Bayern kick-off the new Bundesliga season as champions against Werder Bremen on Friday as clear favourites for a twelfth consecutive league title, but strangely with many question marks still hanging over their squad- something which is not the ideal situation going into the new campaign. Will the Bavarians return to their dominant selves, or was last season perhaps a sign of things to come?
Bayern’s eleventh Bundesliga title win in a row last season was not achieved with the usual elan the Rekordmeister are used to and they have changed the leadership and spent big in an effort to get back to their ‘normality’. Spending €100 million on their number one target Harry Kane shows their intent, but the England captain is not a magician and hie is just part of the Bayern puzzle that needs to be solved.
There are still a number of question marks hanging over the squad and the Bavarians are not going into the season with their camp in order to the extent they would perhaps prefer.
The number 6
Thomas Tuchel made his feelings clear on the Asian tour that he believed Bayern needed to sign a natural number six. The purely defensive midfielder he envisages is not currently in the Bayern squad despite Joshua Kimmich, Konrad Laimer, Leon Goretzka and Ryan Gravenberch having been deployed there in the past. Uli Hoeness seems to disagree, but Bayern’s 3-0 defeat in the Supercup may have given the trainer’s opinion more traction at boardroom level.
Should Tuchel want to switch from the current 4-2-3-1 formation to a 4-1-4-1 line-up, the purely defensively minded midfield anchor will play a crucial role. The danger is that any potential future issues with regards performances or results could be argued against by the coach with the fact that he wasn’t given the pieces to execute his tactical plan.
The number 1
Bayern will start the season with veteran back-up Sven Ulreich in goal with Manuel Neuer still not ready to return and with no date as yet set for a potential return. The club sold Yann Sommer to Inter and allowed Alexander Nübel to join VfB Stuttgart leaving 19-year-old Tom Ritzy Hülsmann as the back-up keeper.
Ulreich will do a job, but Bayern are in the market for a new keeper and this is where an issue arises. Neuer is the undoubted number one when fit, so whoever they sign is going to have to be content with the role of back-up when he does eventually return from his broken leg. However, at 37 years of age, Neuer is not going to keep playing forever and Bayern have to think about a long-term replacement.
Kepa Arrizabalaga from Chelsea was said to be a target, but he has joined Real Madrid. Ajax’s Gerónimo Rulli was another option, but he is going to be out injured until the winter break. David de Gea is available on a free after leaving Manchester United, but his wages and reputation for errors would count against him. Sevilla’s Yassine Bounou is the name currently being mentioned, but who knows how that will pan out. All in all, not the ideal situation going into the new campaign.
Yes, Bayern won the Bundesliga last season, but the arrival of Thomas Tuchel hasn’t eliminated the problems that the team had and his record compared to that of Julian Nagelsmann doesn’t stand up particularly well. Being knocked out of the DFB Pokal at home to Freiburg was a blow, losing at home to RB Leipzig on the penultimate matchday could and should have proved very costly and the 3-0 defeat at the Allianz Arena on Saturday in the Supercup showed that the Bayern machine is not a smooth running one.
There seems to still be a distinct lack of automatism in the squad and there is the impression that Tuchel’s messages are not getting through to the players, or they are not in a position to be able to carry out his wishes. Pre-season has seen some wins, but too many goals are being conceded- two against Manchester City, three against Liverpool, two against Monaco and three against Leipzig in the Supercup. This doesn’t seem to be a Bayern side starting the season in prime form.
Bayern still have their own transfer plans, but there could well still be some movement with regards player exits if the stories in the press are to be believed. The key story concerns Benjamin Pavard’s desire to leave and Manchester United have already had a bid turned down with the French defender making his desire to move to Old Trafford clear.
Bayern do have Noussair Mazraoui to fill the right back slot should Pavard actually get his wish, but it seems unlikely that the club would be happy to go into the new season with just the Moroccan and Josip Stanisic as their recognised right backs.
Bayern were very un-Bayern-like in last season’s Rückrunde showing a brittle side to them that is not often seen. They often failed to capitalise on leads and teams found it too easy to comeback against them in the second half of matches. In an ideal world for Bayern fans that would be a mere blip and the new season would start with the German giants back to their imperious best with Harry Kane becoming the new darling of the Allianz Arena and Thomas Tuchel’s side sweeping all before them.
But what if the malaise is a longer term issue? What if the title contenders Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig in particular raise their games to another level? Leipzig have already drawn first-blood and the rest of the Bundesliga will have taken note. There are lots of ifs and buts, which will only be known once the season gets underway, but to have these doubts, questions and concerns going into the first game of the season is not the ideal scenario.