Bayern Munich have started the 2019/20 season on a good note, getting two draws and three wins from the opening five Bundesliga games, as well as a win on the opening day of the Champions League season.
However, the wins have not come without their own issues as Bayern have looked lost against teams they would normally dispose of easily, only to awake in the second half or in the later stages of the game and pull themselves to a victory. That football fans are optimistic is a good thing, else the early performances from the defending champions would be enough for fans of Bayern to begin to call for Niko Kovac’s head at this point in time.
Football is an unpredictable sport, which is why we love it though. Literally anything can go off the rails at any given point for our favourite teams, hence the high alert which made me think about this piece.
Without further ado, here are five things that could go wrong with Bayern Munich in Niko Kovac’s second season.
#1 Coutinho or Thiago in the middle?
Thiago missed just four Bundesliga games in all of last season, and Bayern failed to win any of them – two draws, two defeats, and a lot of question marks. In the 23 games the Spaniard started, Bayern dropped just 12 points and in the 11 he didn’t, they dropped another 12.
He proved to be the strategist in the team, and Bayern were a shadow of themselves without him. However, since the arrival of Phillipe Coutinho, Kovac has employed a 4-2-3-1 formation in order to accommodate the Brazilian’s talents and this has immediately thrown Thiago’s role into question. He has either started as part of a double pivot or from the bench and while he has put in a great shift in his new role, it is not allowing fans see the Thiago of last season who controlled Bayern’s games.
Coutinho has shown glimpses of his brilliance – even winning the man of the match award in last Saturday’s victory over FC Köln but he’s still an unknown and this change seems risky.
Both players have hit it off in the training ground, with Coutinho stating that Thiago is helping with translations and adapting to life in Munich. But with Coutinho gradually being eased into the team as the main creative hub, Thiago may not be as influential as he was last season.
The problem with this is the potential loss of one creative outlet to accommodate one, and with every team stepping up the challenge this year, they will need everything they had and now have.
#2 Champions League or the Double?
They have been lucky to get a relatively easy group in the Champions League and it will take either a miracle or massive capitulation by Bayern not to qualify from the group stages. But the tricky thing about this season will be competing in the Champions League and defending their domestic double.
Perhaps the single greatest factor that might help Bayern retain the double is an early exit – like last season – from the Champions League. However, to keep being kicked out from the Champions League is unbecoming of a club like Bayern and Niko Kovac will face problems with which competition to focus on the most.
Make no mistake: Bayern will definitely give the Champions League increased focus in 2019/20. Everyone, from the management to the players, to the fans, is thirsty for European glory. However, fans or the Bayern hierarchy will not tolerate a capitulation on the homefront either and we could see a crisis at the club.
#3 Consolidation issues
Many fans and commentators insisted tirelessly that 2018/19 was a season of transition for Bayern. Well, the transition is over – Franck Ribéry, Rafinha, Mats Hummels and Arjen Robben left. Jerome Boateng has been reduced to a bit-part role to allow the younger defenders play (and he doesn’t look set to stay at the club beyond this season).
The first order of business is establishing a system. With Bayern’s current options in midfield, he will most likely stick to a formation that allows him field as many of his world-beater midfielders as possible. 4-2-3-1 has gotten the nod in recent games, but we could see a 3-4-3, 3-5-1-1, 3-5-2 or anything remotely similar in later games.
This is a critical part of Kovac’s second season in charge. He will need to make his squad competitive at the highest level and will face a huge task in doing so.
#4 Pressure plus ultra
Pep Guardiola once called Bayern a “brutal club” during an interview, in allusions to the fact that Bayern is a big pressure cooker of a club.
Coming from a coach under whom Bayern played some of their most beautiful football in recent history, Niko Kovac was definitely going to feel the heat. His first season saw him almost crumble under the pressure, but he managed to stay afloat.
At the turn of 2019, for the first time since 2012, it looked like Bayern Munich weren’t going to win the Bundesliga. That they were in that position is largely on Kovac. He, however, turned things around, getting 15 wins, three draws and one defeat from Bayern’s last 19 Bundesliga games of the season.
This season, he has seen his side strengthened with brilliant signings, and he will have to dominate the league and improve in Europe, otherwise, he will be on the way out.
Niko Kovac has never had a task as big as Bayern in his coaching career. He must have learnt a lot of lessons from last season, but is still under serious scrutiny and he may just wilt under all the pressure.
#5 Injuries (again)
This one cannot be pinned on Kovac really. Injuries happen, and for some reason, they happen more often to Bayern. They started the season with only 17 players due to injuries. Most of those injured are back, but Bayern still has two key players on the sidelines.
In his first season, Kovač implemented some measures to help combat preventable injuries.
It didn’t do much, but at least the club’s medical staff knew who to monitor to mitigate injuries.
This will continue to be a problem for Bayern and Kovac.
Bayern president, Uli Hoeneß has made no secret of how much the incessant questioning of Bayern’s performance annoys him, and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge paints a picture of much more caution and scepticism. If the two biggest characters in the club feel like this, then there’s not much to be excited about as a fan.
Considering all the things that could go wrong even puts the future in doubt. Luckily, we’re football fans and we wear our hearts on our sleeves like it’s nothing.