Opinion: Bayern Munich too stretched to challenge at very top level | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 26.04.2018
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Opinion: Bayern Munich too stretched to challenge at very top level

Bayern's Champions League semifinal first leg defeat by Real Madrid exposed an ageing and compromised squad. It is enough to dominate the Bundesliga but errors from Rafinha and Javi Martinez showed a lack of quality.

Bayern Munich have strolled to a sixth straight Bundesliga title but when the going got tough in the Champions League, they were found out.

The Bavarians still have a chance of overturning the 2-1 first leg deficit when they travel to Madrid next Tuesday, but they could be without two major players for the second leg of their Champions League semifinal.

Arjen Robben and Jerome Boateng both limped off in the first half, a common sight over recent seasons for two injury-prone players. You can call it unlucky or you can say it was forseeable. Robben, 34, seems set for another one-year deal but Bayern bosses might now think otherwise. He cannot keep missing big games and hefty chunks of a season.

Bayern's injury problems before the game were bad enough with full back David Alaba ruled out, meaning the right-footed Rafinha played on the left of the defense.

This was despite left back Juan Bernat being fit enough for the bench. Jupp Heynckes' decision to play Rafinha and not Bernat may haunt the 72-year-old's retirement. Rafinha made a dreadful mistake in the second half, waywardly turning the ball back into the middle of the field rather than playing the ball down the line with his weaker left foot. Real immediately pounced, stormed up the other end and Marco Asensio made it 2-1.

Bayern fans know Rafinha is a squad player and nothing more, but should he have been exposed to the 12 times European champions? Why do mighty Bayern have a player on their books who was barely good enough for last club Genoa in the bottom half of Serie A? Many Italians were stunned when Bayern came in for him, even with his knowledge of the Bundesliga from his Schalke days.  

Photo showing the shot from Real Madrid defender Marcelo (left in frame) that drew Real level against Bayern Munich. 25.04.2018 (Reuters/M. Rehle)

Marcelo equalized for Real after poor Bayern defending

World football was also surprised that Bayern spent a then club record €40 million (around $49 million at today's exchange rate) on Javi Martinez. He has had a decent season but was badly exposed for Real's first goal, failing to clear a cross and allowing Marcelo to slam home.

Probably by his own admission, he is quite a limited player.

He is not a world beater with the ball and not in the class of the great defensive midfielders of the last 20 years such as Claude Makelele, Roy Keane, Patrick Vieira or Gennaro Gattuso. If Bayern want to win a European Cup, and try to match Real by going for three in a row, is Martinez really good enough?

Major letdown

He may find it easy in the Bundesliga, but the Champions League is a different animal - and Real did not even have to play that well. Paying 40 million for someone who is rarely going to score or create a goal is an awful lot, especially if he does not do the basics in clearing a ball.

He was replaced by Corentin Tolisso, who cost a few cents more than Martinez. Yes that is right, Bayern's club record buy in the history of football is Tolisso. He has been a major letdown this term, with injuries not helping, but should Bayern be shelling out so much on a guy who at the time had just one France cap?

Mark Meadows

DW Sports correspondent Mark Meadows

Like Martinez, he is not among the best 20 midfielders in the game. Bayern ought to be buying the very best if they want to finally beat a Spanish side in the Champions League latter stages after four years of woe.

If you look at the two benches last night, it tells a story — even if you accept Bayern had a few injuries. Real had Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and match-winner Asensio on the bench. Players who can really change a game. Thiago Alcantara came on for Bayern and did well but Robert Lewandowski was never likely to be hooked for Sandro Wagner. Clubs need squad players but the top class clubs have quality everywhere.

Heynckes can take some of the blame for exposing Martinez as the only defensive midfielder from the start. With Arturo Vidal out, he chose James Rodriguez in central midfield to play against his former side. It was a bold move and in truth might have worked if Bayern had taken their chances. Thomas Müller missed several and he and Lewandowski got in each other's way late on with the goal gaping.

But the fact still remains that Bayern allowed Real to score two goals. Even if Bayern had scored three, Real would still now be favorites because of those away goals.

If Bayern bow out in the second leg, there will be a lot of soul searching among the hierarchy, and fears that new, untested boss Niko Kovac has a bigger job than expected.

Might Lewandowski decide it is time to go to Real? Either way the German champions will consider a spending spree to try to bridge the gap in Europe, and that would spell more bad news for the Bundesliga.

If Bayern are too strong domestically now, it could get even worse. 

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