FC Bayern Rondo: Preview for Union, FC Bayern’s Women and what else happened this week
“I feel Dortmund’s breath more than I did a few weeks ago. After all, it’s no longer nine points but only four,” Julian Nagelsmann said Friday afternoon, wearing a faint smile on his face. He added that the calculation was simple: “If we win all our games, we’re champions.”
A few hundred kilometers away, Marco Rose also commented on the rekindled championship race: “We now have Cologne in front of us, then Leipzig, and we’re still going to Munich,” said the Borussia Dortmund coach: “That’s not meant to sound stupid, and it’s not deep thinking. We all know how the season has played out so far, we saw the Bayern game at Hoffenheim.”
There, Hoffenheim had to make last ditch clearances on the goal line a few times and the point was relatively fortunate, he said. “Bayern will win a few more points and we have to fulfill our tasks,” Rose analyzed. Two coaches, both coming to the same conclusion: focus on your own tasks.
In any case, the trend is wearing black and yellow. While Bayern went into the winter break with a nine-point lead, they are five points behind RB Leipzig and Dortmund in the standings of the Rückrunde. Five wins, two draws, two defeats – certainly not a disastrous result, but not one that makes for satisfaction either.
The truth is: Bayern and only Bayern have it in their hands whether this championship race will see something like excitement again. Four points, having just gone through a slump with an upward trend in the latest performances – in view of the recent history of the Bundesliga, the talk of an exciting title race seems rather contrived.
Dortmund have let their guard down too often when it mattered, not only in recent years but also this season. The longest winning streak in this Bundesliga season is three games.
However, it is also clear that Dortmund no longer have the burden of having to compete on several fronts. Whether that alone can ensure that the fluctuations in performance stop is nevertheless doubtful. Despite good results, the last few games were ultimately not convincing enough. Bayern will very likely no longer need an above-average run-in to end up champions once again. However, they will certainly need one in order to gain the necessary self-confidence for the Champions League.
In fact, they managed to achieve rather the opposite: especially against Hoffenheim, the performance was okay in many ways. Only the result was not right. Three offside goals, one shot barely cleared off the line, several times just wide – the number of chances in this match would ordinarily have been enough for several games.
And yet the times when Bayern after a match talk above all about “game luck” have become more frequent. The defence in particular has emerged as a major issue. The club has invested a lot of money in the defence, especially under the leadership of Hasan Salihamidzic, who has been the team’s sporting director and board member for sports.
Yet at the same time, Javi Martínez, Jérôme Boateng and David Alaba left, and Niklas Süle will follow this summer – and none of them brought in any transfer revenue. Has the defence become worse from a purely sporting point of view? A discussion that has legitimate arguments on both sides.
Lucas Hernández, Benjamin Pavard, Dayot Upamecano, Niklas Süle – they all have special qualities, they are all very strong on a good day. But what Nagelsmann said at the press conference about some of his defenders was telling. “His great strength is defending,” the coach maintained twice. First referring to Upamecano, then Hernández.
With defenders, that is how it should be. Perhaps this is precisely a problem. What was Boateng’s greatest strength in his prime? Or Alaba’s? Quite a few would probably name qualities beside and beyond defending. In Alaba’s case in particular, the ability to be a director on the pitch constantly shouting out orders became especially obvious during the pandemic.
This capacity is exactly what the Bayern defence is currently lacking. Boateng and Alaba were certainly not complete defenders towards the end of their time at Bayern. Their weaknesses were in areas where the current players in the squad may have their strengths. Conversely, the weaknesses of the current defense lie precisely where they had their strengths.
Hardly anyone would dispute that they are all good defenders in their own right. But in order to function as a team, they need hierarchies, coordination and clear procedures. This seems to be lacking. And on top of that, at least one player is missing whose greatest strength the coach sees not in defending, but in build-up play. A dysbalance that is surprising in view of the high expenditures in defence.
In fact, this is why Bayern need a big upgrade in defence in the summer. But will they get one? The current rumor mill points more to a compromise solution again.
But what the Munich team does not really need right now are further compromises. In the context of the contract extensions, Nagelsmann rightly pointed out that it is not as simple as many on the outside imagine. Sheikh clubs, other investors, clubs that can and want to afford more owing to different operating conditions – financially, Bayern are currently still paying very well compared to these clubs, but how long can they keep up?
It is obvious that it will be anything but easy for Bayern to maintain their position in the pantheon of the European superclubs. Accordingly, squad planning decisions will have to be made much more frequently than in the past two to three years. That does not just apply to the defence.
How Bayern will strategically position themselves is not yet clear at the moment. On the one hand, there have recently been rumors, confirmed by Nagelsmann, that they want to put a greater emphasis on talent development. On the other hand, the goal is to keep players at the club who have been top performers for years.
The club is finding this increasingly difficult. The hesitation of Manuel Neuer, Thomas Müller and Robert Lewandowski is indicative of this. Kingsley Coman also took a long time before deciding to stay.
Quiet and uncomplicated contract extensions have become rare. The more often Bayern signal that they consider a situation to be relaxed, the more they give rise to the impression that things are rather tense internally right now.
In the specific case of Lewandowski, there is currently no reason why Bayern should not take up negotiations with him, if they are as convinced of a stay as they like to state. Already in January they announced that talks were upcoming, but in March, according to Lewandowski’s agent Pini Zahavi, they still had not begun.
Either Bayern really want to try to replace the attacker in a timely manner – which would be hard to understand given his performance and fitness levels, or Lewandowski himself has already communicated the desire to do something else – which has been speculated and reported frequently in his career. In the end, however, he always stayed in Munich.
So is Lewandowski destined to stay, as FC Bayern have been maintaining? We will know for sure in a few weeks. The behavior of the bosses and the now established tactic of waiting are nevertheless strange for a club that always prefers to act in advance rather than being forced to react to developments at some point.
The Allianz Arena will be allowed to admit 75,000 spectators for the first time in a long time this April. At least that is what we are led to believe. On Thursday, the club sent out e-mails to its annual ticket holders saying that 100 percent occupancy would be possible again from April.
The FC Bayern Women can only dream of such attendences. A few months ago, however, even an appearance in the Allianz Arena was only a dream for them. One that is now coming true. On Tuesday evening, they will play in the venue for the first time.
Paris Saint-Germain promises to be a strong opponent. In the Champions League they have won all their games so far, in the league they are in second place after 17 games and are only three points behind serial champions Olympique Lyon. However, they lost their first and only game this season against them with 1-6 (their only defeat this season so far).
Last season, however, PSG prevailed against their national rivals – in the Champions League, of all places. In the quarterfinals, they reached the next round after a 0-1 home defeat and a 2-1 away win thanks to the away goals rule. They then lost out to FC Barcelona in the next round.
However, PSG also performed very well against the best team in the world at the time. A 1-1 in the first leg was followed by a narrow 1-2 defeat. So there is no way that any team would be favored in this year’s quarterfinal between Bayern and PSG.
Both score a lot of goals, both have defended well so far. It will be an absolute top match. One that will deservedly take place on a very big stage. How many fans will ultimately be there is not yet clear. Excitement for women’s football is still at a lower level here than abroad. At the same time, however, it is important that FC Bayern, as well as VfL Wolfsburg, now take the next step.
Bayern’s victory in the Bundesliga on Friday evening was also important. Against in-form Frankfurt, Jens Scheuer’s team showed once again that they have matured in recent months. As against Hoffenheim, it was a game with many highs, but also some lows.
Frankfurt pressed high, revealing Bayern’s weaknesses in build-up play, frequently being unable to push through the centre. Nevertheless, the Bayern side dominated the game for most of the match. Especially when they were able to switch the play to the far side of the ball they were dangerous. This was also the case when Maximiliane Rall scored the 1-0 lead.
Frankfurt, however, remained physical against the ball and managed to severely limit Bayern’s offense. They even took a 2-1 lead before halftime. A setback that would have bowled Bayern over last season or the season before that. But Scheuer made changes, bringing on Giulia Gwinn and Sydney Lohmann. The latter, making her comeback after a long injury, needed a few minutes to find her feet, but towards the end of the game she was an important factor in Bayern’s 4-2 win.
Shortly after the break, Lea Schüller managed to swing the momentum back to Bayern’s game with a beautiful goal. The equalizer was noticeably important. As Frankfurt committed more and more fouls, Viviane Asseyi punished that by taking advantage of the chaos after a Magull free kick to take the important lead (79th). The guests tried everything and the kitchen sink but the same as against Hoffenheim, Jovana Damnjanovic had the last word, scoring for the 4-2 end result. An outcome that Bayern would surely sign up for on Tuesday as well. In selecting his first XI, Scheuer will be spoilt for choice: Who will he field in attack? And does he want to reward Damnjanovic for her outstanding performance or continue to keep her as an option from the bench?
There is a confidence flowing through the team right now that was not there even in the title winning year. The players believe in themselves more than ever and that has the power to carry them far. In terms of the football they offer, as this game is the most recent proof, they have their shortcomings. But the team dynamics and the newly grown self-image are a good foundation for the upcoming decisive phase of the season. Anyone who beats Hoffenheim and Frankfurt after falling behind has huge morale. They will need a lot of that on Tuesday night.