Freitag, 8. Oktober 2010

When the shit hits the fan...

…get a tent. Was it Shakespeare who said that?

Well, the point is that’s just precisely what’s happening with Bayern at the moment. And it’s not that this is extremely surprising, because we’d been warned. Our manager and many other powerful figures in the club (Hoeneß, Rummenigge, etc.) had pointed out before the start of the season that the recent World Cup paired with the fairly long and intense last season would affect the team’s performances. A natural and very Bayern-like solution would have been to buy a few players here and there to fill the gap until the big guns are ready for firing again.

What most people did not take into account was the fact, though, that Louis van Gaal is not the type of manager who would succumb to this old reflex and tear a functioning squad apart. And why would he?

To be fair, at first it looked as if he had got it perfectly right, because the first performances (e.g. in the Supercup) did indicate that the fatigue is there and will strike mercilessly when the matches become more intense, but the fact that the team as a whole was in very good nick and (theoretically) knew what they were doing was a bit of a consolation.

What then happened was a succession of rather unfortunate events. And I don’t really want to push bad luck or anything, but especially in the games we lost, there were a few instances where a bit more luck would have probably pushed the game into a totally different direction (possibly a win). In Kaiserslautern, Müller missed an absolute sitter (or should have passed to Olic or Klose to put them in a position from which even they in their horrid form couldn’t miss). The game against Cologne was just frustrating (as well as the chances we missed – again) and the home-defeat against Mainz and the following defeat at Dortmund was just another of these matches that could go down an entirely different path, if (I know that this is repetitive now) we hadn’t missed all those good chances.

So, is it just a matter of not converting opportunities to goals?

Very much so, I’m afraid.

Can it really be that simple?


There are, of course, other factors that make watching a Bayern match not a very pleasing experience at the moment (if you support Bayern, that is). Despite the two key players (Ribéry and Robben, in case you’re wondering) missing, it has become painfully clear that the problems do lie elsewhere. Problems which were also very present in the last season but glossed over by outstanding performances by others. I’m talking about our defense (the problem, not the outstanding performances). We always had a problem in central defending. Neither van Buyten or Demichelis were ever real candidates for crunch-time matches in the Champions League – a fact that became more than obvious in the final against Inter. Van Gaal probably envisaged a future with Badstuber and Breno, to be fair, but the short-term perspective meant having to make do with Demichelis and van Buyten as one of the full-backs with young Diego Contento and Philip Lahm being the left- and right-back respectively. That, in theory, sounds all very good, but it really started to go a bit pear-shaped, when Diego Contento picked up an injury and van Buyten returned to his usual, agile-as-a-fridge self. Demichelis? Well, he’s in a bit of a sulk, because he hadn’t earned a place in the starting line-up, and whenever subbed in, he is very eager to show his unwillingness – so he’s not an option either.

Where does this leave us?

Well, there would have been young David Alaba, but (you’ve guessed it) he’s out injured as well.

Could one have anticipated all or any of that?

That certainly depends whether you are an optimist or a pessimist.

Let’s start with an optimistic point of view:
Ok, I know that there are many players who were at the World Cup and are probably a bit tired when they come back. One of my most important players is out injured for a longer time, but there are still a few fellows on the bench who might at least partly compensate this loss. What is more, the team know each other and the way I want them to play football (something which worked very well last season). So I guess it would not be very wise to hire more players, since there is also Toni Kroos returning from Leverkusen so that’s one new lad anyway and he is indeed a very decent footballer.

Here’s what a pessimist might sound like:
Oh dear, more or less all of my players are tired from the World Cup, my key player is out injured, so basically the team is worth sod-all. Plus I think it is very likely that none of my four strikers will be able to score in the first seven or eight games and we will have to deal with plenty of injuries (my guesses are the recently recovered Ribéry, Contento, Schweinsteiger and Alaba). What is more, even those who should not be troubled by World Cup fatigue will show a striking dip in form and tear down the rest of the squad with them.

Well, ok, both cases are a tad extreme, but my opinion is that, if you are overly pessimistic, you’re forced to hire players that will end up on the bench or not in the squad at all when the established players return to form (and that’s “when” and not “if” here). In other words: you spend a lot of money on temporary replacements which you won’t need any more in a couple of weeks’ time – you could also call this the “Schalke” way of doing things and just look where they ended up.

When you look through the oh-so-wise newspapers who are happy to assess the current crisis at Bayern these days, there seems to be quite a substantial amount of hypocrisy floating around. Not too long ago, relying on young promising players instead of spending big to mend short-term problems was the heralded, absolutely right way of managing a football team – especially in this day and age of financial difficulties and horrible football buyouts. In other words: van Gaal was right and everyone else was wrong. And this was not just his own publicized egotistical opinion – the papers were full of that stuff. Not changing the team and relying on the players who won the national double and made it to the Champions League final in the last season was seen as the daring (but still right) way forward. Seven games, four defeats and only five goals (with one own-goal) into the season and everything was wrong, short-sighted and this major catastrophe to be anticipated long ago.


I’m not absolving the management of this rather horrid start to the season – surely not. But one bit of criticism that has always been hurled at Bayern was that managers don’t get time and the management sometimes makes unwise, rash decisions, which are usually not well thought through from a long-term point of view.

Being Bayern Munich, there’s only one thing which will help: start winning games. And that certainly starts by scoring goals. Coming back to what I said in the beginning: this is probably what had started all this rubbish – missing chance after chance in games that we had controlled to a great extent up to the point of conceding a goal. Turning it around at Hoffenheim seemed like a step into the right direction, but then there were Mainz and Dortmund. And these two games showed in a frighteningly clear fashion that many players had apparently not grasped the seriousness of the situation. There still seems to be the idea that Bayern Munich can win games, purely by keeping the ball and simply waiting for goals to be score (somehow). As has been demonstrated drastically by the team so far, this recipe doesn’t really work without nay creative momentum, so what are the possible solutions?

Tackles? Nah, not that important.
Yellow cards, red cards? Never. (cf. tackles)

I’m not arguing that hacking down your opponent automatically wins you matches, but in times when playing stylish attacking football doesn’t seem to work, getting stuck in might seem like a viable solution; it certainly helps.

Don't get me wrong, I'm also quite furious at the we the team plays at the moment. And the performances of some players are beyond belief (in a bad way), but calling the whole van Gaal way into question after only seven Bundesliga games (and two wins in the Champions League)? Really?

So when the shit hits the fan… patient.

And start scoring.

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