It was all going so well for Niko Kovac, who oversaw wins in his first seven games. But while they're unlikely to prove terminal, two failures in four days have shown chinks in Bayern's armor, writes DW's Matt Pearson.
As the clock ticked down at Berlin's Olympic Stadium on Friday, Niko Kovac looked as dumbfounded on the touchline as his team looked desperate on the pitch.
Throughout the 2-0 loss, his new charges looked impotent, error-prone and out of ideas against a Hertha Berlin side who drew up the drawbridge on the edge of their box - and were delighted to find that the Bavarians didn't have the nous to breach their defenses.
This loss, and the home draw with Augsburg that preceded it, are unlikely to cut Bayern too deeply in the long term and, while the dropped points at the Allianz Arena were born of an inability to put the game to bed, Friday’s display should be of serious concern.
Bayern failed to force a save from Hertha’s backup keeper Thomas Kraft in the first half and – though they peppered the goal after the interval - they lacked the guile to break down their excellent hosts, whose coach Pal Dardai deserves enormous credit, not only for tonight but for his work over the last three years.
After a perfect start, Kovac has faltered in the kind of intense period of matches that only the top clubs can expect all year round. This defeat was Bayern’s fourth match in ten days, with two more to come in the next six.
The fixture pile up meant Kovac had to shuffle a squad that features a plethora of key players the wrong side of 30 but the Croatian got far too many of his calls wrong.
On Tuesday, the decision to try and play Leon Goretzka at left back was abandoned at halftime after a booking and plenty of confusion, while Robert Lewandowski’s absence was highlighted by a brace of Sandro Wagner’s misses just before the break.
On Friday, the call to bring back Jerome Boateng proved disastrous, as the center back gave away the penalty opener before waving through Valentino Lazaro to cut back to Ondrej Duda for the second. Veterans Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben struggled to make an impact after starting three days earlier.
Squad players sold
While squad rotation is always something of a gamble, Bayern haven’t necessarily helped themselves in this regard. The departures of backup options like Juan Bernat and Sebastian Rudy and injuries to Rafinha and Kingsley Coman have forced Kovac in to experiments like Goretzka at left back. The re-integration of Renato Sanches has at least mitigated the sale of Arturo Vidal.
But some of those who remained have let their coach down in the last couple of games. Errors from Boateng in this game and Neuer on Tuesday have proved costly and, after sloppy starts riddled with misplaced passes to both matches, there’s a sense that an element of complacency may have snuck in.
Kovac doesn’t seem a man who’ll accept players going through the motions, as his early substitution of a subdued Robben on Friday showed.
But with a relatively thin squad at his disposal, a fixture list that's unlikely to ease up and a few of the old dependables misfiring, the former Frankfurt boss has a few problems he needs to nip in the bud.
His record suggests he can do it, but as he noted after the game: "Anyone who knows Bayern will know that we won't put up with this." Not for long, anyway.