They won the double and broke their transfer record but Bayern Munich's off-season has been marked by public bickering and doubts about squad depth. After a Supercup loss, how ready are they to go for eight in a row?
"You can't expect more in this situation," said Niko Kovac after his side's Supercup loss to Borussia Dortmund."You could see that we have problems," said Robert Lewandowski after the same game.
The week before, Kovac had declared himself "happy with the way and manner the team have prepared" in preseason while Joshua Kimmich was worrying about a lack of depth.
"Are there enough players to start the season? If we really want to perform well in the Champions League, we could use a few more players," said the vocal right back.
"Transfers? That is the task of Brazzo (Hasan Salihamidzic)," Kovac again in mid-July. A couple of weeks later, Leroy Sane was a "dream signing" that the coach was "very confident" of landing. A few days after that, the Croatian's discussion of signings was criticized by CEO Karl-Heinz Rumminegge before Kovac rowed back on his comments.
Rarely can a double-winning coach have entered a new season on such shaky ground. His closest ally in the boardroom, Uli Hoeness, looks set to move on soon, several senior players have voiced similar concerns to Kimmich, their record signing hasn't been fit to take part in preseason, Sane got injured playing for City and Borussia Dortmund and possibly RB Leipzig appear genuine threats to the Bavarians' seven-season supremacy.
Changes to personnel but not expectations
But despite the doom, gloom and gossip, Bayern are odds-on favorites for the title yet again.
While the departures of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery have left them short in wide attacking areas, for now at least, the arrivals of Lucas Hernandez, the man recovering from a long-term injury, and Benjamin Pavard mean they're as well stocked in defense as they have been for some time. They've even performed something of a U-turn on Jerome Boateng.
The versatility of the champions' two major signings to date also gives Kovac a flexibility in formation and personnel he didn't have in his backline last year. Should Kingsley Coman or Serge Gnabry pick up a significant injury, as both have in the past, he may need it in order to deviate from the 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 formations he favored last term. Kovac also retains a wealth of options in central midfield.
Lewa still the main man
But the man who Bayern really can't afford to lose remains Robert Lewandowski. The Polish striker has won the golden boot in four of the last six seasons and, for the first time since Sandro Wagner left for China in January, has a fellow natural striker in the squad in the shape of Jann Fiete-Arp. But the 19-year-old struggled in the 2.Bundesliga last season and looks a long way from being ready to challenge for his teammate's spot, as Lewandowski pointed out after the Supercup.
"Sure, the young players on the bench have potential, that's true. But sometimes you need direct reinforcement from someone who can come in and help the team," said the striker.
A kind start may offer Bayern, and Kovac, a little more breathing space. They play Schalke, Hertha and Mainz — each of whom finished in the bottom half last season — before the transfer window shuts.
Judged by European standards
The serial champions from Bavaria have long relied on a core of senior players to drag them over the line. But with Mats Hummels having joined Robben and Ribery in leaving, Boateng's future unclear, Thomas Müller's output having dropped dramatically and Neuer and Lewandowski both the wrong side of 30, the overhaul of Germany's most successful club is not as far along as it might be.
Having only paid money for four players since Kovac arrived, two of whom were untried teenagers, the Croatian coach will hope to see some new faces before August is out, particularly with the Champions League resuming in September.
While another domestic double wouldn't go amiss, Kovac and Bayern are desperate to challenge in the Champions League, haven fallen behind heavyweights from England and Spain of late. Failure to do so won't suffice for long at the Allianz Arena.