In the last five seasons, Bayern Munich has won the Bundesliga thrice. After completing the domestic double they took their Bundesliga title tally to 22, more than any other clubs in Germany. With Toni Kroos back from his successful loan spell at Bayer Leverkusen and youngsters like Badstuber and Müller stepping up to perform at the highest rostrum, it was expected that Bayern Munich will only build on to their last year’s success and also bring back the elusive European trophy as well.
However, the effect of the promissory last season petered out soon as the champions faltered in the very second game of this season against newly promoted Kaiserslautern. The tone of the season was set from that day onwards. Since then, Bayern has played 7 away games so far and and has won a solitary game, lost thrice and conceded 11 goals in the process. They are currently placed at 6th spot in the table and are 17 points adrift from pacesetters Borussia Dortmund.
Dortmund’s quantum leap has raised a lot of eye brows. The relatively young side has displayed prepossessing football and has managed to take their lead to 11 points from the closest rivals in the league. They are unofficially the herbstmeister (autumn champions) of this season. In 16 games they have scored 39 times and conceded nine goals. Why did Van Gaal’s men not fare as well as Ruhr’s counterparts? Are the Bavarians really a better side than Dortmund?
The unstoppable force!
Defense has been the weakest link of this Bayern side. Fortunately Van Gaal has been browned off with the incompetence of both Demichellis and Van Buyten. Badstuber has been the only quality centre -half in this side. Tymoshchuk has proved to be quite handy in that role but he cannot be termed as a solution to Bayern’s defensive woes. Lahm does give stability down the right. Van Gaal expected Contento to step up his game in this season with strippling David Alaba to deputize him in the left back position. Van Gaal’s reluctance to sign a left back, coupled with Contento’s lacklustre performances, has left Bayern with no other choice but to play Daniel Pranjic in that position.
Dortmund, on the other hand has been outstanding in defence. Despite missing right back Owomoyela for a significant part of the season, The Borussians have been impregnable. Hummels has been sui generis as a ball playing defender. His libero-esque overtures gave Dortmund the lead against Karpaty Lviv in the crucial Europa League tie. In the following Bundesliga fixture, he netted another one against Nürnberg. He has been ably partnered by Subotic. The Serb is one of the hottest properties in Europe at this moment with crème de la crème of European clubs are rumored to be after his services. Pizcek has been solid in the absence of Owomoyela. The rise of Marcel Schmelzer in left back has given an ideal shape to their defence.
All in all the defence of Dortmund has fared better than Bayern this term. Conceding only 9 goals in 16 games is a fair testimony to that, making them the best defensive unit in Bundesliga.
Following injuries to Olic and Klose, Bayern started playing with a five man midfield behind a lone striker in Gomez. Injuries to Robben, Ribery and then to Van Bommels had left the Bavarians with Schweinsteiger, Kroos and Müller as regulars. Pranjic and Tymoshchuk occasionally played a few games in midfield as well. When crisis was severe, even Ottl was given a chance to show what he can do. Schweinsteiger’s momentary loss of form and injury did not help Bayern’s cause one bit. Young prodigy Müller started the campaign well, claiming goals in the first Bundesliga game of the season as well as in the first Champions League game. Since then Müller has been consistently inconsistent and a mere shadow of his former self.
Dortmund has not been completely free from injuries. With Kiehl out for a significant part of the season, Klopp was left with an absolutely inexperienced midfield to work with. But the young ones rose to the occasion each time. Be it Sahin who was given the major role of distributing the ball in the midfield or Sven Bender to step up to take Kiehl’s place and work with Sahin in tandem to break opposition attacks or debutant Kagawa for the role of advanced playmaker and roam in front of the goal as an auxiliary striker or Großkreutz to boss the left flank by creating a rapport with left back Schmelzer or Kuba-Gotze who ran amok with their youthful exuberance down the right flank – they all showed great composure with the ball and maturity beyond their age.
Comparing Sahin or Bender with Schweinsteiger or Van Bommel appears harsh. But what matters is the efficacy of the player at present and not his past record. The young Black Yellow brigade has been far more influential for their team, as compared to their counterparts. The BvB midfielders backtracked and supported their defence on a regular basis. The midfield has even pitched in with goals whenever needed. Kagawa has scored 8 goals in 16 Bundesliga games as compared to Kroos who has scored only 1 goal in 14 appearances.
Mario Gomez’s hot and cold syndrome has caused more problems for Bayern than relief. He has already scored two hattricks in this season, one against Hanover and the other one against Cluj in Champions League. Yet, he has fluffed more chances than any other striker in the Bundesliga. When it mattered most, he was found hiding behind his marker, unable to receive a simple pass and what not. Klose might have scored six goals from 4 games in European qualifiers, but he is yet to find the net in Bundesliga in this term. Olic is yet to play a single game in this campaign. With almost no support from the midfield, Bayern had to rely entirely on the shoulders of Gomez.
It’s time you show your worth, Mario
Lucas Barrios has been as good as Gomez in this season. In terms of scoring goals, that is to say. He has continued his heroics of last season in front of the goal and has already scored 8 times in 14 appearances in Bundesliga. Even Lewandowski pitched in with 5 goals. The midfielders obliged the fans with a number of goals and so did Hummels. Thanks to their all-round goal scoring ability, they have scored in all but one game.
Dortmund has been more clinical in front of the goal. They have scored 39 goals from 16 games, making them the best attacking team in the league.
With Van Buyten’s and Demichellis’ incompetence exposed during their Champions League games, Bayern should have done better by signing at least one decent centre half. Last year Badstuber was forced to play out of position in the left back to make amends for Van Gaal’s decision of bringing in Contento too early in to the first team.
This season Badstuber was played in a more central role. But the decision exposed Bayern’s left back woes as Contento yet again failed to live up to the expectation. The situation was such that Van Gaal had to play Pranjic, a left midfielder or a holding midfielder, who was once a Van Gaal reject. Rocket scientists are not required to gauge the playing level of Contento, Pranjic and Braafheid as left backs. To add to that there is no backup plans for Lahm. What if Lahm gets injured? Surely it is going to be another makeshift right back to play in place of Lahm! Bayern backed out from signing Coentrao as Benfica demanded a over the top transfer fee. Despite having no backup for Lahm, Van der Wiel was not signed as he was not considered good enough to play for Bayern.
This is where Dortmund has beaten Bayern hands down. They had to work with a limited budget. But Jürgen Klopp was aware of the needs of his team. The signings of Großkreutz, Bender and Barrios last season has proved to be a masterstroke so far. Acquiring the services of Kagawa, Lewandowski and Piszcek has been equally effective. Bender has come handy in the absence of Kiehl and Barrios has taken over from Zidan. Lewandowski has done enough justice to the signing by accompanying Barrios whenever he was relied upon. Kagawa and Großkreutz have become important first team members already. Piszczek has been brilliant in the absence of Owomoyela. Dortmund’s scouting network should also be thanked for finding these talents that too at a reasonable price.
Injuries to top players will always hurt. But if acted wisely, their absence would not make such huge an impact on the team. The signing of Piszczek, Bender and Lewandowski has given stability to The Borussians even after injuries to the likes of Owomoyela, Kiehl and Zidan.
The Basic Instinct
Bayern has scored 26 goals this season in 16 games so far. What the statistics do not reveal is the number of goal-bound movements they produced in all these games. The buildup play has been great with neat passes and off the ball movements. Call it luck or term it as poor execution up front, end of the day they did not score as many goals to show for their efforts. Surely the team has missed Robben during troubled times but that cannot be an excuse for failing to put the ball at the back of the net. They lack the killer instinct they showed last season. Lack of intent, poor and careless execution and over confidence shown at the start of the season has heavily marred Bayern’s chances of making it to Champions League qualification, let alone competing for the title race.
The young Turk is the man of the moment in Bundesliga
Dortmund’s renaissance was long due. It is quite smarmy for the German fans that finally the not so blue part of Ruhr contingents are back in title hunt. It was a decade back, in 2001-2002, when Dortmund finished the league in pole position. This season, auch has been their dominance that they have won 8 consecutive away games – a Bundesliga record. They have played according to the situation. They have already dispatched Bayern 2-0 in style at home. They also churned out results when they did not play well. In the game against Köln, despite dominating the game for most part of the game, a very late Podolski strike brought parity in the score. The entire team worked their socks off for the final 5 minutes. Eventually they found the winner a couple of minutes from the final whistle, showing intent to go the distance for winning a game and that too away from home. The execution, determination and concentration of The Borussians make them worthy autumn champions.
Unless and until Bayern replace the otiose furniture in defence, they have to abandon their mission of reclaiming top spot in Bundesliga. Lack of personnel in certain positions has cost them dearly. Bayern Munich has already faced Borussia Dortmund away from home and was taught a lesson at the Signal Iduna Park. If the January transfer window does not get utilized properly, Van Gaal might even have to look for a new job. They are currently 17 points adrift off the leaders and that is indeed a huge difference. After all, the table does not lie, Schweini!