Are Bayern Munich in Any State to Expect Victory Against Liverpool?

Dean Jones@DeanJonesBRFootball Insider at Bleacher ReportFebruary 18, 2019

BERLIN, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 28: Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer of Bayern Muenchen looks on during the Bundesliga match between Hertha BSC and FC Bayern Muenchen at Olympiastadion on September 28, 2018 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)
Getty

Drama has followed Bayern Munich coach Niko Kovac this season, and the latest headlines came as his side's defensive flaws were dramatically exposed by Augsburg over the weekend.

In studying the play and shape of Bayern, it was discovered that their defence begin matches quite far up the field and that an opportunity to get behind them early could bring rewards.

In their final session before facing Bayern, 15th placed Augsburg worked on a plan to catch them out. And it worked.

Within 14 seconds of kick-off they had caused such chaos in the Bayern back-line that Leon Goretzka diverted the ball into his own net. It was the fastest own goal in Bundesliga history and a moment that has been dissected ever since.

"The coach had looked at a few videos, and the Bayern players are always there—everything went as we wished," Augsburg's Philipp Max told German reporters. "It was the same kick-off we had tried in our last session. When it worked I had to smile a bit."

Bayern's blushes were spared as they went on to record a 3-2 victory, which maintains pressure on Borussia Dortmund at the top of the table, but their overall state has not been repaired.

This current team appear damaged, frail and in need of renovation. A trip to Liverpool, one of Europe's most exciting attacking sides, is going to provide the ultimate test on Tuesday in the UEFA Champions League.

"It's a difficult season for Bayern," explained Bild reporter Philipp Kessler. "Under Kovac, the team often seems to have no plan and has shaky phases. Every opponent has a chance to score. It is hard to recognise an offensive concept.

"The team often decides games by its individual class. The chemistry between the team and coach doesn't seem to be the best either." 

It has been reported in German media that Kovac shouted at Thiago after the match in Augsburg—and the player yelled back. There was also drama around a loud discussion he had with Jerome Boateng at a Champions League match with AEK Athens.

Kovac was brought in over the summer as a replacement for legendary figure Jupp Heynckes, but he has stuttered as he attempts to make his mark.

"It’s a good choice. It will work," Heynckes had said of the man brought in to fill his place in the dugout. Kovac has won 23 of his 32 games in charge, and at a club like Bayern the manner of four defeats and five draws bring concern. 

It is nights like the one at Anfield that truly will define how he is perceived. And there has to be concern about their back-line, as their best combinations are still unclear.

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 01: Players of Bayern Muenchen look dejected after losing the UEFA Champions League Semi Final Second Leg match between Real Madrid and Bayern Muenchen at the Bernabeu on May 1, 2018 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Boris Streubel/Getty Ima
Boris Streubel/Getty Images

"When you say defence is not solid, I would not just limit that to Mats Hummels, Niklas Sule, Jerome Boateng, David Alaba and Joshua Kimmich," explains Bundesliga commentator Phil Bonney. "A big factor has got to be the fact that Manuel Neuer is not at the level he was previously.

"He has saved just 60 percent of shots that he's faced this season—pretty much the only keeper with a worse record than that is bottom of the table, Nurnberg's Fabian Bredlow.

"Now that, of course, can also mean that both are being left exposed by their defences. But I think Bayern's back line will be severely tested by Salah and Mane. Klopp will have done his homework. The key to keeping Liverpool at bay will be the defensive cohesion, not only with the defence but with the rest of the team tracking back to help out. In short, I think that if they leave Neuer exposed too often, they will come back from Liverpool empty-handed."

That seems like a fact that must be depressing for followers of the club, who have become so familiar with the business end of Europe's elite competition. Bayern won the Champions League in 2013, reached the final in 2012, and have made it to the semi-final stage in four of the past five tournaments. 

"In general Bayern fans are optimistic," insisted Kessler. "They know that the team can outgrow itself in big games. In last year's Champions League semi-final, Bayern were also outsiders. They played very well, but lost unhappily. When you look at the history, Bayern is on point when it counts."

Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Neuer and Robert Lewandowski have been so feared in this competition, but it seems this team may just be reaching the end of the road. 

"Neuer has struggled this season," admits Bundesliga writer James Jukes. "Bayern's back four has been shaky all season. Not only is Neuer not what he used to be but he's also fallen victim to some shocking defending at times.

"But that cannot be said of Lewandowski, who has been his usual self—still scoring goals. He arguably is Bayern's best player this season."  

Bild's Kessler, who is fully consumed in all matters around the club as part of his day job, can see the beginning of the end as he dissects everything that has been going wrong.

"I think it is time for a new era," he told B/R. "Robben will leave the club in summer and so will Bayern legend Ribery. They leave big footprints, but the change is underway. We see now Kingsley Coman, Serge Gnabry, Leon Goretzka, Sule and Kimmich—great players. Also Alaba, Thiago and James Rodriguez are still young.

"There will be new faces in summer. Sports director Hasan Salihamidzic is very convinced that Callum Hudson-Odoi could help to create a new era; he is a big fan of him. And the player also wants to go to Bayern. The club is also interested in signing Lucas Hernandez from Atletico Madrid, and Timo Werner could also be among new transfers. According to our information—he can imagine playing at Bayern."

Bayern are ready for new beginnings. Their night at Anfield will help decide how soon the revolution needs to arrive. 

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