Season Preview: Mailbag
For this mailbag our authors Daniel, Marc and Maurice were joined by Bavarian Tweets publisher Assem and Prince who’s running his own YouTube channel Bayern Fan TV. As always we’re glad to have all of them aboard.
Let’s start with the big one: what actually has to happen for Bayern not to win the league?
Assem: The most likely scenarios that can occur to prevent Bayern from winning a ninth consecutive Bundesliga title are an injury crisis and a significantly improved performance from a title rival.
With the new season just days away, Bayern’s squad is already noticeably smaller than last season’s treble-winning squad. Loanees Odriozola, Perisic and Coutinho have returned to their original clubs, while youngsters Mai, Singh, Fruchtl and Batista-Meier have gone out on loan. Additionally, there are serious doubts over the futures of Thiago and Javi Martinez at the club. Of Bayern’s four new squad additions (Sane, Nübel, Nianzou, Fein), only Leroy Sane is expected to make an immediate impact. This squad planning, while undoubtedly impacted by extraordinary circumstances beyond the club’s control, leaves the team’s depth dangerously exposed in several positions, particularly at right-back, on the wings and at striker. Following a long and demanding 2019-20 season, a few ill-timed injuries and/or suspensions in the aforementioned positions can cost Bayern precious points in the title race.
In each of the last three seasons, Bayern had a wobbly start in the title race. In fact, in two of those seasons, it cost the manager his job. Bayern’s success in each of those three seasons was a result of the team’s extraordinary quality and ability to regain momentum in difficult circumstances, but it was also a result of their title rivals’ inconsistency and inability to win games in which they had a clear advantage. This inconsistency is best seen in Lucien Favre’s Borussia Dortmund. In the 2018-19 season, Dortmund were top of the league for 21 of the 34 matchdays, beat Bayern in the Hinrunde and at one point had a nine-point lead over Bayern, yet still ended up in second place after dropping points in 7 out of 17 games in the Rückrunde. If teams like Dortmund and RB Leipzig can consistently play to the best of their ability throughout the season, and they have the resources to do so, then Bayern’s inevitable slip-ups will be more harshly punished and this could potentially endanger Bayern’s title chances.
Marc: Although there are very few people who can imagine this scenario, it is not completely impossible. There are two things that I think would have to happen in order for Bayern not to win the league this season. First a team or two (BVB and Leipzig being the most obvious candidates) need to play exceptionally well. They need to maintain a high level of play throughout the season. Both teams have started out in tremendous form over the last few seasons only to then slip up and never recover later. That can’t happen if they are to dethrone Bayern.
The second thing is that Bayern will have to have significant injuries in key positions. Bayern have had a heavy workload. That will continue. The squad has actually thinned out already and could do so further. If for instance Lewandowski and a couple of our wingers were to go down, things will get very dicey in attack. Those contenders will of course also have to remain healthy. But if they do and they keep up their form, it is not out of the question for a team other than Bayern to walk away with the Meisterschale.
Who are your odds on favorites to challenge Bayern for the title?
Maurice: For me it’s Borussia Dortmund for certain. They kept most of their team together and thus have a pretty staggering roster. I can really see them bugging Bayern until the last matchday. Borussia only lost Haikimi from their starting team, who they replaced with Meunier. With Bellingham, Reinier and Moukoko they have added lots of young talent. For me their depth of talent is truly amazing as Favre’s team should be able to substitute without any significant drop-off on any position. Also we need to remember that they had a longer time to prepare and will play slightly fewer games until christmas, so don’t be surprised to see the Black&Yellow ahead at the midpoint of the season.
Prince: RB Leipzig is the big threat. While Dortmund will certainly play a significant role in the upcoming title challenge, Leipzig just edge them for me. They did fantastic last season both domestically and internationally and if their continuing project is anything to go by, they will challenge us for the title. While they lost their star goalscorer in Timo Werner, they’ve made some good additions to their team with Hwang Hee-Chan and are likely to end up with Patson Daka in the Winter transfer window. They are a team who are simply well drilled and can play a multitude of formations, making for an extremely difficult opponent to beat week in week out. Last season they ended third, 3 points behind Dortmund. While that was the case, Leipzig were defensively solid, having conceded 37 goals and sustaining only 4 losses. If they can turn some of their 12 draws into victories, they’ll be very dangerous.
After winning the treble, how do we judge whether Bayern has a successful 2021 season?
Daniel: It seems like I’m the only person in Germany who cares about Bayern winning the UEFA Super Cup, but I definitely do want them to win that trophy. Admittedly, the luster of “only trophy Bayern had never won” being gone and not having an axe to grind with the opponent, makes this less special than that game in 2013 was. Still, I maintain my highly controversial opinion, that this will be the most important game until the winter break. If there actually will be a club world cup, I’d like Bayern to win that, too. Given Gianni Infantino’s insistence to ruin every good thing in football, Bayern might actually become the last club world champion in the classic format.
I am extremely confident that Bayern will win the league, this new season will show that the window for Dortmund to shake things up in the Bundesliga has been closed. For the first time in five years I will start this season with total belief in the coach, the squad isn’t too old, so Dortmund just shouldn’t be able to keep up. They just got a total of 69 points last season and I expect Bayern to get around 85. Anything but their ninth consecutive title should be considered a failure (although perhaps not an unwelcome one).
The cup is the cup, I always expect Bayern to win that competition but in the same way you can always go out in one game to a Dortmund or Leipzig. The second round being scheduled for December should be helpful if Bayern get a tough draw, since I expect Bayern to stumble a bit in the fall with all the games they’ll have to play.
The Champions League is going to be fascinating, I never expected Bayern to immediately repeat their triumph after 2013. The competition back then was different, Bayern managed to break through the spanish phalanx but year after year Barcelona and Madrid always were the teams to beat. Now things have changed, Bayern has a better shot at defending their title than they had in 2014. They don’t have to deal with historically strong sides and Messi and Ronaldo at the peak of their power. I’d wager this Bayern side actually has a clear picture of the state of European’s super clubs and realizes what a peculiar time we live in in European football. They will go into the competition as one of the two teams to beat, on paper there are but a handful of clubs that should be able to beat Bayern, but as always, you can’t predict the Champions League in the knock-out stages, especially with this very special season we will be having without any pre-season or winter break.
Marc: I can only speak for myself here but I try to be realistic. Winning the league, winning the super cup, winning the club world cup (if that matters to you) and making it to the semifinals of both the Pokal and Champions League would be a good season. I think this team can and will be in the conversation for both cups but it is unlikely that they will repeat a treble. While this may not seem like success after 2020’s exploits, the cup competitions are too difficult to predict and far too much will depend on luck. Realistically, my expectations are for them to win the Bundesliga, make the semifinals of the Pokal and at least make it to the quarters of the Champions League. Anything on top of that is gravy.
Including the supercups and the club world cup, how many trophies will Flick & Co lift by the end of the season?
Maurice: A repeat of the treble would be an unrealistic expectation. I somehow feel like we also won’t win the Pokal this season. Just seems like an odd season and like it is someone else’s turn. The German and European supercup are wide open in my opinion so I could see Bayern get anywhere between two and four titles. If I had to guess, I’d say we win the European supercup as the team motivates itself for this highlight game.
Prince: We’ll win every single trophy this season! The statistics don’t lie, Bayern in 2019/2020 were the best Bayern ever. While comparisons to the 2012/2013 season are constantly made, and I personally think the 2013 team was significantly better, the statistics speak in favour of this current crop of players. The scary part about us is that we also haven’t reached our peak. In 2013, one could comfortably say that the team was at its absolute best, that can’t be said about us now. We just won the treble and we still look hungry and ready to improve. Gnabry, who has been a bit inconsistent this season, can improve on that aspect of his game. Davies being slotted into left back has looked shaky defensively a few times, which can be improved upon. This team is not at its peak, and with the hunger, unity and team spirit present – there’s only one path ahead of us; onwards, forwards and upwards.
The Bundesliga and German government have yet to announce a nation-wide guideline for stadium visits. Do you approve of fans in the stands and how will different crowds sizes due to covid-19 affect the season?
Assem: I must admit that my excitement for the new European football season has been hampered by the lack of fans in the stadium, but at the moment this is a necessary requirement for the safe return of football activities. I would obviously like to see fans return to the stadium in any capacity, but I believe that the relevant authorities have the understanding, experience and scope to make the right decision on the matter.
If it does occur that fans return in some regions of Germany, but not all, or that fans return in different capacities across the country, it will undoubtedly raise some questions over the fairness of the competition, but small amounts of fans in the stadium are more likely to give everyone a morale boost than they are to strengthen one team at the expense of the other.
Daniel: I’m honestly not the biggest fan of all these concessions the game of football is getting in this whole pandemic. Football is allowed to continue and that should be enough for any professional club to at least cope with this situation. Other avenues of public life aren’t so lucky. As politicians are once more dealing with the oh so special needs of football, theatres, concert halls, small cinemas all get royally screwed simply for not having the lobbying power of the biggest sport in the world. As for the difference in crowd sizes, whether it’s 8,000 or 2,000 fans, I don’t see much difference in boosting your team’s performance.
Now let’s move on to the squad. Which player do you see taking the biggest step forward?
Prince: Gnabry. The young winger has been very inconsistent in the past, having amazing games one week and poor games another week. With his role in the team being affirmed more and more by Hansi Flick, and with him having played more and more with Lewandowski, he’s only going to get more comfortable in the team. It at times seemed that he believed that he had to score to establish his place in the team, but it has become clear that if he’s healthy – he plays. He is one of the first names on the teamsheet, and I think he can now make the step towards becoming a more consistent player in the team and less of a second goalscorer. With Sane coming in too, I think that he’s going to hit new heights that will surprise us all.
Marc: I’m going to go a little outside the box here and say Kimmich. A weird choice I know given that he’s already a great player. However, especially if Thiago leaves, his role in midfield will become that much more important. He has never shown any tendency to shy away from pressure which is good since he will be expected to be the rock of the midfield if Thiago is no longer there. That coupled with a full year of playing in the same position and improving on both sides of the ball could lead to a massive increase in his standing and abilities. If everything goes well, he could make a push to be the best player at his position in the world.
With so many matches in so little time, do you think Flick will give more chances to players from the second team? And if so, who could have his breakout?
Maurice: I truly hope so, even though Bayern gave away the most promising youth talents with the likes of Oliver Batista Meier. But given the lack of depth in the first squad, Flick will have to look for the second team players to fill up the roster. One position that is especially lacking sufficient alternatives right now is offensive winger. I could see Flick throwing Jamaal Musiala into the mix every once in a while. Another option might be Bright Arrey-Mbi, who could play as centre back but also left back.
Daniel: With five substitutions possible, we’re definitely going to see some youngsters. I wonder if Angelo Stiller or Thorben Rhein might already get a shot this season especially if Thiago leaves Bayern. Arrey-Mbi is a possibility, although he again might not be ready for the Bundesliga. Musiala seems to be a safe bet when it comes to getting minutes, I just don’t really expect him to do very much with them. I’m not all too convinced of him.
Sané vs. Coman, Hernandez vs. Alaba, Süle vs Boateng: Which position will see the toughest competition for a starting spot?
Marc: Of these options, I think it’s Süle vs. Boateng, though realistically, I think you have to make it a three way to include Hernandez as I don’t buy into the “you can’t play three left footed defenders” propaganda. That spot next to Alaba, assuming he stays, will be very difficult to secure for all of those players. I think Boateng, despite having a great season, may be on the outside of this conversation. His age and injury history is likely to catch up with him. I absolutely think he’ll get playing time, but I think Süle is likely to win that first choice spot. It will be interesting to see how Hansi rotates these players and manages things when he has a full squad at his disposal. The sixes could also be an interesting competition if Thiago were to reverse course and stay. Goretzka had a great Rückrunde playing alongside Kimmich when Thiago was out. Tolisso, Fein, Kouassey and others will also push for time next to Kimmich. There are a lot of potential battles within the squad in the coming season if players stay healthy.
Assem: In the case of Süle vs. Boateng, it’s clear that Süle is the long-term successor to Boateng and it’s likely that a fit Süle will play more often than the aging Boateng, even if both players can have important roles in the season. In the case of Sane vs. Coman, it’s expected that Sane will be the starter in the biggest games of the season, given that Coman, while very talented, isn’t always consistent and wasn’t a starter for many key games last season (with one very notable exception).
Hernandez vs. Alaba and Hernandez vs. Davies will likely yield the toughest competition in the coming season. Despite his run of injuries and lack of form last season, it’s clear that Hernandez is a very talented defender. His combination of speed, tackling ability and reading of the game makes him a very tough defender to beat in one-on-one situations. Given that he is fully fit and has a proper pre-season, I expect that he will challenge both Alaba and Davies for their positions. With the busy schedule expected for the coming months, he is likely to get significant game time anyways given the thin squad. How well he uses that game time will determine if he can become the starter he was signed to be. Also, given Alaba’s contract poker, there still remains the possibility that Hernandez replaces Alaba completely for the coming season.
Besides bringing Fein back from his loan deal and adding Sané, Bayern has done little to improve the depth of the squad. Will this be a problem? Which position is the weakest?
Prince: We need another winger. Coman is prone to get injured, and while he usually comes back relatively strong we can’t afford to be with only 3 wingers for the entire season. Leroy has just returned from a major injury, and will likely take until November to become fully match fit and to settle into the team. One injury to our 3 wingers and we’d be in a dangerous position. While I do believe that Davies will ultimately transition to a winger for us this season, we’re in too many competitions to take our lack of squad depth lightly. If we add one more option either now or in winter, I think it’ll benefit us greatly in the long term.
Marc: As things stand, I for one feel a little concerned about a few positions though a lot still depends on who actually leaves. I think the wing position is the most concerning given the injury history in those spots. While there will be a ton of competition for the two starting spots between Sané, Gnabry and Coman, if one or more of them gets injured, it will get very ugly very fast. With Perisic, Coutinho, Batista Meier and Singh all leaving, there are not a whole lot of visible options to step in. As of right now, I am assuming Müller is the 4th choice with maybe Davies or Dajaku being the 5th option. That doesn’t seem ideal in any way. Right back is another position that is thin. Pavard played well there and Kimmich obviously can fill in, but clearly that is the last resort. The rest really depends on who actually ends up leaving. There are positions that could become an issue with no replacement but until that comes to pass, it’s hard to really say.