A major part of looking ahead to a new season involves finding solutions to problems of yesteryear. Most teams, perhaps even 31 of the 32 teams involved in the Champions League, would like to have some of the problems that Bayern had through the course of the 2011-12 season.
Those small issues unfortunately were magnified at the end of the past season. Together, those small issues turned into one large problem: a lack of trophies due to a failure to make the last step. So, as we look ahead to next season for one last time, let’s look at the problems of the heart-breaking past season.
Poor Conversion Rate
This was at the forefront of the list of problems. Let’s take a look at the games Bayern lost. They lost seven matches in the Bundesliga. Those losses included two matches against Dortmund and two matches against Borussia Mönchengladbach. In the first game against Dortmund at the Allianz Arena, there was little doubt to the fact that Bayern was the better side. The final shot count read fifteen for Bayern and only eight for Dortmund.
In the second match, Arjen Robben failed to take advantage from the spot and proceeded to miss from three yards out with the goal at his mercy. Against Gladbach at Borussia Park and against Leverkusen at the Bay Arena, the story was no different. To me, the match that really brought this problem out was the second leg against Real Madrid in the Champions League.
Two of the three players suspended for the final on Bayern’s side collected their final cautions in extra time. Despite having numerous clear cut chances, Bayern failed to put the tie to bed in normal time. Without a shadow of a doubt, the player most guilty was Mario Gomez.
Despite the many goals that Gomez scored, he was not nominated for the UEFA Best Player Award. The reason is simple: Gomez failed to put himself on the map by scoring against Dortmund in the Pokal Final or against Chelsea in the Champions League final.
The solution to this problem seemingly lies in an addition of strikers to the squad. Bayern has done exactly so by bringing in Claudio Pizarro and Mario Mandzukic. The addition of Xherdan Shaqiri should be helpful too.
Failure to Maximize Possession Effectively/ Lack of Creativity
In a team with the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos, it is indeed surprising to find ourselves talking about this. Schweinsteiger played some magnificent passes in the first half of the season, while Kroos was the creative head for much of the season. When Kroos was pushed into defensive midfield, the four players ahead of him did not seem to be on the same wavelength.
Gomez, for example, failed to read Thomas Mueller’s passes most of the time. Arjen Robben too often tried the same trick over and over again. Robben’s reluctance to finish chances, or even to pass to Gomez or Mueller, led to moves breaking down plenty of times.
Bayern controlled possession in every single match they played. It didn’t matter whether they won or lost. However, they focused more on keeping the ball than breaking into the other team. Their strategy relied on overwhelming talent to break down the opposition. There was no clear plan really as to how to break down teams that defended with ten men, which led to numerous draws in the league.
Jupp Heynckes is partly to blame for this, of course. The introduction of Matthias Sammer and open talks about strategy between the two could solve this problem. The introduction of the small and fast Shaqiri, as well as the use of Mitchell Weiser, could be a solution too.
First of all, I have to talk about Heynckes again here. He managed to fix a defence that bled goals under Louis Van Gaal. While the numbers did not show that, the possessions stats certainly indicated Bayern’s openness at the back and vulnerability to counter-attacks and set-pieces.
Last season, Bayern had the best defence in the Bundesliga. However, it was the lapses that cost them the title. The opening goals in both matches against Gladbach were down to lapses by Manuel Neuer. The goals conceded against Dortmund were down to ‘freak errors’ as well. Didier Drogba scored from a corner in the Champions League final while Jerome Boateng was asleep in what was the only moment in the match where he had to defend doggedly.
The loss to Hanover pointed this out as well. The Bayern defence had the highest number of lapses in two matches: the loss to Basel and the cup final defeat to Dortmund. Basel only made one lapse count, while Dortmund made each and everyone count. The early lapses against Real Madrid in the second leg almost led to a premature exit from the Champions League. Let’s not forget the match against Mainz in which they leaked in three goals.
Of course, this meant Bayern needed better defenders. Hence, they bought the experienced Dante, who was a rock for Gladbach at the back. Daniel Van Buyten’s return to fitness will mean more competition for spots at the heart of defence, and, thus, hopefully more focus from everyone. Neuer was brilliant for the most part of last season, but a few lapses really prevented him from proving to everyone that he really is the best in the business.
Lack of Depth
This problem was really overlooked, especially due to Bayern’s scintillating first four months. When Bastian Schweinsteiger suffered a serious injury, Bayern found themselves in trouble. As it happened, Kroos covered effectively for him, while Bastian never really returned to his old form. However, because Kroos was absent from the attacking midfield, Bayern was left reeling when it came to attacking substitutions.
The lack of cover in defence was evident when Anatoliy Tymoshchuk walked out as a central defender in the final of the CL. The lack of strikers was evident when Heynckes was unable to replace Gomez despite evidently being frustrated with him. It was evident most of all, when Ivica Olic, a striker by trade, came on for Franck Ribery. Olic can play as a winger, but anyone who watches the Bundesliga knows where he is most useful.
Again, the board has signed Shaqiri, Dante, Pizarro and Weiser to address these problems. Another excellent decision the board has made is bringing up Emre Can from the reserve squad. The main focus continues to be on academy products, but the new signings should be helpful nevertheless.
I reckon that after this season, the media will stop looking at German players as mentally strong ones. Bayern did prove their mental strength at times. They fought back against Real Madrid. They fought back in the second leg against Basel to overturn a first-leg deficit. They made the cup final by defeating Gladbach on penalties following a fairly even match between the two.
Unfortunately, that winning mentality didn’t show too often. In the final against Dortmund and in the shoot-out against Chelsea, that mentality simply went out the window. Kroos, Robben and Tymoshchuk refused to take penalties despite Kroos and Robben both being very good from the spot (despite the events against Dortmund and Madrid).
Sometimes, the team lacked a leader. Schweinsteiger closed his eyes when Robben stepped onto the spot against Chelsea in the final. Nobody else thought of taking the ball off of Robben and hitting it. Schweinsteiger himself could have taken it. Gomez, who is actually a very good taker, could have had a go. Philipp Lahm isn’t vocal and didn’t bring the team together like Oliver Kahn or Stefan Effenberg could. Lahm tried to lead by example, but it just wasn’t to be that night.
Bayern made the most spectacular change of sporting director by firing Christian Nerlinger and hiring Matthias Sammer. Maybe, the former Dortmund man can bring the winning mentality that was for so long a part of the Bavarian team’s history. Bayern could have won the Champions League with that mentality regardless of the domestic competitions.
Recently, FC Ismanning played Bayern in a friendly match. The Bayern roster obviously largely consisted of players from FC Bayern II. Those players showed the kind of skills associated with the likes of Philipp Lahm and Kroos, and ran out 4-0 winners. Despite an all round good showing by the team, the star of the show was Mitchell Weiser. I know one friendly isn’t much to judge a player by, but one could easily tell why Bayern has signed this youngster.
Finally, I would like to hear your thoughts one last time about the problems of last season. Let’s hope 2012-13 is a better one.