FC Bayern Munich: Are the German Giants Mentally Fragile?
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Every cloud has a silver lining. Had Jupp Heynckes tried to find a silver lining in May, he would have failed. A trio of runner-up finishes posed some serious questions for Bayern Munich. Some doubted the team’s true potential. Others felt that they were mentally not strong enough to win it all.
FC Bayern has been criticized for quite a few reasons down the years, including poaching the stars of other German clubs and playing for a result. However, they were rarely criticized for their mentality. FC Bayern players used to possess a winner’s mentality. The so-called winner's mentality seems to have disappeared.
It seems that the great FC Bayern München is almost afraid of winning trophies.
However, does this golden generation of FC Bayern stars really lack a winning mentality? Let’s examine some matches of the past and some of the present before drawing a conclusion.
Dynamo Kiev 3-3 FC Bayern München (1998-99 UEFA Champions League Semifinal first leg)
A miss by Vitaliy Kosvosky changed the complexion of a game in which the clear winner was supposed to be Dynamo Kiev. A double from Andriy Shevchenko saw the crowd erupt in Kiev. A Michael Tarnat goal kept Bayern hanging on by a thread.
In the second half, Dynamo continued to dazzle and restored a two-goal cushion through the aforementioned Kosovsky.
Kosovsky had a chance to seal the game at 3-1. He only had Oliver Kahn to beat. He opted to chip. Kosovsky beat Kahn but saw the ball fly over the post.
This was just what Bayern needed. The winning mentality emerged as Bayern struck twice in the final fifteen minutes to pick up an unlikely draw.
Stefan Effenberg, at one time the king of controversy, tucked in a free kick beautifully. Carsten Jancker, in his bullish way, scored with two minutes of normal time to go. The Bayern players celebrated. Three away goals and the draw virtually sealed the tie for them.
Manchester United 2-1 FC Bayern München (1999 UEFA Champions League Final)
That very same Bayern side succumbed to defeat in the final. They led a somewhat dour match for the entire ninety minutes until injury time arrived. Red and blue ribbons were being tied to the Champions League trophy.
Somehow, they let everything get away from them. They conceded two late goals to surrender the Cup to a Manchester United side which perhaps didn’t deserve it on the basis of their performance in the final.
The mentally tough Bayern players succumbed to their pains. They didn’t know then that a similar chapter would be written in their history roughly 13 years after that day. However, the Bayern side which was the face of mental toughness and which was said to possess a winning mentality somehow failed in unimaginable fashion that day.
FC Bayern München 1-1 Valencia CF (2001 UEFA Champions League Final)
FC Bayern 5-4 Valencia CF (on penalties)
Quite a few of the Bayern stars who featured in the 1998-1999 Champions League campaign returned for the 2000-2001 campaign. This time, Valencia CF was the opponent. This time it was Bayern who fought back bravely. They fell behind to an early penalty and also missed one handed to them.
In the second half, Bayern was awarded yet another penalty. Stefan Effenberg showed his strong mentality once again as he struck the equalizer.
The match could not be decided within the ninety minutes and headed to penalties. Early on in the shoot-out, Bayern fell behind as Paulo Sergio missed his side’s first spot-kick. Zlatko Zahovic and Amedeo Carboni missed Valencia’s third and fourth penalties. Patrik Andersson’s miss kept Valencia alive. After six spot-kicks, the teams were even at 4-4. Thomas Linke then converted for Bayern. Mauricio Pellegrino’s miss finally handed Bayern what would be their last Champions League trophy.
Bayern had in excess of 60 percent possession in that match. Oliver Kahn saved the day during the shootout and was awarded the Man of the Match prize. Overall, this match showcased the strong mentality associated with Bayern. They just did not give up even when things weren’t going their way.
Borussia Mönchengladbach 1-1 FC Bayern München (2009-10 Bundesliga Match-day 32)
The Bundesliga title race has not been close in the past two seasons. If Bayern and Dortmund continue to play the way they have been doing so far this season and if Leverkusen continues to be inconsistent, this one won’t be close either. The last close Bundesliga title race took place in the 2009-10 season between Bayern and Schalke.
Four teams were in the running for the title that season including Leverkusen and Hertha. Leverkusen had been unbeaten in the first half of the campaign and had led the table. A Leverkusen-style collapse ensued in the second half allowing Bayern and Schalke to take advantage.
Bayern led Schalke going into Match-day 32. A loss on this day combined with a Schalke win would see Felix Magath’s boring side take the lead in the table. The opponent for Bayern was the ever tricky Borussia Mönchengladbach.
A certain Marco Reus opened the scoring for Gladbach on the hour mark.
Louis Van Gaal was running out of ideas as the game stretched on despite the fact that his side had dominated possession. He introduced Miroslav Klose into the match. Klose scored one of the most important goals of his Bayern career that day in the 73rd minute. He connected wonderfully with a perfect cross from Philipp Lahm. Schalke’s win saw them close the gap on Bayern. Bayern still led the table but only by goal difference.
That match once again showed Bayern’s mentality. On a day when not too much was going right, they rescued the match by picking up what can only be now called a "title-winning point."
Werder Bremen 0-4 FC Bayern München (2010 DFB Pokal Final)
This was the last final which Bayern won in their history. In other words, other than the German Supercup, this was their last trophy.
Bayern did not have 35 shots as they did against Chelsea in the 2012 Champions League finale. They only had 18. Nine of the 18 were on target. Four of them found the back of the net. Goals from Arjen Robben (penalty), the evergreen Ivica Olic, Franck Ribery and Bastian Schweinsteiger saw Bayern seal an emphatic double.
Bayern was focused in this match. They really didn’t put a foot wrong. The win was comprehensive too as they had 66 percent possession. The win came too easily for Bayern. Bremen had been the holders going into this match. However, they never really had a chance to defend their crown.
Borussia Mönchengladbach 0-0 FC Bayern München (2011-12 DFB Pokal Semifinal)
Gladbach 2-4 Bayern (on penalties)
Bayern had already bizarrely lost to Lucien Favre’s clever Gladbach side twice in the season. They were marginally the better side in this encounter at Borussia Park and came out on top on penalties. Bayern did not miss a single penalty! David Alaba slotted in the first calmly.
Filip Daems equalized for Gladbach. Franck Ribery scored only for Patrick Hermann to level the scores. Philipp Lahm then put Bayern back into the lead. Current Bayern star Dante’s miss allowed Toni Kroos to calmly slot in the winning penalty to send Bayern into the final.
This match showcased Bayern’s abilities from the spot. They failed miserably in May but in March, they were perfect. This showed Bayern’s strong mentality. The fact that they beat Gladbach in Borussia Park last season was a big achievement.
Borussia Dortmund 1-0 FC Bayern München (2011-12 Bundesliga, Match-day 30)
Three points separated the two going into this match. A win for Bayern in this one would have seen them take the lead in the Bundesliga. A draw would have kept them in the title race. However, Bayern let it all fall away. In a fairly even encounter, Bayern failed terribly.
Arjen Robben played Robert Lewandowski in the 77th minute, allowing him to score the winner. He missed a penalty in the 85th minute. He also missed from three yards out. Bayern could have perhaps won the match in the dying minutes with those two chances but just didn’t. It is difficult to argue that a former Bayern side would have done better.
However, the least Bayern should have gotten out of this match was a draw. The question about their fragile mental states was started off by this result really more than anything else.
Real Madrid 2-1 FC Bayern München (2011-12 UEFA Champions League Semi-final Second Leg)
Real Madrid 1-3 FC Bayern (on penalties)
First of all, when Real Madrid raced into a 2-0 lead, effectively overturning the deficit of the first leg (Bayern 2-1 Real), Bayern fans might have feared the worst. However, a rather young Bayern team with plenty of experience was seemingly unfazed. They came back into the game through an Arjen Robben penalty which just about escaped Iker Casillas’ fingers. They were the better side throughout and defended well.
Bayern then started succumbing to the pressure. Toni Kroos and Philipp Lahm missed successive spot-kicks while Xabi Alonso converted for Real Madrid.
Sergio Ramos’ miss allowed Bayern the chance to seal the victory. The player who really embodies FC Bayern München stepped up to the spot and hit a penalty which sent Munich into raptures. They were through to their home finale courtesy of a 1-3 victory on penalties over Madrid.
This game showcased Bayern’s excellent mentality more than any other. Winning in the Santiago Bernabeu on penalties is quite an achievement.
FC Bayern München 1-1 Chelsea FC (2012 UEFA Champions League Final)
FC Bayern 3-4 Chelsea FC (on penalties)
A failure of massive proportions is the only way this final can be described. Bayern just could not cross the finish line. Chances were missed in normal and extra time, including a penalty from the spot.
What eventually won Chelsea the trophy was their will to win it. Bayern seemed extremely fragile mentally. Penalties were missed, chances were wasted and finally, all of Munich was left to drink to Bayern’s misery.
One moment truly summed up the mental state of the players. There was a delay between Bayern’s second and third penalties. Nobody would step up to take it. Bayern’s current penalty specialist, Thomas Müller, had already been substituted. Finally, Manuel Neuer stepped up and dispatched the kick.
Nonetheless, the fact that seasoned internationals such as Anatoliy Tymoshchuk did not step up shows that Bayern was just not mentally strong enough to win the trophy that day.
FC Bayern München 1-1 Borussia Mönchengladbach (2012-13 Bundesliga, Match-day 17)
Last season, coming back from a goal down seemed to be beyond Bayern at times.
This season, Bayern has managed to cut down deficits quite a few times. They came back from behind to thump Stuttgart 6-1. They came back from a goal down against Leverkusen even though they went on to lose that game 1-2. They came back from a goal down against Valencia to draw 1-1.
And finally, they came back from a goal down to draw against Gladbach.
Based on the play, Bayern should have really put away Gladbach easily. However, an early handball by Jerome Boateng allowed Thorben Marx to score from the spot. Bayern fought back and eventually, Xherdan Shaqiri slotted in the equalizer. A few days later, against Augsburg, Bayern went a man down but still scored a second and won the match 0-2.
Overall, considering that previous Bayern sides, such as the one in 1999, failed miserably on the big stage too, one cannot really say that the current Bayern side is not mentally tough. Their mental toughness was not there in the finals of last season. However, they showed just how tough they are in the semi-finals.
This season, their overall attitude has improved massively and going a goal down is no longer the obstacle it used to be.
FC Bayern’s true mental strength will be found out by what happens in all three competitions in this season. However, the above matches show that Bayern can come through when the going gets tough. Bayern is said to be inconsistent despite their brilliance.
However, their winning mentality is seemingly returning.
Do you think Bayern is mentally fragile? Let me hear your thoughts!
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