In recent memory, Bayern Munich have been one of the dominant forces in European football. Top managers, top talent on the pitch, and a large budget to keep reinforcing the club lead to a team that’s dominated the Bundesliga and became a constant force in Europe — but this season, that feeling of Bayern being a special, dominant team just hasn’t been there, and on Wednesday, that was starkly apparent as they got humbled by Paris Saint-Germain in a 3-0 loss.
Now, this year’s PSG team is incredibly powerful themselves, but Bayern still looked completely outmatched and outclassed. It was bizarre to watch them get picked apart so ruthlessly by a team that it feels like they would have beaten a year ago, but it also really served to highlight some of Bayern’s problems. That bad result has cost manager Carlo Ancelotti his job.
Bayern still have the talent to be elite
It’s not like the squad’s talent or depth is the problem for Bayern Munich right now. They have one of the best squads in Europe, headlined by stars like Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Müller, Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, David Alaba, Arturo Vidal, Franck Ribery, and Arjen Robben. They’ve got big young talents like Kingsley Coman, Joshua Kimmich, and Niklas Süle to help keep their future secure. The likes of James Rodriguez, Sebastian Rudy, Mats Hummels, and Sebastian Rudy give them incredibly valuable depth in the here and now, impact players who would be nailed-on starters for dozens of other big clubs, but are mostly in the rotation for Bayern instead.
But a lot of those major stars are getting up in years. Neuer is 31, Vidal is 30, Robben and Ribery are 33 and 34, respectively. Müller, Boateng, Lewandowski, and Hummels are all between 28 and 29, but have more games on their legs than most 32 year olds. Injury issues have plagued all of them at times over the last couple of years, and many Bayern fans wonder just how long they can be relied on — Robben and Ribery have already seen their roles vastly reduced, and several of the others are starting to get “managed” more closely to try to keep them healthy.
That kind of instability and inconsistency at the top of the roster can create problems on matchdays, with players who don’t always get first-team time in training thrust into bigger roles and not always responding well to it. An injury-forced change to the lineup can bring different styles and skillsets onto the pitch than the team is used to working with and hasn’t trained extensively for, leading to less-than-ideal performances as the team struggles to adapt, especially when injuries start to stack up at crucial positions.
The lack of a challenge may not be doing them much good
While the Champions League always represents a unique challenge, that’s a maximum of 15 matches for most clubs if they reach the final. Clubs like Bayern play upwards of 50 other matches a season between their league and various domestic cup competitions, and for Bayern the vast majority of those matches are at a level of competition far below their capability.
That can leave even the most talented and normally motivated teams with a feeling of — well, of boredom. The simplest way to say it is that Bayern Munich has so thoroughly dominated the Bundesliga and established themselves at a level of talent so much higher than the rest of the league that they just don’t get challenged in the vast majority of their games. That can allow complacency to set in, something that managers have to very carefully deal with to avoid and keep the team clicking on all cylinders.
And that brings us to the big news of the day.
Bayern’s players didn’t believe in Carlo Ancelotti anymore
Bayern usually gives managers a lot of time and doesn’t fire them hastily, but their board has had enough of Carlo Ancelotti.
Ancelotti’s resume as a manager is undeniably amazing. He’s won Serie A. He’s won the Premier League. He’s won Ligue 1. He’s won the Champions League three times. He’s one of the best managers in the last 20 years, and there’s no real way to deny that. But there’s been this feeling for roughly the last eight or nine months that something’s not quite clicking with Ancelotti and Bayern, and this quote from Bundesliga expert Raphael Honigstein really puts that doubt into a stark light:
Bayern Munich's squad under Carlo Ancelotti's tutelage. Some are clearly missing Guardiola. pic.twitter.com/1eLR9U6iOq— Shane Burns (@ShaneBurns_) September 13, 2017
Ancelotti’s techniques have certainly worked for him over the years, but there’s been a feeling ever since his time at Real Madrid that perhaps the game has started to pass him by, as he’s shown little adaptability to the way football has changed over the last decade. He’s certainly an incredibly different manager to the very detail-oriented and demanding style of Pep Guardiola, who preceeded him at Bayern, and it’s not at all unreasonable that players used to Guardiola’s style would react very differently to him because of it.
If what Honigstein says is true, that reaction has been a decidedly negative one, and what ultimately spelled doom for Ancelotti’s tenure at Bayern Munich. They’ve been off to a slow start this season in the Bundesliga, and this loss to PSG only serves to highlight those struggles.
Can this be fixed?
Yes. Absolutely. Bayern has too much talent, too much drawing power, and too much money to be permanently broken. They might just need some time to get healthy and get some tactical woes straightened out before looking like the Bayern of old again — it certainly wouldn’t be the first time a top team went through a funk that they just needed time to work through.
The club will now move on to a new manager, though who that will be is unclear. Thomas Tuchel is a name that’s been mentioned frequently of late, and the ex-manager of their Bundesliga rivals Borussia Dortmund would certainly be a manager closer to Pep Guardiola’s end of the spectrum as far as his style goes. They certainly seem to need someone who can work and push the squad more, because what’s happening now is absolutely not working for them at all.