In the Bundesliga, FC Bayern is in first place after 15 matchdays. Closest pursuers SC Freiburg are four points behind, while BVB are on nine points. So everything as usual? It wouldn’t be so good for Munich. Because they know it from painful experience: everything depends on the second half of the season. And it contains a lot of explosives if Bayern don’t do their homework now.
It’s unclear whether Bayern CEO Oliver Kahn, coach Julian Nagelsmann and Co. can get anything out of the ‘Dinner for One’ New Year’s skit. Miss Sophie’s famous quote “Same procedure as every year” sounds like a perfect motto for FC Bayern – because it also contains an urgent warning.
“Just like every year” would normally mean for the Munich team: around Easter, FC Bayern will be German champions for the eleventh time in a row and for the 33rd time overall. Shortly before or shortly after, however, Nagelsmann’s side will be knocked out of the Champions League – and the shock of that will again overshadow domestic successes.
There is a high risk that this will also happen in the spring of 2023. FC Bayern must therefore work on the following projects in the coming weeks so that the Nagelsmann-Elf breaks the rule – and ideally achieves an exceptional season as in the years triples 2013 and 2020:
1. Who will replace Manuel Neuer in goal?
The fact that Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is out for the rest of the season after a holiday skiing accident is hitting Munich hard. For while personnel and tactical orientation are discussed week after week in almost every position, there has at least been some clarity between positions so far.
It’s unclear who will guard the Munich goal in the decisive second half of the season. This has not yet been officially confirmed. But Sven Ulreich, Bayern Munich’s number two for many years, has little chance of being promoted to goalkeeper.
On the contrary, Alexander Nübel could break his two-year loan at AS Monaco and return to Munich. FCB sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic recently called this option an “obvious solution” for ‘Sport Bild’.
But apart from the fact that Bayern would have to pay a fee for Nübel, the question also arises for him: does the 26-year-old now have the quality to adequately replace Neuer?
After leaving FC Schalke 04 for FC Bayern in the summer of 2020, Nübel didn’t come close to jeopardizing Neuer’s number one status. In his four competitive games as a substitute goalkeeper in the 2020/21 season, the former U21 national goalkeeper failed to live up to high expectations.
With the loan to Monaco – Nübel is fixed for the Monegasques – FC Bayern has outsourced this problem. If Nübel now returns from Monaco, a clear commitment from the club will soon be due.
Because: If the 26-year-old convinces, the competition for number one in goal with the then 37-year-old Neuer won’t really start until the summer.
If Nübel is unconvincing, critics will likely quickly wonder who Neuer should inherit the Bayern goal in the not-too-distant future. Especially since it was not said that Neuer would regain his old strength after breaking his shin.
Even a third solution, as is always the case with Yann Sommer from Gladbach, could cause explosiveness. If a goalkeeper other than Nübel arrives in January and convinces immediately, there may be new ones this summer and Insensitive to debate.
2. Can Julian Nagelsmann finally calm down the Bayern team?
The current situation at almost half-time in the Bundesliga should not make FC Bayern forget that all has not been rosy and sunny during the first 15 matchdays.
A crisis of result in the league with three draws and a 0-1 draw at FC Augsburg, the discussion sparked by honorary president Uli Hoeneß about the missing “Nine”, the late conceded 2-2 in the top game against BVB: In early autumn Bayern had to coach Nagelsmann eliminate several sources of fire.
The fact that Bayern said goodbye to the World Cup break with ten consecutive competitive victories didn’t really calm things down: instead, the second line rebelled. Great talents like Ryan Gravenberch, who came from Ajax Amsterdam for 18.5 million euros this summer, or the young striker Mathys Tel, for whom Bayern transferred 20 million euros to Stade Rennes, have claimed more than game time.
There was also stench around the regular team. Benjamin Pavard flirted loudly with change after being called up to central defense from the right flank. Along with Sadio Mané, the king’s transfer from Bayern also showed fluctuating performance in the storm.
3. Is the depth, quality and motivation of the team sufficient?
Not only Neuer’s failure should concern Bayern bosses. The season has also gone well for centre-back Lucas Hernández, who tore a cruciate ligament at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. It is not known when Mané, injured shortly before the World Cup, will return. Defense substitute Bouna Sarr is also still recovering from knee surgery.
If you include youngsters like 17-year-old Paul Wanner, Nagelsmann currently only has 18 fit outfield players. We can at least doubt that this is enough to pass three competitions. Especially since regulars like Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Kingsley Coman or Leon Goretzka are considered injury-prone.
Speaking of which: it remains to be seen if Choupo-Moting has what it takes to become Bayern’s number one striker in the long run. The 33-year-old is in his first season as a starter at a top club. Twelve goals in 19 competitive games is a solid calling card. But the first small period of drought of the German-Cameroon was going to restart the discussion anew. With Tel, 17, there is only one real alternative to “Choupo” at the center of the storm.
In the Champions League – Munich have mastered the Group C hammer with Inter Milan and FC Barcelona with 18 points out of a possible 18 – FC Bayern will be challenged immediately: In the round of 16, the German record champions meet the PSG. Against Paris it was already 2021 in the quarter-finals.
There should be no motivational issues in the queen class. An early decision in the Bundesliga title fight could thwart that. It would not be the first time that Bayern fell into the “master blues” very early on: the memory of the quarter-final defeat against FC Villarreal in April 2022 is still present.
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