All’s well that ends well. The history books will list 2023 as just another Bayern Munich title winning year and their eleventh in a row, but this season was like no other in recent memory as for the first time the Rekordmeister were in serious danger of being dethroned. Using another Shakespeare title as an analogy, the season was a ‘Comedy of Errors’ at times a most certainly there was a ‘Tempest’ blowing through the Bayern camp at times.
The campaign began in normal style with a comprehensive 6-1 away win at Frankfurt, a home win over Wolfsburg and then a 7-0 away mauling of VfL Bochum. Fifteen goals scored, one conceded and a 100% start- so far so good.
Then however came what for Bayern is considered a poor run with three consecutive drawn matches (Mönchengladbach, Union Berlin and VfB Stuttgart). A 1-0 away defeat at Augsburg had the doom mongers throwing the word ‘crisis’ around (not for the last time this season) as Bayern sat fifth in the table five points behind surprise frontrunners Union.
They responded by beating Leverkusen comprehensively, but were then denied a win in the Klassiker at the Signal Iduna Park by a 95th equaliser from Anthony Modeste. Bayern then became more Bayern-like winning all six of their games before the Winterpause and qualifying easily from their Champions League group ahead of both Barcelona and Inter.
The start of the Rückrunde was not like the start of the Hinrunde and the ‘crisis’ word was back in vogue as Bayern started the year with three games drawn games meaning a further six points dropped. Wolfsburg and Bochum were both defeated before they suffered a second league loss of the season at Mönchengladbach. Bayern were still top, but only on goal difference from Borussia Dortmund and we had a real title race on our hands.
Julian Nagelsmann steered Bayern past the challenge of Paris St. Germain in the Champions League as well as notching up three league wins, but progress was stopped when beaten by Xabi Alonso’s rejuvenated Bayer Leverkusen just before the international break (their third loss of the season).
When the news broke that Nagelsmann had been unceremoniously fired and Thomas Tuchel was being brought in- the shockwaves were felt well beyond Bavaria. The wisdom of the decision and the manner of its execution would have far-reaching repercussions.
Tuchel began well with a convincing 4-2 win against his club BVB in the second Klassiker of the season, but then came elimination from the DFB Pokal at home to Freiburg and the loss at Manchester City that spelt the end of Bayern’s Champions League hopes. Nagelsmann had been sacked as the treble was seen as endangered, now Bayern had only the league to play for.
That single objective was very nearly also lost with BVB maintaining their challenge and Bayern doing their best to give up their crown. A home draw with Hoffenheim followed by another defeat at Mainz handed the initiative to the Ruhr side. Hertha, Werder and Schalke were all beaten (although not wholly convincingly) but when RB Leipzig achieved their first-ever win at the Allianz Arena, the destiny of the Meisterschale was out of Bayern’s control.
Dortmund just had to beat Mainz on the final day (or at least match Bayern) to end the Reds decade-long stranglehold on the German league crown. Edin Terzic’s side duly bottled it, meaning that Jamal Musiala’s 89th minute winner at Köln actually clinched the Bundesliga title for Bayern on goal difference with both sides finishing on 71 points.
It was the lowest winning points tally of any side since Bayern were crowned champions back in 2010 with 70 points. The title win however wasn’t enough to save CEO Oliver Kahn and sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic, who were both seen as responsible for the disjointed and misfiring season that ultimately saw Bayern win ‘only’ the Bundesliga.
Winning is not enough at Bayern. It needs to be done in style while dominating the rest of the field. There will no doubt be further changes in order than they don’t come as close again the being dethroned as the German champions.
There were plenty of vintage Bayern displays of power this season despite the many lows. The opening 6-1 win over Eintracht Frankfurt set out their intentions from the very start as did the 7-0 trouncing of sorry Bochum.
Bayern cruised through their Champions League group and took great pleasure in beating Robert Lewandowski’s Barcelona home and away as well as beating Inter twice. The fact that the Italians ultimately reached the final will sting though.
Werder were handed their customary hammering (6-1) to welcome them back to the top flight, while there were other big wins over Freiburg (5-0), Mainz (6-2) and Schalke (6-0). Thomas Tuchel’s debut saw a comprehensive defeat of Dortmund in the Klassiker.
The five defeats suffered by Bayern all hurt and seemed to come at points in the season where they just put the knife in a bit further after previous poor games. Augsburg and Mainz both upped their games tremendously to beat them, while Xabi Alonso’s tactics were spot on even if Leverkusen had to rely on two penalties. Leipzig could smell blood and Bayern were unable to fight them off.
The two spells in the season that saw three successive draws was also very un-Bayern and not to the fans liking. Losing at home to Freiburg in the cup was another low as was a second successive exit from the Champions League at the quarter-final stage, although Manchester City were of a much higher quality than Villarreal last season.
Off the field incidents also provided some low points (the sacking of Toni Tapalovic and the resulting criticism from Manuel Neuer, Neuer’s ridiculous decision to going on a skiing holiday and the consequences of that, the spat between Oliver Kahn and Lothar Matthäus, and the sacking of Nagelsmann). For a while it was believed FC Hollywood was making a comeback.
Tale of the Tape
Record: 21-8-5, 71 points (2.09 per game), 1st in Bundesliga
Home Record: 38 points (11-5-1) Away Record: 33 points (10-3-4)
Goals: 92 (2.71 per game), Goals Against: 38 (1.12 per game), Diff: +54
xG: 75.0, xGA: 37.1, Diff: +37.8
The loss of talisman Robert Lewandowski was always going to impact Bayern as you simply cannot lose a player of his quality without consequences to your attacking game. The big shock was that Bayern didn’t go out and buy a direct replacement and at the start of the season opted to play without a number nine at all in a change from what we had been used to.
When the need for a recognised number nine became apparent Eric-Maxim Choupo Moting stepped up and he actually delivered for Bayern. While not delivering Lewandowski-like numbers, he still scored ten league goals. The leading scorer was however Serge Gnabry with fourteen with Jamal Musial contributing twelve. Gnabry had his fair share of criticism this season but came good particularly in the final run-in with five in the last six matches.
Mathys Tel showed that he has a bright future with five Bundesliga goals in his debut season despite only really being used as a late impact sub. Sadio Mané scored seven (and had countless more ruled out for offside), but he was far from the player that dazzled at Liverpool and his first season will go down as a big disappointment for all concerned.
It was Bayern’s goal difference of +54 that ultimately won them the league and unsurprisingly they led most of the attacking metrics. They had the most shots 625 compared to BVB’s 558) and had the most on target (251).
Bayern conceded 38 which was the joint lowest along with Union Berlin and only one more than they conceded last season. The loss of Manuel Neuer to his broken leg suffered whilst skiing was a huge blow and while they duly signed the ‘best of the rest’ in Yann Sommer, there were instances where Neuer’s absence was felt and Sommer came under scrutiny.
Mathijs de Ligt was the rock of the defence and his initial partnership with Dayot Upamecano looked strong until the French defender wobbled a little towards the end of the season. Benjamin Pavard had another great season both playing in the centre of the defence and as a right back. He contributed four goals. In the fullback berth Alphonso Davies had a steady, if unspectacular season, while Josip Stanisic did well whenever called upon. The arrival of Joao Cancelo added depth, while Noussair Mazraoui showed he has what it takes to become a key player- if only he can accept the competition for places.
Bayern actually led the league for errors made leading to a shot with 18 this season. The adage of defending from the front applies though as they led the league for tackles in the offensive third (102). They only ranked seventh for tackles in the defensive third.
Bayern actually started the season with a midfield axis of Joshua Kimmich and Marcel Sabitzer with Leon Goretzka injured. The usual partnership however was restored and Sabitzer ended up going to Manchester United on loan. Ryan Gravenberch was underused (just three starts).
The other attacking options all did their thing going forward with Musiala, Kingsley Coman, Thomas Müller, Serge Gnabry, and Leroy Sané all delivering, but there was a feeling this season that Bayern were too easy to play against in the second half of matches after achieving a lead.
Bayern ranked highest in the metric for tackles won in the midfield third and for shot creating actions. They also had the most touches in the midfield third and the highest progressive distance carried.
Despite yet another Bundesliga title, Bayern spent big last summer as they looked to not rest on their laurels and give Julian Nagelsmann a squad to challenge for the treble. The opportunity to sign Mathijs de Ligt was too good to pass up even though he did cost €67 million. He settled instantly and became a first-choice at the Rekordmeister. Arguably one of Bayern’s best performers this season.
Sadly, the same cannot be said of Sadio Mané. The forward was signed from Liverpool for €32 million although not a direct replacement for the Barcelona-bound Robert Lewandowski. The signs looked promising at the start of the campaign, but he never really found a role in the side and flattered to deceive this season culminating in ‘that incident’ with Leroy Sané. There is already much talk that he will be moved on this summer.
Mathys Tel was signed for €20 million from Rennes, which was a huge figure for a player yet to make a first-team appearance and only 17 at the time. Bayern however saw the massive potential and got in early. The young striker scored in the Pokal win over Viktoria Köln and became Bayern’s youngest-ever Bundesliga scorer when he netted against VfB Stuttgart.
Ryan Gravenberch (€18.5 million) and Noussair Mazraoui (free) were both signed from Ajax. Midfielder Gravenberch was underused and was clearly not happy about his game time this season despite arriving as one of the most highly rated young talents in Europe. Fullback Mazraoui at first struggled for minutes, then impressed when given a chance, but then his health issues following the World Cup impacted his Rückrunde and he too is complaining about lack of action.
Bayern had their hand forced somewhat in the Winter transfer window with three arrivals. Manuel Neuer’s skiing injury meant ta new keeper was urgently required and the club went for the best available in Yann Sommer, but Gladbach squeezed €8 million out of them, The absence of Mazraoui and the option to take Joao Cancelo on loan was a move seemingly too good to pass up. The Portuguese fullback was clearly a quality addition, but not one that Bayern will afford to make permanent. Daley Blind arrived as emergency cover, but was hardly needed.
Player of the Season
The post-Lewandowski season required others to step up fill the void and youngster Jamal Musiala certainly did that hitting twelve goals and adding thirteen assists. His sublime form in the Hinrunde made him a guaranteed starter for Germany in the World Cup (although it was to end in disappointment).
His form dipped after the Winterpause, but going from sublime to just very good is not something you can readily criticise him for. It was only right and just that it was Musiala clinched the title on the last day of the season it nearly the last minute with a tremendous goal. The Bayern prince is ready to be promoted to king.
Even though Bayern paid big money for him, few could have expected 17-year-old Mathys Tel to adapt so quickly to life in Bavaria and show the maturity that he has done when given his chances. He’s now the club’s youngest-ever Bundesliga goal scorer (replacing Jamal Musiala) and a five-goal haul is not to be sniffed at. The big question now is how he kicks on and whether a loan would benefit him, or whether Bayern will give him more opportunities next season.
When only an A grade is acceptable at Bayern Munich, the B grade achieved this season will not be greeted with cheer. The fact that Bayern responded to winning the title by sacking their CEO and sporting director (after previously firing one of Europe’s most talented young coaches) shows that standards at the club have not been met this season.
A second consecutive season of ‘just’ the league title will hurt and the club have already stated their intention to buy a number nine to take on the goals burden and a number six to potentially release Kimmich into a more attacking role.
Bayern have been shocked this season at the temerity of Dortmund to challenge them. Yes Bayern under-performed, but then the competition wasn’t able to capitalise. Better luck next time.