Can Bayern still win the Bundesliga?
Background photo: Michal Osmenda, CC BY-SA 2.0
Everyone has their list of three things certain in life. Death and taxes are always numbers one and two [with a bullet]. If the subject is the Bundesliga, Bayern hoisting the trophy is number three. The Bavarians are the biggest team in Germany, by which I mean wealthiest. They’re expected to win the league every season. When they don’t, something has gone horribly wrong. After six years on top, something is going horribly wrong.
With one match to play before the winter break, Bayern sit six points behind unbeaten league leaders, Borussia Dortmund. The Yellow and Black looked imperious all season until they finally, inexplicably lost to relegation-threatened Westphalia rivals Fortuna Dusseldorf.
Lucien Favre built his team as a unit. Many players look rejuvenated, most notably Marco Reus. The Germany international is in the form of his life, scoring goals and making assists in remarkable numbers. Dortmund haven't won the league since 2012 under Jurgen Klopp. The loss to Dusseldorf raises questions. Many still expect Bayern to come out guns blazing in the season’s second half. Can they make up the needed ground?
Niko Kovac endures a difficult start to his Bayern Munich managerial career. The former Frankfurt gaffer has struggled to impose himself on the squad veterans. Several aren’t performing to their usual standard. Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng and Thomas Muller have continued their World Cup form, which is not a compliment.
For Bayern to catch Dortmund, they must start winning matches in succession. They have dropped points against Hertha Berlin, Fortuna Dusseldorf, Augsburg and their old enemies and current rivals for second place, Borussia Monchengladbach. They also ran out of petrol in the second half of their Der Klassiker away leg to Borussia Dortmund.
Monchengladbach take their first crack at BVB tonight, with the opportunity to cut the gap to firs in half. Bayern face a tricky tie on Saturday, journeying back to Nico Kovac’s old haunt to play Eintracht Frankfurt. It’s an opportune time to gain ground on one, possibly two foes with the kind of timely result they turn out regularly when on song.
Buy players in January
Bayern Munich could use an infusion of quality. They don’t believe in exorbitant spending, preferring instead to poach the best players in Germany. The likes of Niklas Sule, Serge Gnabry and Leon Goretzka have arrived from rival clubs in recent years. That said, die Roten need a marquee player to carry them forward in the second half. Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery feel rheumatism creeping into their joints. Heir apparent Kingsley Coman is more injury prone than Wile E Coyote. Even if it’s Lady Gaga, a new star must be born in the Allianz Arena.
Ruthless team selections
The new man leading walking into an established dressing room, Niko Kovac has been careful not to ruffle feathers. The Croat is playing it safe with his team selections, trying too hard to please the squad’s senior members. His courtesy has been repaid with poor form.
There are younger, hungrier players who need a regular run of games. Kovac must decide and use his best starting XI, not his most politically expedient. The untouchables must be made to fight for their places. The youngsters need the confidence of knowing they have a legitimate opportunity.
That is exactly the formula in play at Borussia Dortmund. Jadon Sancho and Marco Reus own their places, having taken them from Christian Pulisic and Mario Gotze. Bayern’s stars must get their acts together. It won’t be a surprise if Bayern win their seventh consecutive league title but the way things are going, it won’t be a shock if their run ends.