The end of an era
NOTE: This article was first published on simplybayern.com. Make sure to follow him on Twitter.
I tried to be optimistic and positive in September and since Bayern have had some decent performances in 2016. A good indicator of performance are Caleys xG stats. Check the graph in the picture for all games since the PSV game, the blog’s last game. Make sure to follow Michael Caley btw. The illustration is far from perfect, an expected draw at Dortmund is an acceptable performance while at Darmstadt or Freiburg it is almost unheard of for recent Bayern teams. But you get the idea. And the trend is not our friend, it’s not even friendly or polite, it is a French waiter you speak English to. Manager Ancelotti can’t be spared criticism, he doesn’t adjust much (at all) to how the opposition plays, which gives our opponents the chance to tighten the obvious gap in quality. Articles on those issues have been written at least since last October.
I don’t agree however that all criticism should go to the manager and usually in life there is more than one reason for a problem. An obvious change this season and even few months before has been the absence of former sports director Matthias Sammer. Some think he was useless and just there to give interviews, others think he was close to the team and was crucial in guaranteeing nobody would slip. We won’t ever know, but we shouldn’t forget that he took over after two consecutive championships of Borussia Dortmund, two titleless years. Hard to imagine nowadays that the world kept spinning after that, isn’t it? He took over in search of “the extra three percent” and the four years under him have been rather successful. It might just be a coincidence, the squad had been massively strengthened in depth, there was the “Finale dahoam” pain and the reaction etc, etc, but his record wasn’t bad at all.
The second obvious “change” is that life has been going on and people have aged since – and so do footballers, the golden generation of Bayern as well. Ribery was arguably the best player in the world in 2013 (see this statsbomb article), Lahm, Schweinsteiger and Robben were other vital key elements in that year.
Most people forget this, but the last half year under Pep Guardiola was not great for Bayern, at least performances weren’t. Not even talking mainstream media, who one day will say that Guardiola was a failure and the next that every game under him was a revelation. But we all need to remember that there were already few great performances in his last Rückrunde. And this time, unlike the first two years, there weren’t any injury problems. Most of that gets forgotten because the performance in the second leg versus Atletico Madrid deserved nothing else but a final versus Real, possibly the best game in the Pep era. But the Bundesliga data in the picture gives you some indication, don’t forget also that in the UCL we just about survived the last round of 16 versus Juventus thanks to a last minute goal, cup performances versus Werder Bremen and Darmstadt weren’t convincing, neither the first leg in Madrid nor the games versus Benfica. Sammer was leaving about that time already, the team was aging (or it was just random, or Pep’s leaving…).
Still optimistic? The performance versus Leipzig gives some hope that the aging side can do it in the big games, but the development under Carlo Ancelotti hasn’t gone as I hoped for previously, the trend is worrying to say the least. Personally, I don’t mind a more exciting Bundesliga season for sure, and nothing is lost yet, but in the long term performances need to be on a consistent high level to be successful (this was a problem even for Guardiola as the second halves of each season weren’t as good as the first, for different reasons).
Much more important than the short term success in this season will be the future though. With Lahm retiring, the end of an era is all but official. The Comans and Costas (let’s not even mention THAT interview) are nowhere near as good as Robben and Ribery in their respectively first seasons (but they were older). One of the biggest mistakes in the last few decades was surely to let go Toni Kroos, a player who could have taken this team to the next era. This job seems to be on the fragile shoulders of Thiago Alcantara now, who also seems, like Javi Martinez and unlike the wingers above, to bring some kind of identification with the club and city into the mix. Süle is a clever transfer for the future but replacing Robbery, Lahm and Schweinsteiger (now Xabi Alonso, and even Toni Kroos if you want) will be an insanely tough task. Nobody from the youth academy seems strong enough for a Lahm/Schweini/Kroos succession, neither do we have the time that players need to develop. It will be players like Gnabry and Brandt (potentially Henrichs as right back) that Bayern must not lose to the Premier League (as we did with KDB and Sane already) in order to rebuild, and even then it’s a tough task. It was a hell of an era after all.
- Bayern are obviously more inconsistent this season than in the last four years.
- Ancelotti has to take some of the blame but not all.
- Bayern possibly miss Matthias Sammer.
- The Bayern squad is undoubtedly aging, possibly the downtrend already began under Pep Guardiola, but definitely Bayern have a mountain to climb with their rebuild in replacing the “Golden Generation”.
- The hope for this season is that the aging Bayern team can show up in the big games, as against Leipzig.