Embrace the change with open arms
The win against Leverkusen felt good. After the final whistle, you could see the relief on the players’ faces. The losses against Dortmund and Rostov were chipping away confidence from the team. That was especially noticeable when Leverkusen equalised on Saturday evening. As the visitors ran off celebrating, most Bayern players just dropped their heads. Hardly any encouragement. Barely any communication. Not a good sign. However, in the end there was a win and the certainty that even a not-so optimal performance can suffice for three points against a top 5 team in the Bundesliga. This realisation is important for the further course of the season.
Everything we’ve seen from the record champion in the past weeks just screams “season of transition” in our faces. Philipp Lahm (33) and Xabi Alonso (35), who were rather surprisingly selected to start in midfield against Leverkusen, had visible problems to counter the pace and physicality of Kampl and Aranguiz. That’s no surprise. With the ball both are still above average for the most part. Without it, it can get risky at the moment and will be in the future. “Currently I have to question myself every month, every week, if it’s still enough. If I can still keep up on this level. This is not a question of years, but weeks“, answered Lahm when asked, whether he wants to fulfil his contract until 2018. This statement shows how realistic he judges his current performance level.
Robben (32) and Ribéry (33) (who extended his contract until 2018 on Sunday) have also reached an age, where wingers increasingly become super-subs, instead of consistently influencing the play of their team. Not even mentioning all the injuries. The squad of FC Bayern is still very good, in some key positions just older and therefore more volatile compared to previous years. Adding the odd injury or form inconsistency like (think Boateng or Müller), one can lose 2-3 in Rostov.
CFO Jan Christian Dreesen has presented outstanding numbers on Friday evening. Around the Hoeneß enthronement it was foreshadowed, that profits of the previous years will be invested into the first team primarily next. It’s absolutely realistic, that FC Bayern will invest 100 million or even more (like BVB did this season) in the upcoming summer. A star player, two or three highly-skilled talents, plus a role player. In attack, in central midfield and at right-back. That is roughly the transfer plan for the next two years. Behind closed doors this is already heavily worked on. This is the future from next summer on.
The present looks different. FC Bayern and particularly its surroundings have to get used to the fact that the times where the club played the most modern and tactically advanced football in the world between 2012 and 2016, are over. Can FC Bayern play better under Ancelotti than they did in the second half against Leverkusen? On a really good day, sure. Will they be able to dominate the top teams in the league, as they did in the years prior? No. Let alone the top teams in the Champions League. This is a bitter realisation, but it’s the reality. There’s no point in hoping the team just needs to get used to each other. The instructions and Ancelotti’s résumé as a manager aren’t suitable for creating such a dominant machine we’ve witnessed in the previous seasons. It’s over. Period. Time to move on.
And this is the deciding factor. Anyone who’s talked to Bayern fans in the last weeks notices how hard it is for many to leave behind the constant comparison to the quality of play from the previous years. Even in our blog you can feel it sometimes. However, it’s time to flip the switch. The win against Leverkusen is a very good example for that. The team has to find ways of winning a game. That’s the decisive point. It’s more important than ever, because the tactical superiority is gone.
It could be an all-out-attack from the first minute against weaker opponents. It could be a header after a corner, too. Or Javi Martinez, who blocks every ball that’s coming near the own goal. Or the obligatory Robbery show every three, four weeks. Or a long shot from Douglas Costa. Whatever. It’s about a team, consisting of experienced, developed players to find ways of winning games.
One thing’s for sure: Ancelotti has to help the team more. Through better balance in the pressing, a change to the more natural 4-2-3-1, more fitting player combinations in central midfield or the faith in a back three. However, the team and especially fans of FC Bayern have to start accepting this transitioning phase. It’s probably the last season for one of the best Bayern players of all time. It’s the finishing sprint for Robben and Ribéry, who have both massively influenced the greatest season in club history. These constellations can create big things as well, if you have the right approach. In 2011 Manchester United won the league and reached the Champions League final with a mix of old warhorses like van der Sar, Giggs, Scholes or Ferdinand, young guns like Chicharito and players in their prime (Rooney, Evra or Carrick). The football wasn’t always beautiful. It was smart, powerful and clinical.
Maybe the FC Bayern of 2016/2017 will be that type of FC Bayern again, that’s more experienced and more intelligent than their opponents. One that keeps Leipzig, Dortmund or Atlético running more with smart, but less risky, passing sequences, one that keeps the opponents away from their own box, has a good goalkeeper and scores the 2-1 winner after a cross in the final minutes. The way it was for the most part between 1997 and 2009. Only with a better squad. Who knows. There are still a lot of opportunities with this multifaceted team.
It’s crucial, that not only the team, but rather the surroundings and fans embrace this moment and do something with it. Nothing would be worse than continuously wanting to play the football of the last years, when the tactical foundation is missing. This produces frustration and in the end maybe some defeats, too. Embrace the change with open arms and full conviction. That could definitely be a start.