Does Bayern Munich have enough firepower to compete on all fronts?
The winter break offered beleaguered Bayern Munich manager Niko Kovac some much-needed breathing room. He had time to reflect on his best XI and plan for the season's second half. The Bavarians set off on a dominant run when play resumed and the gaffer continued to implement his system at the Allianz Arena.
Despite the recent speed bump when encountering Bayer Leverkusen, die Roten are in top gear, determined to push through all obstacles. They’ve scored 14 goals in five 2019 games. Robert Lewandowski’s form is at its peak. Youngsters Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman can barely hide their impatience with Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery's impending retirement.
The Bavarians closed to within five points of leaders Borussia Dortmund after Lucien Favre's squad sputtered through three draws in as many matches. Kovac has found his formula for success. He’s rotating players and changing up his tactics to revive Bayern's intimidating unpredictability.
That said, competing on all fronts presents dangers. Bayern are not only gunning for a seventh consecutive Bundesliga title, they're still alive in the DFB Pokal and the Champions League. Kovac must push the right buttons to negotiate a congested fixture list. Not yet settled into the job, he should focus on one objective rather than trying to juggle all three.
While Der FCB retain a deep squad, injuries took their toll in the first half. Pushing the squad to the limit may invite further misfortune, not to mention draining his side's batteries too soon. Kovac has the horsepower to run in three races but does risk blowing his engine before crossing the finish line.
Their title defence gains life with each victory but the German giants' primary objective has always been to stride across Europe. It's been five seasons since Jupp Heynckes took them to the pinnacle. Pep Guardiola couldn't get them there. Neither could Carlo Ancelotti or Heynckes when he briefly came out of retirement to try again.
This season, they're dark horses in the competition. Defeating last year's finalist Liverpool will be a stern test. Jurgen Klopp’s attacking trio pose a dire threat to Bayern's ageing defence. On the other hand, Liverpool's rearguard will be weakened when Virgil van Dijk sits out the first leg through suspension. Robert Lewandowski won't have a better opportunity to put his side on the front foot.
Banking away goals may not help die Roten if they can't contain Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, however. The Croatian manager has the German champions playing like the Bayern of old but he hasn't restored their impenetrable nature. They’ve conceded 24 goals in the Bundesliga, most among the top four sides. Kovac needs to find the right balance. As it is, any side, let alone the rampant Reds, can penetrate their rearguard.
Bayern's squad depth at least allows them to rotate heavily in the DFB Pokal which is the one competition their green boss can most afford to lose. Remaining calm through an intense portion of the season is critical. Going all-in on three fronts rather than adopting a measured approach may cause the manager to lose everything, including his dream job.