FC Bayern Rondo: Nagelsmann’s first crisis?
As quickly as calm had descended on FC Bayern München after the 1-0 win at Eintracht Frankfurt, it was gone again. An unsatisfactory 1-1 draw with Bayer 04 Leverkusen means that anxiety has once again returned in Munich ahead of what could be a decisive phase of the season.
Coach Julian Nagelsmann still has to do without key players like Alphonso Davies and Leon Goretzka, and he still does not seem to find solutions to his team’s major defensive problems. In the first half, a strong beginning was followed by a weak endingy and in the second half, a rather uninspired performance followed.
Is there much cause for concern therefore? This is the main subject of this week’s FC Bayern Rondo. In addition, we look at the weeks of truth at FC Bayern Women and a dubious report on the future of Paul Wanner.
A quick look at FC Bayern Munich’s recent fixtures is enough to see that the current phase of the season has been an uneven ride for Julian Nagelsmann and his team:
Bochum (A) – 2-4
Salzburg (A) – 1-1
Fürth (H) – 4-1
Frankfurt (A) – 1-0
Leverkusen (H) – 1-1
Moreover, it is not the first time in the current season that Bayern has shown that they are vulnerable. 1-2 at home against Frankfurt, 0-5 in Gladbach, 1-2 in Augsburg and 1-2 at the start of the second half against Gladbach. Each of these games tells its own story, not all of them follow the same pattern. Anyone concluding that these games prove that Bayern are crucially suffering from too weak a defense is oversimplifying things.
Instead, there are various problems in different areas. So many in fact that one tends to ask why they have conspried to all come together at once. Let us examine them in turn:
Bayern’s lukewarm start to the second half of the season can be partly explained by the fact that players in important positions are unavailable. In addition to the long-term absences of Alphonso Davies and Leon Goretzka, there were numerous COVID-19 cases, minor injuries or other absences (e.g. Hernandéz’s recent suspension). It was almost impossible for Bayern to pick up a proper rhythm in this calendar year.
Nagelsmann had to rotate a lot due to the unavailability of Davies and Goretzka, but also because of the injuries to Marcel Sabitzer and Corentin Tolisso even before that. But he also had to adjust the basic formation. ‘Had to’ because the squad is obviously not sufficiently balanced at this point. That does not mean that is too thin purely in quantitative terms. It is much more a problem that there are no straight replacements for individual roles.
Davies is 21 years young. His absence may and must hurt because of his quality. But if this circumstance causes the balance of the entire build-up play, as well as the organisation in the back line, to falter, it is a symptom of a squad that is not well balanced.
Both up front and out wide, Bayern have open issues. Among the first 13 or 14 players, for example, there is no central defender who could provide stability in build-up play and give orders in the game without the ball. There is a lack of players at multiple positions who could immediately compensate for setbacks, such as injuries of established players.
Because there are plenty of them at the moment. Robert Lewandowski? Too often he looks like he has been cut off in front. A system issue? Possibly. But it’s just as possible that his teammates are no longer serving him as reliably as they did for long stretches of the rest of the season, when the Pole was delivering outstanding performances. Thomas Müller is also experiencing a dip in form and can no longer link up the play in the final third as consistently as he used to.
Serge Gnabry is also an experienced player in the team, but he at times seems preoccupied with personal issues. Good performances are regularly followed by two or three weaker ones. And even Joshua Kimmich, although still at a high level, often plays one or two too many sloppy passes. Players like Dayot Upamecano, Marcel Sabitzer and Lucas Hernandez often get into the spotlight, too. These days, however, the focus of discussion should be more on the leading players in the team.
They are now asked to regain their form and to be a support for the newcomers and young players. A team does not function if the players at the bottom of the hierarchy have to bear the brunt of the criticism. Whether this is the case internally at Munich is doubtful in any case. However, the public discussions are approaching the problems from the wrong angles.
Both Hansi Flick and now Julian Nagelsmann tried to calm Bayern’s hectic possession game down – sometimes more, sometimes less successfully. Right now is another phase in which the Bayern team is having a hard time imposing their superior technical ability during wild phases of play. The minutes after Müller’s own goal against Leverkusen are typical of this.
It may be the coach’s responsibility to address this problem. But what was true under Flick is now true under Nagelsmann too: Bayern have not had a full summer preparation since 2019. Flick took over in mid season, then was blindsided by Corona. There was a Champions League tournament in the summer, which almost seamlessly carried over to the new season. Nagelsmann took over in the summer of 2021, but could not even spend ten days net with the complete squad because the international players were given special leave after the European Championship.
Is that sufficient justification? Certainly not. Good coaches manage to put their stamp on a team very quickly. Especially with squads of this quality. As justified as criticism of the squad’s balance may be, it is complaining at a very high level. Nevertheless, if you talk to coaches in all divisions, you will often hear a similar response. Summer preparation is the only time to really work on the fundamentals – and Bayern have been wanting on the fundamentals for some time, at least at a very high level.
Nagelsmann was denied this fundamental work. He basically had to take what was handed to him and make the best of it. Especially since important cornerstones on and off the pitch broke away. Combined with the far too high expectations of many fans and, this is anything but easy.
Because these expectations are truly enormous. Let us take a sober look: Bayern were disgracefully eliminated in the DFB-Pokal in Gladbach, but have also played an almost flawless Champions League season so far and are far ahead of Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga. Before the atrocious 2-4 defeat away at Bochum, there were ten wins in eleven games and the defeat against Gladbach, which had been almost expected due to the numerous COVID-19 absences.
Before that, too, there were 14 wins and three defeats. Bayern are currently averaging 2.36 points in the Bundesliga. Extrapolated, that’s 80 points. Only one other club has reached this figure so far: Dortmund in the 2011/12 season. 76 goals are a record at this point, while 27 goals conceded are a bit much compared to previous years, but still better by around 0.2 goals conceded per game than in the previous year.
In any case, Julian Nagelsmann’s team has improved in many statistical areas compared to last season. Expected goals, expected goals against, goals scored, goals conceded, points average, shots, shots conceded – to name but a few. The feeling of a looming crisis is solely the result of the recent performances.
Which raises the question of whether this phase is not also quite normal during a season. In the first treble winning season, Bayern picked up the following results between November 17 and December 14, 2012:
Nürnberg (A) – 1-1
Valencia (A) – 1-1
Hannover (H) – 5-0
Freiburg (A) – 2-0
Dortmund (H) – 1-1
Borisov (H) – 4-1
Augsburg (A) – 2-0
Gladbach (H) – 1-1
Four draws in eight games. Plus a 2-0 win over Freiburg that was anything but commanding – despite being a man up. Bayern struggled to maintain a rhythm at the time. Still, there was no defeat, even though one always seemed in the air.
Even in the second treble winning year, there was a lot of criticism of Hansi Flick and his style of play in January and February, despite a series of good results. On several occasions, it looked as if Bayern were running on fumes. A close 3-2 home win over Paderborn, a laborious 0-1 away win at Schalke in the cup, problems in the 4-3 against Hoffenheim and against Mainz, despite a 3-0 lead – Bayern often had the winning narrative on their side.
Currently, they are lacking that. The problems described above compound in such a way that it is even more difficult for them to produce the expected results in this phase. However, criticism of these results should always be put into perspective and seen in the context of the season as a whole.
If Bayern now win over Salzburg, Hoffenheim and Union, the world will look very different. That would make it five wins and two draws from the last seven games. That Bayern are having a crisis of form should not be big news. It happens to them at least once a year even during very successful times.
The big question is how quickly they can get out of it. Because although all explanations are correct, they do not make the criticism of the performances objectively wrong. FC Bayern’s aspiration is to win every game. In principle, then, this means that the impossible should be possible. Everyone has to be held to that standard.
Julian Nagelsmann, however, has a point when he warns that doomsday is not imminent after every bad result. What is considered a “poor performance” at Bayern must be seen with envy even at other top clubs such as FC Barcelona, Juventus Turin, Manchester United or, in parts, Real Madrid.
There are still three games until the next longer break. Three games in which Nagelsmann and the team have the chance to get luck and air superiority over the barstools back on their side – and with it the peace of mind that they are supposed to have lost because of a draw against an in-form third in the table. Crazy, actually.
The Bayern women have had a run of games that has suited them very well in the calendar year so far. Their clear victories of late brought the confidence they will now need. They also play Hoffenheim next weekend (Saturday, 1 p.m., MagentaSport). This is a crucial game for the championship. Already in the reverse fixture they had a hard time against Hoffenheim, last season they even lost one game against them.
Wolfsburg can take the lead in Cologne on Friday. If they win, they will be one point clear – with a game in hand. This game, against Sand, follows the following week and, barring a miracle, they will take a commanding three points. So if Bayern lose at Hoffenheim, this would be tantamount to a championship sealed for Wolfsburg. Four points would be close to impossible to make up in the remaining season.
But the games come thick and fast after that: at home against Frankfurt (fourth in the table), Champions League first leg at home to PSG, at home in the league against Essen, the return leg in Paris, then away to Wolfsburg in the league – this is a tough one. In the worst case, two titles are already gone by the end of this run. In the best case, it can provide an important boost for the final weeks of the season. After the international break, Bayern will face Wolfsburg again – this time at home in the DFB-Pokal semifinals. The other will be played out between Leverkusen or Potsdam.
It is no secret that Paul Wanner has extended his contract at FC Bayern. Until now, however, the exact contract length was unknown – supposedly. As the news portal FCBinside now “revealed”, the talent has extended “only until 2024”. That could be found out through the DFB website. The relatively short term is rather unusual, “especially for young talents who enjoy such a high reputation as Wanner,” the news says.
In fact, however, this approach is very common. For Wanner and Bayern there was hardly any other way. At 16, German labor laws do not allow the signing of a full license player contract, such as Jamal Musiala had signed. Only a so-called “contract player” contract is possible as an alternative to the youth player contract. Initially, it may be signed for up to three years and then extended for another two years at every iteration.
According to Miasanrot information, Wanner had already signed such a “contract player” contract for two years. Accordingly, it would also have been possible to date the extension to run to 2025. However, since the young midfielder will come of age in two years, he may then sign a full license player contract. The extension until 2024 rather indicates that both parties are very much in agreement about what will happen after that.
According to our information, an initial agreement for the subsequent contract following the current one have already been established. It is even possible to integrate an option for the license player contract in the youth contract, which could then be activated when he turns 18 years old. It is not known whether any arrangements have been contractually stipulated anywhere. In principle, however, everything speaks for a trusting relationship between the two parties.