Stop me if you’ve heard this before… Bayern Munich is an old team that needs to refresh and reload its aging core.
Last night’s 2-2 draw against two-time, and let’s face it, huge favorite for the Champions League again, champion Real Madrid didn’t particularly expose this issue too much (save for showing just how slow Thomas Mueller has become, both in the physical and mental sense), but the first leg showed more than enough evidence of this fact.
Where Real Madrid was spry and quick on the ball, Bayern was lethargic, and there was no better encapsulation of this fact than in the goal Marco Asensio scored to put Real up 2-1.
Real Madrid pounced on a Rafinha error, with Asensio and Lucas Vazquez speeding past the center circle, confident that no one on Munich would catch up. They were right.
This lethargy was even more evident on the other side of the ball, with Jupp Heynckes fielding Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery like it was 2013. Arjen Robben didn’t even make it the entire game and was pulled off with a groin injury that saw him miss the second leg last night. On the other flank, once Robben was off, Ribery was left on an island, and his ‘spirited’ runs left a lot to be desired.
There wasn’t a bigger indictment on Bayern’s state of affairs than in the image of Ribery attacking Carvajal and Lucas Vazquez, unable to beat them off the dribble and shooting in vain. Maybe if Bayern would have kept Douglas Costa, or Kingsley Coman wasn’t injured, it would have been different, but with the aging core of Robbery, Madrid was confident that the flanks would pose no danger to their defense.
While we’re here, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say a word or six about Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich’s supposedly world-class center forward. There was a time where the Pole was seen as superior to Barcelona’s Luis Suarez, but on the evidence of these two legs, I’d rather have Karim Benzema, supposedly a center forward who doesn’t score goals (he had two last night, but I’m sleep, doe).
Not only was Lewa a bum in front of goal, but in stark contrast to his counterpart on Madrid, he didn’t offer anything else. Where Benzema was contributing to the buildup of an attack, Robert was static, seemingly waiting for a ball to come his way (so he can blast it over the bar).
I’m not going to bury Thomas Mueller because he seems to be doing a good job of doing that himself, but him starting a game in 2018 sounds extremely dumb. (Yes, much like Real did all game last night, I’m going to ignore Tommy Boy.) And this is where I get to the meat of the issue: Jupp Heynckes didn’t do his team any favors fielding that lineup.
The hiring of Jupp after Carlo was supposed to bring stability after the Italian’s methods fell on deaf ears. What it really brought was an unoriginal regression, a retread that left the Bavarian outfit bereft of ideas and a coherent plan.
It also showed how outdated and old their players are, which is something that was evident even when Pep Guardiola was in charge. There are many reasons for this, including the aforementioned choice of manager. Bayern Munich’s transfer policy of buying up all good German talent, with little to no disregard to players abroad, seems to highlight the club’s need to solely dominate domestically, which is the opposite mandate of the club that just knocked them out. Where Bayern Munich want to be recognized as the sole German superclub, stripping all other clubs in the Bundesliga of their talent, Real Madrid doesn’t seem to care about domestic competition, focusing their efforts on claiming one Champions League after another. If they win a Liga, like they did last year, then that’s just a bonus.
Which brings me to another issue: being the sole superclub domestically practically ensures no competition domestically. Bayern is rarely if ever, challenged domestically in March and April, and when faced with superior European teams, can’t take their games up a notch. Bayern, in short, has no ‘playoff gear’.
People will probably point to Jupp’s last tenure in charge when Bayern last won the European competition. But consider this: Heynckes knew this was his last hurrah, announcing his retirement in December, and in the semifinal, faced a skeleton crew Barcelona team whose manager was undergoing chemotherapy (RIP Tito Vilanova). In the final? They faced German club Borussia Dortmund, their domestic rival who were without Mario Gotze, their wunderkind and Rihanna posse member who was purchased by Bayern prior to the final.
In the grand scheme of things, Bayern’s aging core was good enough to win the Bundesliga, but it just ain’t good enough.