Things look rosy in Bayern-land, but there is plenty to discuss as the season nears the business end. Here are the big talking points.
It has been a while since my last ramble, and this is something of a catchup. At home, I have been sidetracked by boiler replacements and ripping out floorboards to fix leaky pipes. In stark contrast, the situation in Munich could not be any more stable. FC Bayern are doing everything right, even on those days when they are not quite at the top of their game. It is as if Jupp Heynckes had never left in 2013.
As I write this, Bayern are a comfortable eighteen points clear at the top of the Bundesliga. While the chasing pack keep slipping up, the Bavarians have continued to rack up the points. Some of the matches have been far from pretty, but that will surely come as confidence continues to build.
The Bavarian rocket has made its way to the moon and is now on its gentle return back to earth.
There will always be critics, and it is fair to say that there have been some weak moments since the turn of the year. There were some worrying spells against both Werder Bremen and TSG Hoffenheim, and the most recent 2:1 win over Schalke 04 may have left some fans feeling a little nervous. But the facts are there for all to see. The doom-mongers have all but disappeared.
One of the biggest issues concerns the slightly wobbly defence. Against Bremen, things could have very easily gone the other way. Against Hoffenheim, Bayern had found themselves two goals down in the blink of an eye. On both occasions, Die Roten had more than enough firepower to turn things around. However, there is a very real fear that it may not be so easy against higher quality opposition.
On the face of it, there are no obvious reasons for these wobbles. On paper, Bayern have an exceptional defensive unit. There are plenty of international caps in the account.
When a team plays the ball out of a sticky situation at the back, it can be a beautiful thing to watch. When it goes pear-shaped, it can be horrible. Very horrible. Sometimes, it would be more prudent to just hoof the ball up the pitch or even into the stands. Just watch the Hoffenheim game to see what I mean.
Against domestic opposition, Bayern can afford to have a couple of defensive lapses. But when up against the likes of Messi, Neymar or Ronaldo? Do not try to find a teammate with a sketchy ball. Avoid the pretty pass. Just bloody wallop it.
Midfield musical chairs
The signing of midfield Wunderkind Leon Goretzka from Schalke 04 was a fantastic (and hardly unexpected) move, but one that raises more questions. If the young German talent is to develop his career in Munich, it will surely come at the cost of one of the current established players. As to who this might be, it really depends on what you have been reading and how much gossip you are willing to swallow.
We all know that changes will have to be made. Goretzka is the future; this is a given. But right now, he is still a Schalke player. Right now, both Arturo Vidal and the soon-to-return Thiago Alcântara still have a part to play.
So, let us stop with the gossip. There is still silverware to be claimed.
We cannot stop referring to the gossip completely without at least touching on the other story that has been doing the rounds. When there is nothing else for the clickbait-mongers to write about Bayern, the story about Robert Lewandowski and Real Madrid is pulled out of the cold case file.
According to those who see the Polish striker leaving Munich for Madrid, a move to Real has always been his “dream move”. Strange, then, that he chose to come to Bayern as a free agent rather than fulfil his “dreams”. The reality is that story is as true now as it was when it was last churned out.
Even if Lewy suddenly does pipe up and start demanding an exit visa, Uli Hoeneß has made it pretty clear that he will not tolerate this sort of nonsense. Borussia Dortmund have been held over a barrel twice with players making ridiculous demands and going AWOL, but Hoeneß is adamant that this will not happen at Bayern.
Jupp Heynckes: what next?
I have said what I have needed to say about Jupp Heynckes in previous columns. As a Bayern fan, I would love him to stick around for another year in Munich. He is also the best option available right now.
In returning to Bavaria for a third time, Heynckes has set things right. Bayern are well clear in the Bundesliga, are safely into the last four of the DFB-Pokal, and are still in the mix in the Champions League. Looking back at how shaky things were in September last year, “Don Jupp” has done all that we could have asked of him already.
If Heynckes really wants to leave, then Bayern should let him go with good grace. The last thing anyone wants is to see the club begging him to stay.
Naturally, this leaves the Bavarians in a worrying situation. The harsh reality is that there are no suitable replacements out there right now. Jürgen Klopp, for now at least, remains settled at Liverpool. Thomas Tuchel has dropped off the radar. The only name that still remains is Julian Nagelsmann.
At the start of the season, Hoffenheim coach Nagelsmann was being touted as a future Bayern coach. For those who have evangelised the young Trainer, the dismissal of Carlo Ancelotti only served to bring this vision closer. Back in October, the theory was that Jupp Heynckes would steady the ship and clear the decks for the new master and commander.
Things have moved on considerably since then, and not in a good way for the 30-year-old from Landsberg am Lech. Early on in the season, Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim team were exposed in the Champions League preliminaries. Then, they were dumped out of the Europa League. In the Bundesliga, the team that made headlines by beating Bayern 2:0 in September have slipped back into eighth place.
When Hoffenheim stormed into an early two-goal lead at the Allianz, the Nagelsmann-Börse spiked appreciably. If you were watching the market however, you would have known that this was only down to some horrific Bayern gaffes rather than the genius of the young pretender. It was the perfect time to make a sale. Cue the Bavarians hitting five without reply, and the price dropping even further.
Staying on course
Bayern’s next two domestic opponents should not provide too much resistance. We are unlikely to see a repeat of earlier 2:2 draw against relegation-threatened Wolfsburg when the two teams meet at the Volkswagen Arena, and an ordinary Hertha BSC side are also unlikely to disturb the furniture when they are in Munich the following week.
In between these two matches is the Champions League meeting with Beşiktaş JK, a team that could prove to be far more of an obstacle on the pitch than on paper. The feisty Turkish outfit know they are the underdogs, and will surely throw everything and the kitchen sink when they make their first competitive visit to Munich in over twenty years.
The Bavarians will be looking to up their game, with aim of taking a comfortable advantage to Istanbul. Should Bayern make the last eight, we can be sure that things will be a lot tougher.