April Roundtable: The Two Faces of Bayern 

miasanrot Separator April 12, 2024

This article written by Lok San Wong

Then came London. In a game that went down to the wire, Bayern grinded out a 2-2 draw to take back to Munich for the return fixture. Ahead of this crucial European night at home, I asked my colleagues their views on Bayern’s recent results, their expectations for the Arsenal game and the remainder of the domestic season. 

How do you view Bayern’s recent performances since the Lazio game: 2 wins against Mainz and Darmstadt followed by back-to-back defeats against Dortmund and Heidenheim and a draw at the Emirates against Arsenal ?

Lok San: For me, the loss against Dortmund was inexcusable. Realistically, the Bundesliga title might have already been out of our hands but Bayern should always fight until the bitter end. For Der Klassiker in particular, the players should require no extra motivation. And yet, the performance shown by the majority of the team was unworthy of Bayern. 

As Max Eberl put it, the Heidenheim game that followed was a character test for the players and they failed that completely (at least in the second half). Given those circumstances, the draw against Arsenal was not a bad result. Bayern showed grit and commitment in defending as a unit against an in-form team while waiting for a counter-attacking chance. The likes of Gnabry, Sané, Kimmich and Goretzka put on a strong showing but more importantly everybody was putting in a shift. It was refreshing to see. With a little bit of luck at the end of the game, Bayern could have even scored the winner. 

But that automatically begs the question of why can’t they do that on a more consistent basis? Of course, defending as a mid/low block is not the attractive offensive football that we want to see Bayern play but still, players doing the basics and helping each other out should be a non-negotiable, regardless of the opposition or the game plan. 

This Bayern team has been very frustrating to watch throughout this season. They’re equally capable of not showing up in a derby against Dortmund, completely losing the plot against Heidenheim in 5 minutes but then putting on a performance like the one we saw in London. Personally, I think this inconsistency tells us that while this group of players is capable of playing like a cohesive team on a given day, by and large they are not a cohesive team. This goes back to poor management and squad planning from the club and an absence of leadership through the spine of the team. 

Rainer: It’s pretty clear that, besides the bad form for most players and some bad decisions by Tuchel, this Bayern team don’t have as much confidence in themselves as they used to be. Recently, everytime Bayern go behind in the counter or spend 30, 40 minutes without scoring first, their performance starts to go deep consistently until the end of the match.

Against Lazio, Mainz and Darmstadt they found more comfortable opponents, scored relatively early and then were able to run them to the ground. Against Dortmund, besides showing no heart, 20 minutes after the first BVB goal it was pretty clear that it was just going to get worse and worse. Also, against Heidenheim, everything was going “OK” until the first goal, then after the quick second setback, they all crumbled.

But even without much confidence, and maybe some psychological mental blocks, this squad should win easily against teams like Heidenheim and Darmstadt. I hope that the board is paying a lot of attention to all these matches, because this season could be basically over, but a rebuild will definitely be needed if we want to start to improve in the next and hope for a better future. 

Marc: Personally I never bought into the narrative that the Lazio, Mainz and Darmstadt matches signaled some kind of turnaround. Lazio completely crumbled in Munich and Mainz and Darmstadt were sitting in 17th and 18th in the Bundesliga when they faced them.

Despite that, Bayern still managed to make the Mainz and Darmstadt matches interesting for at least a portion of the match as the gave up their only goal to Mainz at 2-1 and Darmstadt even took the lead in the 28th minute before the goals started flowing eight minutes later for Bayern.

So realistically, Bayern’s subsequent struggles against Dortmund and Heidenheim have not been surprising to me. The “changes” that people had praised so much against those lowly teams were false economy. Goretzka and Laimer are not the answer in midfield. The CB pairings are still an issue. There’s still almost no connection between the defense and attack in buildup. This team is who it is at this point in the season and Tuchel clearly has no idea how to get anything else out of them.

What are your expectations for the return game against Arsenal at home?

Lok San: The away game gave us some reason to be hopeful. That being said, we’re never quite sure what we will get from this Bayern team from one game to the other. I think Bayern will likely take a less conservative approach in front of the home crowd which might give us a more open game. If the team shows the same level of commitment and togetherness we saw in the first leg, a win is definitely possible. I’m gonna say a narrow win for Bayern. 

Rainer: I think in the start we would see a similar Bayern from the first leg, willing, fighting for every ball, and more focused than usual, but also a bit more attacking than in London. It will be interesting to see how Arsenal will come into the match since they also need a win, but I don’t expect them to be so dominating or attacking as Tuesday.

Davies being out of the return match could be a blessing in disguise, after the three horrible performances in a row, with Guerreiro giving a bit more security at the back and a bit more freedom to Kimmich and the left winger (probably Coman). After the last two matches in the Bundesliga and the ones against Lazio and Arsenal, I also expect that the Bayern players will show a bit more heart than usual for this season.

The fact is this is the biggest stage, the only chance for a title in the season, plus the fact that a lot of the players need to show something to have a chance to extend their contracts or go to the Euros, is also something that needs to be highlighted and expected. It will probably be another narrow game with both sides having some chances, I don’t see another draw coming so I’m expecting a narrow win from either side.  

Pepe: I expect Bayern to win but it will be a more difficult match than the first leg. The general approach should be the same; be organized and compact on defense, and quick to take advantage in transitions, as Arsenal’s back line is quite slow, especially the defensive mid-field.

While the general approach should be more or less the same, I think something should be done about the left flank, because Davies was targeted throughout the entire match and him man-marking Saka may not have been as effective as Tuchel thought it would. Most of Arsenal’s chances and both of their goals came from that flank. Tactics aside, the team should have the same attitude and play intensely, maybe Tuchel should give some players rest to prevent injuries in key positions. 

Marc: I purposely did not bring up the Arsenal match in my first answer, primarily because I didn’t see Tuesday’s match as positively as most other people seemed to. It was a positive result all things considered and given how poorly they’ve played recently I can understand why people were happy. However, to me that match had more to do with Arsenal’s failings than Bayern’s quality.

The first goal was an absolute gift, prior to which Bayern had looked predictably awful and after Arsenal seemed to crumble for the remainder of the first half. I would agree that Bayern at least seemed more focused and committed in this match which I do entirely put down to it being a Champions League Quarterfinal.

With that in mind my expectations are a bit mixed. I do expect Bayern will again be focused and play with determination, but I still can’t bring myself to trust this team. The biggest advantage they might have is that I also think Arsenal are not unlikely to collapse. It seems obvious, at least this season, that if Arsenal played to their capabilities and Bayern theirs, Arsenal would win. But this isn’t a vacuum and given it’s in Munich, I could see Bayern pulling out a victory. Either that or I think they’ll get flattened.

Currently, Leverkusen is one win away from the title. Meanwhile, Bayern is second in the Bundesliga table, level on points with Stuttgart and 7 points ahead of Leipzig in 4th place. With 6 games left to play, how do you think the rest of the season might play out?

Lok San: The goal should stay the same for me: win every remaining game because at the moment, neither the second place nor the Champions League qualification is guaranteed. As I said before, this team has a tendency to switch on and off from game to game, especially in the Bundesliga, but we can’t afford this given the situation we’re in. We have to find a way to carry that energy from the Champions League to build some momentum.

Squad selection could be a key factor in my opinion. It’s not the time to experiment but it’s also not the time to wait and hope for the problems to solve themselves. Prioritize the players who perform but who also show hunger and desire to give us the best chance at winning the remaining games. Or take a more pragmatic and patient approach like at the Emirates. If we have to play some less attractive football to get the job done until the end of the season then so be it.  Either way, the games we have left won’t be easy and we have to be fully on it. 

Rainer: Even with the “urgency” to confirm a Champions League qualification and that most players still need to prove themselves to the board, to their future Bayern manager and to their national coaches, I  still expect to see ups and downs from Bayern in the Bundesliga, mostly with uninspiring wins, but at least another loss and definitely losing points in Stuttgart.

The title race is over for a long time, but I expected at least a second place finish from the Bavarians, even with VfB playing so well and Bayern being so sloppy. Because anything else besides a second place finish in the Bundesliga, considering that a UCL title looks like a fairway dream, would be a terrible performance for everyone in the club. 

Marc: To be honest, my expectations are extremely low for the remainder of this season. As I’ve said, I think they have a chance to progress against Arsenal but there’s next to no chance they’ll get any further with Man City or Real up next.

In the league, they don’t have the easiest remaining schedule with this weekends match against Köln being by far the easiest. They then travel to Union, host Frankfurt, away at Stuttgart, home to Wolfsburg and finish away at Hoffenheim. In those six remaining matches, it seems more likely that they’ll lose three than win three.

In other words, I think Bayern will head into the last match of the year with CL qualification as a real concern given that they’re only seven points clear of fifth place currently. The best news for Bayern is that Leipzig and Dortmund play each other and don’t have extremely easy schedules either. However I think a third or fourth place finish in the league is the most likely outcome.

»Eier, wir brauchen Eier!«

— Oliver Kahn

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