Fresh off a contract extension with Coach Louis van Gaal, Bayern Munich are looking for redemption on Tuesday in Europe. Injury trouble and dysfunction in attack have meant their Bundesliga campaign is a shambles.
Van Gaal is to stay on in Munich until the end of the 2011-2012 season
Five goals, eight points, ninth place. Such is Bayern Munich's meager return from the first six matches of the new Bundesliga season.
In that Bayern had got off to a slow start last year too before finishing as champions, players and club officials had, until recently, been leery of making critical statements. Since Saturday's 2-1 home loss to surprise league leaders Mainz, all that has changed.
“We have too many players who aren't playing up to their usual standard,” said defender Philipp Lahm.
“Work-rate, aggressiveness, passion - we're missing all of it at the moment,” said Bayern Chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
The loss left Bayern 10 points adrift of Mainz, and that wide margin appears to be ringing a few alarm bells on Saebenerstrasse.
“It's going to be hard to make up for this deficit,” Lahm added in his post-game remarks. “We let happen precisely what we didn't want to happen. It's going to take a long time to make up 10 points.”
Germany's captain in South Africa, Lahm, speaks his mind at Bayern too
Luckily for Bayern, the Champions League is a different story. There, the Bavarians can head to Switzerland to take on FC Basel with their heads held high.
As if to underscore the club's confidence that all was not yet lost, Bayern's head coach, Louis van Gaal, signed a one-year contract extension in Basel on Monday. The deal keeps him and his supporting cast of coaches on at the club through June 2012.
Two weeks ago, van Gaal's men broke down a dogged AS Roma defense and got a 2-0 win to top their group. Basel, meanwhile, stumbled to a 2-1 loss in Romania to CFR Cluj.
If Bayern can manage a win at the St. Jakob Park on Tuesday, they could stay in the driver's seat in Group E, with a potentially winnable home-and-away match-up with Cluj next on the club's docket.
Some in the club are already looking to the Champions League campaign as a corrective to the poor league start.
“We need to stay calm,” said Hamit Altintop, the Turkey winger who has begun to see more playing time with Franck Ribery out injured for the coming weeks. “We won the first game and can afford to play it safe - we don't have to go storming into attack from the get-go.”
Hurting for goals
Perhaps it wouldn't do much good to play things hell-for-leather. It's in attack that Bayern have disappointed the most. Despite starting the potent likes of Thomas Mueller, Toni Kroos, Ivica Olic and Miroslav Klose on Saturday, Bayern failed to find the net - relying instead on a Mainz own-goal to get on the scoreboard.
This is not to say Bayern's offensive front isn't able to keep the ball, or create chances. Indeed, they had more than 70 percent of the ball and shot it 15 times. But many of those chances were not of a particularly high standard, and their shooting was poor. Bayern put the ball on target just four times.
Robben scored 23 goals and set up eight more for Bayern last season
It would seem that the missing creativity, not to mention finishing, of Arjen Robben is holding the team back. The Dutchman's muscle tear will keep him out of the lineup until the New Year, and now Franck Ribery's injured ankle means he'll miss another month at least. Bayern could use their offensive potency.
Kroos and Mueller filled in fairly effectively for Robben and Ribery on the two wings on Saturday, but this left the side bereft of ideas in the middle, where neither strikers Olic and Klose, nor defensive midfielders Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mark van Bommel offered much creativity.
A change of system, perhaps one that brings Mueller and/or Kroos into the middle, may do the trick - and in truth, it will have to. Bayern's small squad means that there are no further personnel options left for van Gaal should he wish to shake up the offense.
About a month ago, during the transfer-rumor-mad silly season, big-name playmakers like Rafael van de Vaart were brought up in connection with Bayern Munich. Van Gaal told reporters then that he didn't feel he needed to go out and buy any players to bolster the squad.
“Alaba is better!” van Gaal had said, referring to one of his favorite young charges, the 18-year-old Austrian David Alaba, who he'd used as an emergency wingback last year, but whose real strength is in the offensive midfield.
It was a bold statement - but perhaps we'd agree with him, if we could only see Alaba play. But that poor lad is hurt as well.
Author: Matt Hermann
Editor: Chuck Penfold