An injury crisis at Bayern Munich is nothing new. Fans have come to expect them by now, as multiple players fall foul to injury at the same time, derailing the club’s chances of European glory.
Two seasons ago, defensive rock Jerome Boateng and world-class wingers Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben were all injured around the time of Bayern’s Champions League semi-final with Atletico Madrid, when the Spanish side prevailed on away goals despite a spirited second-leg comeback by the Bavarians.
Last season brought another injury crisis, as their 2017-18 Champions League dreams were dashed by Real Madrid at the same stage, with Manuel Neuer, David Alaba, Corentin Tolisso, Arturo Vidal and Kingsley Coman all ruled out of the first leg, in which Jerome Boateng and Arjen Robben were both forced off, allowing Real to capitalise with a 6-3 aggregate win.
Nobody should be surprised by Bayern’s current injury worries. It seems to happen every year, after all. What is surprising is the fact that it has happened so early into the season rather than after a long, tiring campaign.
By the time it comes around, the Bavarians have usually wrapped up the Bundesliga, so it doesn’t really impact yet another title triumph. However, this season, the crisis has arrived much earlier than usual, with Joshua Kimmich the only fit senior full-back in the squad and talented French duo Corentin Tolisso and Kingsley Coman ruled out until at least the winter break.
The fact that everyone saw this injury crisis coming makes Bayern’s summer transfer business even more concerning. Having agreed a deal for Schalke midfielder Leon Goretzka as early as January, the club signed absolutely nobody in the summer transfer window.
Goretzka arrived on a free transfer, Renato Sanches and Serge Gnabry returned from loans, and nobody else came through the doors of Saebener Strasse. Goodbyes were said to midfielders Vidal and Sebastian Rudy, with the sale of Juan Bernat to PSG leaving Bayern with only three full-backs.
New head coach Niko Kovac was always going to be under great pressure at the Allianz Arena. To his vast credit, he started extremely well, with seven wins from seven in all competitions.
Then, injuries hit and the wheels began to come off. It is now four games without a win, but of even more concern, Bayern are sixth in the Bundesliga following convincing defeats to Hertha Berlin and Borussia Monchengladbach.
Sure, it doesn’t help that four key players are injured, but the problems run deeper than that. There have been calls for Kovac to be replaced this early in his tenure, but he is not one of the ones under-performing on the pitch, strolling around looking bemused as Gladbach net a third unanswered goal in Munich.
As one of the teams benefiting from Bayern’s poor form, Gladbach should be celebrating a possible disconnect between coach and players, but even their own man in charge does not believe this to be the case.
“Bayern was still unbeatable three weeks ago under Niko Kovac,” Dieter Hecking told reporters. “Two games later, a Kovac crisis starts to be talked about.
“I do not like the speed with which our work is talked about negatively, and the impatience that is already spreading after two or three weaker games is completely overdone.”
Aside from the lack of signings and the injury problems, Bayern’s season has faltered due to the poor performances of key players.
Robert Lewandowski started the season with three goals in the first four Bundesliga games, but only one of those has been from open play and he hasn’t found the net since September 22.
The Polish striker was looking to leave the club during the summer, admitting he did not feel valued in Munich last season after receiving criticism for failing to deliver in big games. That criticism rang true at the World Cup and the striker looks shorn of confidence despite his strong start to the season.
The same can be said for many of Bayern’s other players. They’re older, slower and perhaps just not as good as they once were.
Boateng also looked to leave in the summer but saw a move to PSG collapse as his current club asked for too much money for the injury-prone declining defender. Neuer is back to full fitness after spending almost a year on the sidelines, but is not the same player he was for club or country.
Germany’s international failings are also Bayern Munich’s failings. Their senior players are failing to live up to their previous highs, with Thomas Muller, Neuer and Boateng all looking past their prime. Only Kimmich seems to be living up to his billing, but a right-back cannot be expected to do it all on his own.
Kovac has been forced to rotate his squad to keep senior players happy – and to keep the top brass at Bayern off his back – but it may be to his downfall.
An older, more experienced coach would likely choose his best XI and stick to that to ensure that results went his way. If players were unhappy at being on the bench, they could look at the results and at least feel proud of those. At the moment, the players are all getting a chance and they’re still unhappy.
James Rodriguez was sensational last season on loan from Real Madrid, but has been repeatedly featured on the back pages for perceived unhappiness this year. That is pure speculation on the part of Spanish and German media, but it is not inconceivable. The Colombia international has played the full 90 minutes just once this season and has been used in three different positions already.
Renato Sanches has impressed in brief spells, but that is all he has been able to do so far – play intermittently as Kovac sticks with Bayern’s big-name players. Those players are offering excuses but no solutions.
Bayern Munich return to Bundesliga action on Saturday at Wolfsburg before a midweek trip to Athens, where Kovac needs to pick up two wins or else fear for his future.
Bayern’s problems can be fixed on the pitch but they need Kovac to stand up and become bigger than the players. Dropping some of their under-performing ones would be a good start.