Saturday’s 3-1 win over an accommodating Wolfsburg may have halted Bayern Munich’s four-match mini slump, but the abiding memory of Die Roten’s weekend actually came from the day before.
President Uli Hoeness, Chairman Karl Heinz Rummenigge and Sporting Director Hasan Salihamidžić may have intended to ease the pressure on manager Niko Kovac and his team with their press conference in support of both, but the unprecedented nature of the affair betrayed a sense of unease around the Allianz Arena.
Saturday’s win and Tuesday’s victory over AEK Athens aside, Bayern have been undeniably poor of late.
Having won their first seven games in all competitions, they then drew two and lost two of their next four ahead of the international break. Cue rumours of discontent in the dressing room – and questions over Kovac’s suitability for the job.
German football expert Mark Rodden of Bundesliga.com feels reaction to Bayern’s recent struggles has probably been overwrought but suggests that Kovac and the club are facing a number of issues.
“Remember,” says Rodden, “it’s post-World Cup, so there’s fatigue amongst certain players. And Bayern have been unlucky with injuries, with Corentin Tolisso, Kingsley Coman and Rafinha all out for lengthy periods.
And that issue has been exacerbated by the fact there were very few arrivals in the summer window, even though they let the likes of Arturo Vidal, Sebastian Rudy and Juan Bernat leave.”
Kovac’s personnel issues haven’t been helped by the drop off in form of many of the club’s senior players in recent weeks – reinforcing the view that a major overhaul, even a cull, is needed to reinvigorate the club.
A lot of the players have been on the road a long time, and maybe the hunger just isn’t the same. I think Kovac has been left with a small enough squad, and the recent injury problems are making life very difficult for him.
According to Rodden, Kovac hasn’t made radical tactical changes since taking charge, but rightly received praise during the club’s strong start to the season for improvements in defensive organisation he’d brought to the team.
But problems at the other end of the park have been at the heart of Bayern’s recent slump.
The good defensive work he implemented initially has not been enough to cover up how predictable they have become in attack. They had only scored two goals in that four-game winless run, and they looked particularly toothless and lacking in inspiration during the 3-0 home loss against Borussia Mönchengladbach a fortnight ago.
Saturday’s display at the Volkswagen Arena was an improvement, and the return to goalscoring form of Robert Lewandowksi and James Rodriguez will have been a relief. But the sloppy nature of the home side’s defending played as much of a role in the score line as anything Bayern did.
The win moved Bayern from sixth to second in the Bundesliga, four points behind leaders Borussia Dortmund. But while Rodden believes that Die Roten’s problems do threaten their bid for a seventh league title on the spin, those hoping to see the champions deposed shouldn’t get too excited.
“They were five points behind at this stage last season but won at a canter in the end. And they were second after 11 games the year before and seventh at this stage in 2009, but still won the title easily on both occasions. The Bayern players know how to win, so I still think it will be a big job for Dortmund to claim the title.”
However, Bundesliga.com’s man doesn’t hold out as much hope for Bayern on the European stage.
They’ve come closer with bigger, fresher squads, so you have to feel they won’t have the depth this year.
And Kovac? Will he still be in charge when the big prizes are handed out? “Yes,” says Rodden, “although he is vulnerable. The recent winless run heaped pressure on him, but unlike last year, there’s not an obvious replacement like Jupp Heynckes waiting in the wings. They also have an easy run to come – the return fixture against AEK Athens at home and the likes of Mainz and Freiburg in the league.”
Win those games, and the speculation, the rumours of discontent, will ebb. Fail to do so, however, and the former Croatian international may find that the club’s top brass mightn’t be as willing to so robustly come to his defence a second time.