Nick Bidwell’s Notes from Germany: Bayern Munich Look Alarmingly Vulnerable
The smiles were forced, the faces glum, the body language eloquently despondent. Distinctly down in the mouth after four matches without a victory – including losses in the Bundesliga to Hertha Berlin and Borussia Monchengladbach – Bayern Munich officials and players clearly were in no mood to party during their annual trip to the Oktoberfest, their home city’s famous beer festival.
German champions for the past six years, Bayern suddenly look alarmingly vulnerable. Impotent, uninspired disjointed and only sixth in the table, four points adrift of leaders Dortmund. The Bavarians are not functioning as a collective unit, many of their star names have lost their mojo and all in all, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that here is an ageing, end-of-cycle side. A team with chronic rather than acute ails.
Little wonder, newly-appointed coach Niko Kovac cuts something of a perplexed figure at the moment. For the first time in his leadership career, the ex-Croatia and Eintracht Frankfurt boss is in at the deep end, with hard-choices and intractable problems everywhere he turns at the Allianz-Arena.
Kovac certainly has a string of issues crying out for his immediate attention: the wastefulness in front of goal, lack of tempo as an attacking force – inextricably linked to veteran wingers Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery losing a step or two – poor quality crosses and sloppy pressing game.
Spanish defensive midfielder Javi Martinez currently is a shadow of former imposing self, while many are openly wondering about the commitment to the cause of centre-back Jerome Boateng and striker Robert Lewandowski. Both wanted to leave the club in the summer and whether their hearts are still in it has to be a moot point.
Not that Kovac should be absolved of all blame. His insistence on extensive first-eleven rotation has made it nigh-impossible to create any sort of team understanding and he already seems to have alienated Colombian playmaker/wide-man James Rodriguez, who is not at all satisfied with his amount of game time this term.
Rumours are also doing the rounds that a number of the Bayern squad are unhappy with the linguistic leanings and cliquish tendencies of Kovac and his backroom staff. It’s been alleged that Niko Kovac, his brother and assistant-coach Robert, director of sport Hasan Salihamidzic and goalkeeper coach Toni Tapalovic use the Croat tongue far too frequently at the club HQ. Bayern usually make a big deal of players only expressing themselves in German.
Is there any chance of the Bayern decision-makers panicking and pulling the plug on Kovac? Forget it, says ever-forceful club president Uli Hoeness. “It doesn’t matter what happens here in the next few weeks. I will defend Kovac to the death. It’s all totally calm here.”
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What We Learned This Week
1. No fun for Tayfun.
Under-achieving Stuttgart have dispensed with the services of coach Tayfun Korkut, the first Bundesliga boss to be sacrificed this term. Brought in as an anti-relegation firefighter mid-way though last season, Tayfun turned out to be the Swabians’ saviour, responsible for a remarkable upturn in results. But sadly could not keep up the good work, his side slumping to rock-bottom in the top-flight standings. Ex-Augsburg and Schalke ‘Trainer’ Markus Weinzierl is to be the new man in charge at the Mercedes-Benz Arena.
2. The future’s rosy.
Hoffenheim, due to have a coaching vacancy when boy wonder coach Julian Nagelsmann leaves for RB Leipzig next June, are increasingly being linked with highly-rated Salzburg boss Marco Rose. The latter enjoyed a marvellous inaugural campaign with the Salzburger in 2017-18, leading them to the Austrian title and the semi-finals of the Europa League. A former defender with VfB Leipzig, Hannover and Mainz, Rose played under some of Germany brightest football thinkers: Ralf Rangnick at Hannover and Jurgen Klopp at Mainz.
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