50 gut decision for me. In the end it came differently. I feel the era Guardiola is illuminated psychologically in sufficient breadth and depth. He has not ultimately failed. He only didn’t win a Champions League semi-final and probably lost to eventual winners with three completely different reasons.
Guardiola has been able to extend the run of the best Bayern team of all time. The Catalan made an outstanding Bayern team evolve tactically. That effortless switch between different tactical formations was unthinkable before Guardiola. He has also evolved individual players like Boateng, Alaba, Kimmich or Lewandowski significantly. The games against AS Rome (7-1) and Arsenal (5-1) were perhaps the best team performances I’ve seen in 20 years as a Bayern supporter.
That will remain of Guardiola’s time in Munich. Nevertheless, it might be good to have a new beginning, with a new face and a new style after three exhausting years.
That Bayern even succeeded to organize this coaching change confidently and with a smart follow-up solution, while other clubs get a headache to even find a successor for André Breitenreiter, speaks for a certain professionalism in the management, that is somehow soothing.
15. Thomas Müller will not be subbed of in important games
Around the games against Atlético Madrid this discussion has been developed into a completely different dimension. Greeting from the “The Müller zone”. Müller was subbed in or out late several times even in important games. That this fact alone can not explain every success or failure, should at least be clear after this season.