Bayern Munich on Borussia Dortmund′s heels and on the search for identity | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 25.01.2019
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Bayern Munich on Borussia Dortmund's heels and on the search for identity

Niko Kovac's side have recovered from their autumn crisis and are preparing their assualt on Borussia Dortmund. But the Black & Yellows have stolen a march on the Bavarians, both on and off the pitch.

Were Bayern Munich to face Premier League leaders Liverpool this weekend, Leon Goretzka is confident that he would be in the starting line-up.

That's what the 23-year-old told kicker magazine this week after producing his best performance to date in a Bayern shirt with two goals in a 3-1 win away at Hoffenheim last Friday.

Since losing to Borussia Dortmund and throwing away a two-goal lead at home to Düsseldorf back in November, Bayern have won six Bundesliga matches on the bounce by a combined score of 16-2, and the first-half display in Sinsheim, spearheaded by Goretzka, has been widely heralded as the best they have played under Niko Kovac.

Bayern are on the mend but that trip to Anfield in the Champions League is still 25 days away and, as teammate Joshua Kimmich pointed out at a sponsorship event on Thursday, the German champions "still have a few jobs to do" first.

Top of that list will be keeping up with Dortmund, whose 1-0 win in Leipzig last week maintained a six-point lead over the Bavarians. "They beat us so they must have something extra that we don't have," admitted Goretzka. "It's up to us to find out what that is and put it right."

- Read more: Bayern Munich's Leon Goretzka enjoys and excels in 2019 Bundesliga opener

1. Bundesliga | TSG 1899 Hoffenheim vs. FC Bayern München | Torjubel (0:2) (Reuters/R. Orlowski )

Pointing the way forward: Leon Goretzka (right) starred against Hoffenheim

So what are BVB doing that Bayern could learn from?

On the pitch, despite significant comings and goings in the summer, Lucien Favre has settled upon a consistent starting line-up, particularly in midfield where Thomas Delaney and Axel Witsel have quickly formed a formidable axis.

In contrast, Kovac has gone through every possible combination of midfield three during his first six months in Munich, experimenting with either one or two holding midfielders and juggling the personnel at his disposal.

"I've had a lot of starts and a lot of minutes, even though we've rotated a lot," said Goretzka, who has made 12 Bundesliga starts this season, albeit all across the midfield. A more offensive role against Hoffenheim, with Thiago and Javi Martinez providing cover behind him, brought out the best in Goretzka and Bayern as a whole.

"I would still like to be more dangerous in front of goal," admitted Goretzka, revealing that assistant coach Peter Hermann, with whom he worked at Schalke, told him that he should be aiming to score "ten goals a season" - a tally that Borussia Dortmund captain Marco Reus has already surpassed with 11 goals in the first half of the season.

Borussia Dortmund - Borussia Mönchengladbach (picture-alliance/dpa/B. Thissen)

Lucien Favre and his players are benefitting from changes in the hierarchy at Borussia Dortmund

Structural changes

But there are other areas in which Dortmund have stolen a march on Bayern which are out of Goretzka's control.

BVB didn't just make wholescale changes to the playing staff last summer; they also made a number of forward-thinking structural adjustments. After a series of high-profile personality clashes involving CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke, former coach Thomas Tuchel and former head scout Sven Mislintat, changes have been made accordingly.

Watzke in particular has withdrawn from day-to-day football operations while sporting director Michael Zorc has also signaled his intention to take a step back in the coming years. In his place, former club captain Sebastian Kehl is filling a key position between the playing staff and the managerial staff as "Head of Professional Football" while former Champions League winner Matthias Sammer has been acting as an "external adviser."

Players who were still suffering from the pyschological effects of the bus attack have largely all been moved on and replaced by bold, young signings - reaffirming Dortmund's status as the address for emerging talents.

There is a sense that Dortmund know exactly what and where they are as a club, a clarity which is providing the perfect environment in which Favre can get on with his notoriously meticulous and demanding coaching.

Fußball Bundesliga FC Bayern Uli Hoeneß (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Balk)

Uli Hoeness still has some big decisions to make for the future of Bayern Munich

'That is Bayern Munich!'

Meanwhile, in Munich, there is much talk of transition but little decisive action.

The fact that Bayern didn't spend big in the summer suggests that Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Uli Hoeness want to give Kovac, their third-choice coach, a season before backing him financially – a season in which sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic appears to be little more than a puppet.

Hoeness' recent public performances in press conferences and at the club's annual general meeting suggest a man more intent on circling the wagons and defending his dwindling reputation than identifying ways of modernizing the club.

The opening of the €100m-euro "Bayern Campus" youth academy to much fanfare last year was a huge step, but it will be a few years before first-team talents emerge. The recruitment of Benjamin Pavard as of next season is another positive signal, as was Kovac's name-checking of Niklas Süle as a first choice starter. 

Having found their form against Hoffenheim, Bayern now have four games against bottom-half opposition, starting with strugglers Stuttgart on Sunday. Four games in which to keep up the pressure on Dortmund, and 25 days until that February 19 clash with Liverpool. 

"We want to win our games in such a way that people can say: that is Bayern Munich!" says Kimmich, but it's up for Bayern Munich to decide exactly what that is going to be.

Watch video 01:45

Mario Gomez facing Bayern

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