Bayern Munich looked more than a touch off their peak form Saturday as they played a friendly away to Karlsruhe. The Bavarian giants slumped to a 2-1 defeat to their 2. Bundesliga opponents, who were well worth their victory.
After previously being denied from point-blank range by a great save, Boubacar Barry gave the hosts a deserved lead on 16 minutes. The 19-year-old's finish was excellent, but the attempt was only made possible by an errant back-pass and Bayern midfielder Javi Martinez losing his balance.
Bayern equalized five minutes later through a truly spectacular effort by midfielder Arturo Vidal. But it was only an isolated instance of brilliance that restored parity, not the result of the consistent, sustained attacking pressure that often has characterized their game.
The passing sharpness and intensity just wasn't what it was earlier in the campaign. And Karlsruhe were unfortunate not to take the lead prior to half-time, with Manuel Torres failing to convert after being played one-on-one with goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.
In the second half, Bayern's Arjen Robben missed a good chance early before Torres had an effort clang off the inside of the post. Karlsruhe midfielder Dimitrij Nazarov threatened once before converting the go-ahead goal from a penalty.
The spot-kick was a silly one from Bayern's perspective: It had been awarded following a professional foul by Bayern's Jerome Boateng, who had conceded possession following a poor first touch. Dominic Peitz could have made it 3-1 late from a free header, but he missed narrowly wide. And despite a late push from the Bavarians, Karlsruhe held on for a deserved victory.
Overall, Bayern were matched by a team with far less talent and athletic ability. They didn't dominate the possession as they would have hoped, lacked some fluency in the build-up and left large spaces open at the back.
A team with quicker and more clinical finishers than Karlsruhe may have scored many more, but the hosts got their result in any case. Bayern really didn't do enough to convince anyone of their preparedness for the second half of the season.
The three-time defending German champions were understandably sluggish, given that Saturday's match marked their first and only test game of the winter break. Their previous game, a 1-0 win away to Hannover, had come four weeks prior.
Typically, Bayern schedule at least one or two friendlies during their midseason training camp in Qatar, followed by another in Germany a few days before their league restart. This year, however, they opted not to play any test games during the training camp and limited their warm-up to the single match against Karlsruhe.
The reason for their decision to only play the one friendly match, it would seem, would be to focus on fitness and general training without exposing players to the strains and risks that come with playing actual games—specifically, ones that play no direct role in deciding titles. The squad entered the winter break with a long list of injured players, and following last year's debacle that left manager Pep Guardiola without several key players for much of the spring campaign, it would seem a sensible decision.
Bayern also had their form fizzle out later in each of the last two spring campaigns, with fitness appearing to be a major cause. Accordingly, it might seem a wise decision to avoid unnecessary friendlies.
The downside, of course, is that without friendlies, there is little chance to evaluate the team's readiness to take on the rest of the Bundesliga and Europe when all competitions resume. The Karlsruhe match was useful as a benchmark, but it will be the only indicator of form before Bayern play in a match that counts for points.
Ultimately, Saturday's performance means very little on its own; what matters is how Bayern perform when they resume competitive play against Hamburg on Friday. What is clear is that they will need to step their game up quite a bit in the next few days if they are to start 2016 with a positive result. Whether the idea to schedule just the one friendly will prove a stroke of genius or a foolhardy decision will be apparent in the coming weeks.