Carlo Ancelotti Has Work To Do To Make Bayern Munich Debut Season A Success

Andy BrassellFeatured ColumnistApril 26, 2017

Carlo Ancelotti cut an impressive, and often agitated figure on the touchline in Saturday's draw with Mainz
Carlo Ancelotti cut an impressive, and often agitated figure on the touchline in Saturday's draw with MainzMatthias Schrader/Associated Press

There was a very unusual sight in the Allianz Arena, one of Europe's most imposing stadiums, on Saturday afternoon. It wasn't that of Bayern Munich not winning, although that was strange too. It was that of the animated figure in a suit on the touchline in front of the home bench. That figure, remarkably, was Carlo Ancelotti.

The Italian is one of the most iconic and respected coaches of the modern era, and we think we know him. That famously sanguine, laissez-faire demeanour has been one of the major hallmarks of Bayern's season, and the clearest break from the hyper-intense Pep Guardiola reign.

We expect that when Ancelotti has something to express, it is done with that familiar arch of his eyebrow, like a footballing James Bond—at least if Roger Moore is your idea of the classic interpretation of Britain's most famous secret agent.

This is an oversimplification of the former Milan, Chelsea and Real Madrid coach's personality and range of emotions, of course, but he certainly doesn't fall into the category of touchline ranters and ravers.

Saturday was different. It was a very agitated Ancelotti on the bench against Mainz, waving his hands, angrily exhorting his players, with eyes frequently wide and bulging. Even if this wasn't something we're used to, it's not hard to understand his exasperation.


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In his pre-match press conference on Friday, Ancelotti had demanded a strong riposte from his team after the Champions League exit to Real Madrid. "We have a great opportunity," he told the media (via Goal.com), "To show a reaction."

On the whole, he didn't get it. From the loose Arturo Vidal pass that paved the way for Bojan Krkic's early opener for the visitors to the saves that Sven Ulreich (standing in, again, for the injured Manuel Neuer) was forced into in the first half, Bayern were sleepy.

They roused themselves to take a point eventually, via Thiago Alcantara's second equaliser, and forced the inexperienced visiting goalkeeper Jannik Huth into plenty of work of his own. Ancelotti brushed off talk of a crisis when speaking to German broadcaster ZDF after the game, but minced no words when speaking to the club's official website. "It was difficult, but we had expected more," he said. "We should have done better."

Such a leisurely gait on home turf will not be accepted this week. The events of recent days have made the DFB Pokal semi-final against Borussia Dortmund even bigger than it already was.

There's a rich recent Pokal history between the two, beginning with the thrashing handed out by Dortmund in the 2012 final that ultimately provoked Bayern to reach their greatest heights. It continued with 2014's repeat, won in extra time by Bayern after referee Florian Meyer failed to spot Mats Hummels' header crossing the goal line, before last year's penalty shootout win for Bayern in Berlin.

Dortmund's players celebrate at the Allianz after their shootout win in the 2015 semi-final
Dortmund's players celebrate at the Allianz after their shootout win in the 2015 semi-finalMatthias Schrader/Associated Press

Perhaps the most persistent memory this week is of the last time the pair met at the same stage of the competition, at the same venue, two years ago. Dortmund, enduring a fractious season and in the dying embers of Jurgen Klopp's spell in charge, managed an unlikely victory on penalties after Bayern missed all their four in the shootout—Philipp Lahm and Xabi Alonso both slipping and ballooning their efforts off before Neuer hammered the decisive kick against the crossbar.

This match will be different, certainly, but many aspects of Saturday's display harked back to that shambolic ending to the 2015 semi. Ancelotti has let a lot go this season, turning a blind eye to some ordinary performances in the Bundesliga in the belief that Bayern were reaching peak form and fitness at just the right time.

Those hopes and expectations were blown out of the water during the second half of the first leg against Real Madrid, with a palpable sense of deflation in the Allianz, and among the players. The performance of referee Viktor Kassai may have been the headline for most in Bayern's eventual exit from the Champions League, but that can't—and shouldn't—overshadow what went awry in Munich six days before.

Ancelotti, while stating in that media conference pre-Mainz that his players had "little luck," suggested that he had cut to the chase and started to try to fix things. He had, he said, "analysed what was wrong on the pitch," which was refreshing to hear after the real issues had been obscured.

Bayern's players react with incredulity at Arturo Vidal's red card at the Bernabeu
Bayern's players react with incredulity at Arturo Vidal's red card at the BernabeuFrancisco Seco/Associated Press

The question, going into this semi-final, is do his players, as a group, accept responsibility for being knocked out of the Champions League? Vidal's cavalier opening to Saturday's game suggests this is perhaps not so in his casethat he has allowed the unjustness of his second yellow card at the Bernabeu to mask the truth, that he could and should have been sent off before that, and that his is a recurring cycle of reckless behaviour, which he largely got away with in the 2015 Champions League final with Juventus, for example.

Yet it is mainly Ancelotti that is under the microscope. Even if there are still trophies to be squeezed out of this season, there is a future to be built, and eyes will always be on that until Bayern can scratch their Champions League itch. There was a certain finality to the scene after extra time at the Bernabeu, as Lahm and Alonso embraced at the end of their respective careers in Europe's premier club competition.

Now Ancelotti, a coach so closely associated with putting faith in experienced players, must look towards replacing them. "Joshua Kimmich, Kingsley Coman and Renato Sanches will certainly be the future of the club," he said before the Mainz game. The question is if Ancelotti means the immediate future, or more in the period after he has gone; which, suddenly, doesn't seem so hard to see in the medium term.

It is unfair to say this season has been write-off for Bayern, at least with so much of it still (potentially) to go. Yet, how Ancelotti's work is to be judged from this point on will rely not just on the results, but the manner, and the suggestion of where he can take Bayern next. Beginning to make reparation on Wednesday night at the Allianz, in front of those fans who witnessed a big part of that season fall to pieces in front of their eyes 14 days ago, will be a start.

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