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Bundesliga: Can Bayern Munich be stopped?

August 12, 2021

Julian Nagelsmann is the latest coach tasked with continuing Bayern Munich's dominance in Germany. The league is desperate for a different winner, but can anyone stop Bayern winning a 10th straight Bundesliga title?

Bayern Munich coach Julian Nagelsmann sips a bottle of water
At 34, Julian Nagelsmann is the third-youngest coach in Bayern Munich's historyImage: Markus Fischer/Passion2Press/imago images

Bayern Munich's French winger Kingsley Coman hasn't quite caught every word of Julian Nagelsmann's pre-season coaching sessions.

"He speaks fast and says a lot of things in a short time," he said. "It could take some time to get used to it."

It can be hard keeping up with Nagelsmann, his brain seemingly overflowing with ideas and ways to make his teams as versatile as possible. Bayern haven't had a coach this technical since Pep Guardiola, someone whose view of how the game should be played has left the greatest impression on Nagelsmann.

"I'm someone who likes to say a lot and says what he thinks," Nagelsmann said recently. It seems that there will be a period of acclimitizing to the new coach's straight-talking style, a marked change from the more discreet approach of his predecessor, Hansi Flick.

Serge Gnabry shakes hands with Bayern Munich coach Julian Nagelsmann
Serge Gnabry, above, plus Leroy Sane and Alphonso Davies will have to raise their game under Nagelsmann.Image: Philippe Ruiz/imago images

Capacity for improvement

Bayern's opening game of the season is also the Bundesliga curtain-raiser on Friday night. It's a tricky assignment at Borussia Mönchengladbach, who are also under new management – a common theme among the top German clubs this year. Half of the Bundesliga's 18 clubs have switched coach in the close season, including an unprecedented seven of last season's top eight.

Nagelsmann has a reputation for improving teams and the individuals within them, and there were a few who stagnated at Bayern last season. Alphonso Davies, Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane all struggled to capture the consistency of previous seasons and it will be these three that Nagelsmann has identified as having the greatest capacity for improvement. All three could flourish in his favored 3-4-3 formation.

Bayern improving is a frightening prospect for the rest of the league. Their level dropped off at times last season – as the shock German Cup defeat at Holstein Kiel illustrated – but still won the league by 13 points. That's more of a concern for the Bundesliga's challengers than for Bayern, who are expected to make it 10 in a row. The Champions League will be the true litmus test though — how Nagelsmann would love to go one better than Guardiola did in Bavaria in that regard.

Dayot Upamecano in pre-season action for Bayern Munich
Dayot Upamecano will play at the heart of Bayern Munich's defense Image: Markus Fischer/Passion2Press/imago images

Changing of the guard

Nagelsmann is inheriting a team in transition though. David Alaba's move to Real Madrid is symbolic of change in Munich as the Austrian has been synonymous with Bayern's decade of dominance, and of course a gifted player whose versatility Nagelsmann would have loved to maximize. Jerome Boateng, too, has moved on — another player whose years of service had come to represent the club's stability and success.

Dayot Upamecano is less versatile than Alaba but was vital to Nagelsmann's system at RB Leipzig. The French centerback's penchant for stepping up and providing an extra man in midfield will take some of the responsibility off Joshua Kimmich and help free Leon Goretzka's best instincts. It's a system that has all the ingredients to work well for Bayern.

This season should also be a big one for Jamal Musiala, who signed a new five-year contract with the club earlier this year and seems set to be the face of Bayern's new era. The impressive deep-lying forward may start to pressure Thomas Müller, who is almost 32, for a starting berth sooner rather than later. 

All eyes will be on how Nagelsmann handles the team's ageing core of Müller, Manuel Neuer, Robert Lewandowski in the next couple of years. Each of these club legends has gas in the tank — Lewandowski scored 40 in the league last season — but are also approaching their twilight years with Neuer already 35 and Lewandowski turning 33 soon after the season starts. That will be as much of a job in public relations as coaching dexterity for Nagelsmann. A plan of succession will rise up the agenda as time goes on, but is more the job of Bayern's new CEO, Oliver Kahn, and sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic.

Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland and coach Marco Rose in conversation
Bayern's competition: Erling Haaland, left, and Marco Rose hope Dortmund can give Bayern a run for their money.Image: Kirchner-Media/imago images

Who can challenge Bayern?

Despite the problems, Bayern remain overwhelming favorites to win the Bundesliga – and for good reason. RB Leipzig were the closest challengers last season, but having been stripped of their coach and lost both center backs, they lack the squad or experience to challenge. That's despite the shrewd acquisition of Andre Silva as Timo Werner's belated replacement.

Borussia Dortmund ended last season strongly and are the most likely to challenge Bayern, but much will depend on how they can serve Erling Haaland following the departure of Jadon Sancho. Marco Rose is an exciting appointment, but can Dortmund win a first title since 2012? It's highly unlikely.

There's reason to believe that Eintracht Frankfurt, coached by the promising Oliver Glasner, and Gladbach, now led by Adi Hütter, could enjoy fruitful seasons too, but it would take an extraordinary leap of faith to believe that either of them — or anyone — can de-throne Bayern.

It begs the question of whether Bayern's dominance is a problem for the marketability of the Bundesliga if the lack of competition at the top eats away at its wider appeal. The answer is of course yes, but the Bundesliga can take solace in the fact that they're not alone. The trend has been clear across the continent for some time already. 

Bayern's relentless success cannot be blamed on them — they've done everything by the rules even if some of their commericial partnerships are questionable — The responsibility lies with Dortmund, RB Leipzig et al to pick up the slack and there's not a great deal the Bundesliga can do about it.

But that's not Nagelsmann's problem. Born and raised in the nearby Bavarian town of Landsberg am Lech, he has stepped into his dream job. It's a new era for Germany's successful club, and if the fast-talking Nagelsmann can get his message across, there's every chance their domestic dominance will continue not only this season but well into a second decade.