Since the international break, FC Bayern München had been far from inspiring. Things are slowly turning around again. Despite the odd wobble, the Bavarian ship has been rightened. It is the others that are floundering.
In my last ramble, I compared Bayern’s progress to a moon mission. Having safely jettisoned the first two booster rockets, the plan was to see a safe release of the third booster before making a safe approach in time for the Winterpause.
The Bavarians remain firmly on course, but things have not run as nicely as we all would have liked. The mission has been far from perfect, with a number of “Houston, we have a problem” moments. But yes. We are still firmly on course.
Ordinary edging towards uninspiring
The bitter reality was that after the international break, Bayern seemed to have lost the spark they had rediscovered following the return of Jupp Heynckes. Things had started well enough with a clinical dismissal of a half-decent FC Augsburg side, but after that, it was a case of the ordinary edging towards the uninspiring.
Having already secured their berth in the knockout stages of the Champions League, Bayern should have been in the comfort zone. This was less than evident against winless Anderlecht in Brussels, where Heynckes’ team looked a shadow of their usual selves. Against opponents that had been royally thrashed by fellow big-hitters Paris Saint-Germain, it was a struggle for most of the 90 minutes.
The booster rockets were misfiring badly and were it not for some profligate finishing from the Belgians, it would have been more than just a small technical mishap. It was pretty painful to watch, more so for those visiting fans whose match tickets had been priced at an eye-watering €100. (Thankfully, FC Bayern had covered just under a third of that).
In the end, Bayern had just about enough in the tank. An arguably undeserved win, but three more points in the bag.
Bogey team Gladbach
Three days later, Bayern were up against bogey team Borussia Mönchengladbach, and once again they were found wanting. If Die Roten had been short of juice against Anderlecht, they were running on little more than fumes against an inspired and well-drilled opponent. It was like watching the likes of Andreas Ottl and Christian Lell. Just huff and puff.
Unlike the misfiring Belgian champions, Die Fohlen would take their chances. Two goals adrift at half-time, Bayern finally twigged that they could actually lose. The players upped their game and responded manfully, but this time it was not quite enough. After the miracle start, the coach’s unbeaten run had come to an end.
It was a painful result but would turn out to be a needed shot in the arm.
Injuries have taken their toll as the season has gone on, but there was no obvious explanation for Bayern’s worrying drop in form and sluggishness. A turnaround was desperately needed, and this would come at home against Hannover 96.
It was a crazy match, but just the sort of contest Bayern and their supporters needed. After sleepwalking through their previous two matches, the team finally seemed to wake up. Having been sent into a stupor following the less than stellar displays against Anderlecht and ‘Gladbach, the fans were also able to rub the sand from their eyes.
It was one crazy game. An opening Bayern goal, followed by one that was scratched off following a video review. Then a Hannover penalty, which was disallowed for encroachment before being missed at the second attempt. An equaliser against the run of play, a second Bayern goal to restore their lead, and then a penalty of their own to wrap things up.
Plastic Paris put to the sword
At the end of September, Bayern fans were bemoaning the dismal 0:3 defeat at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain. Carlo Ancelotti was on his way out, and the Bavarians were seemingly spiralling into crisis. When the final whistle blew to end the return fixture at the Allianz Arena, it was as if the previous debacle had never happened.
I will be honest, in that my feelings ahead of this match were based more on hope than any sort of expectation. Bayern had woken up against Hannover, but their form in the Champions League had been far from world-beating. PSG meanwhile, had scored a staggering 24 goals in five matches.
All I wanted to see was something approaching competence if just to assuage the growing doubts about Bayern’s big tournament credentials.
In the end, we all need not have worried.
A full-strength, PSG were never going to lie down easily but the likes of Neymar, Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappé were largely neutralised. Initial concerns about Heynckes’ team selection and tactics were quickly put aside, and there were moments when the plastic Parisians were really rocking and reeling.
Paris still remain big hitters in the tournament, and will surely be in the mix come springtime. But Bayern showed that they are still a force to be reckoned with. Others can throw around as much money as they like, but Die Roten are not done yet.
Look where they are now
What a difference a couple of months make. At the end of September, the Bayern ship was sinking fast. Well, according to the many in the media at least. Dortmund were on their way to breaking the Bavarian dominance. Peter Bosz was the latest hipster hero. Young coaching star Julian Nagelsmann, meanwhile, was fine-tuning his CV ahead of a possible future move to Munich.
Look where they are now.
As I write this, Bosz’s future in Dortmund hangs by the thinnest of threads. As you read this, he could have been given the boot already. TSG Hoffenheim coach Nagelsmann, fêté by the media as a genius after his side’s early-season win against Bayern, has also come unstuck.
Meanwhile, there has been talk of Jupp Heynckes sticking around in Munich for another year. Yes, it is just talk. But I like the idea.