The One Area Where Bayern Munich Are Worse Than Last Season

Clark Whitney@@Mr_BundesligaFeatured ColumnistJanuary 17, 2016

Jerome Boateng of Bayern Munchen during the Bundesliga match between Borussia Mönchengladbach and Bayern München on December 5, 2015 at the Borussia-Park in Mönchengladbach, Germany.(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)
VI-Images/Getty Images

In almost every way, Bayern Munich have improved relative to last season. Their tactical setup is more appropriate to the players they have, with lightning-quick counterattacks supplementing a possession-based game that stretches and wears down opponents.

Bayern are sharper and more unpredictable in the attacking third, and key individuals such as Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller and Jerome Boateng have improved.

Meanwhile, fitness is less of a concern than it was in 2014-15, and signings such as Douglas Costa have been of great use to the team. In Pep Guardiola's third season at the Allianz Arena, Bayern look to be at their best level since he arrived in Munich in 2013.

Qualitatively, this is a much better Bayern side than we saw last season. And by the numbers, according to Squawka, Bayern are at least as good or better now than they were a year ago in almost every way.

Yet it would be a mistake to assume Bayern are in every way an improved side; there is one area in which they were better last season, one they may want to work on in the coming months if they are to realize the goal of a treble: defense.

Man-for-man, Bayern are better this season than the last in the full-back positions because David Alaba and Philipp Lahm have been restored to their natural roles at left- and right-back respectively. But in the center, they aren't as strong. Boateng has improved, but not one of his ever-rotating partners has been in peak form this season.

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Mehdi Benatia has declined, perhaps as a result of his repeated injuries, but the Moroccan still looked better despite often lacking fitness in the previous campaign. He partnered Boateng when Bayern conceded three goals to Borussia Monchengladbach in Bayern's shock loss in December, something one would never have expected from the German champions' best central-defensive pairing.

The Gladbach debacle was a warning sign.
The Gladbach debacle was a warning sign.PATRIK STOLLARZ/Getty Images

Secondary option Javi Martinez has been a solid partner for Boateng at the back, but his best games have been those in which he's contributed to the attack. Defensively, he was brilliant in the 5-1 win against Arsenal, but the fact remains he's more adept playing as a destroyer in midfield or a third center-back than as part of a two-man central-defensive partnership.

Behind Martinez, there isn't much depth to speak of. Holger Badstuber has simply been too hopelessly lacking in fitness (as he has for three years) to rate as any better than he was when he made his return last spring. Alaba simply isn't a central defender. Nor is Xabi Alonso, who made a surprise appearance at center-back earlier in the campaign.

Last season, Bayern had some concerns in defense given Benatia's injuries, but the former Roma man was a better player. And for all his faults, Dante was a seasoned veteran, a player who had won everything with the Bavarians and who was always ready to put in a shift.

One can see Bayern are a little off their best at the back by checking their statistical record. True, their tally of eight Bundesliga goals conceded is on pace to beat their 18 for the last season overall. But last season's results also include goals conceded after the title had been won. In the first half of 2014-15, Bayern only conceded four Bundesliga goals, half as many as thus far. They aren't bad now, but they were even better then.

Bayern are also a bit less disciplined than a year ago. On the whole, they've collected 22 yellow cards and one red in the Bundesliga compared to 37 and two respectively for the last campaign overall.

They're on pace for about 19 percent more yellows, a significant increase when considering how closely their other stats compare with those of the previous campaign: pass accuracy is two percent better (89 vs. 87), possession is exactly the same (60) and goals and chances created are approximately 15 percent higher.

More bookings suggests a bit less assuredness at the back, with more rash challenges being made. And that is consistent with the fact Bayern have conceded more goals thus far than they had at the same point in the previous season.

It's not a particularly great problem if Bayern's defense in the Bundesliga isn't quite as good as it was a year ago so long as they can outscore their opponents. And given their eight-point lead at the halfway point, it's hard to see the Bavarians missing out on the title.

On the other hand, their lack of depth at the back will be a real concern in the Champions League and DFB-Pokal, knockout tournaments in which a season's good work could be undone in 90 minutes. Fortunately, it's an area that can be addressed during the January transfer window. Bayern would be wise to take advantage of the opportunity.

@Mr_Bundesliga