Bayern Munich’s new manager Niko Kovač has been the subject of harsh criticism since taking up his new post. But one month ago, Bayern President Uli Hoeneß shut down rumors that Arsène Wenger could replace Kovač as manager. Despite experiencing an unusual four-game winless streak early on, Bayern remained confident. He had lost players due to injury and stars were under-performing. Plus, it was still early on in the season.
But it’s been another month now, and Bayern sit nine points off of Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund. They’re fifth after 12 matches, with three draws and losses apiece on their record. As of this writing, they’re second in their Champions League group with Ajax sitting ahead of them. But a win this afternoon will see them climb back on top.
Still, their league play has been disappointing. And until they turn it around (if they do), Kovač will face criticism for as long as Bayern isn’t leading the table. That’s where the high expectations come into play.
A Bundesliga title race has happened every so often this past decade, but Bayern rarely fails to clinch the league. Since 2000, they’ve been Bundesliga champions 13 times. If the former Frankfurt man can’t get his team back into form and atop the table, management will be looking for a new coach. Last season, Carlos Ancelotti was sacked and replaced by Jupp Heynckes. Recently, they’ve failed to win three of their past four league matches — dropping points in draws with Freiburg and Fortuna Düsseldorf while losing to Dortmund.
Toothless losses to Hertha Berlin (2-0) and Borussia Mönchengladbach (0-3 at home) early in the season painted a rough picture. But while Dortmund sit in first with a nine-point advantage, the champs still have plenty of time. After all, just look at all that talent.
On the pitch, Kovač has been firm in his desire to rotate players. New additions Leon Goretzka and Serge Gnabry have gotten plenty of time — as has central midfielder Renato Sanches, since returning to Bayern after a rough loan spell with Swansea. Kovač has also rested and benched veteran stars such as Franck Ribery, Jérôme Boateng, Mats Hummels and Javi Martínez multiple times this season.
Some of Kovač’s lineup choices have been questionable as well. The team’s lack of signings has exposed Bayern’s thin roster. David Alaba is the only left back on the team after Juan Bernat was sold to PSG. Joshua Kimmich and Goretzka have both been deployed there. While Kimmich’s normal position of right back made crossing awkward, Goretzka was obviously out of place. And it showed, as he struggled.
Kingsley Coman went down early in the season with a gruesome ankle injury. Corentin Tolisso has been out since tearing his ACL in mid-Septembers. Therefore, the sale of Arturo Vidal coupled with the Tolisso injury have left Bayern with less central midfield depth.
Kovač does share some blame, but many players have not helped his cause. Boateng, Manuel Neuer, and Hummels have not played to the same level as previous years. Boateng in particular has looked bad. The offensive struggles have been amplified by just one goal between the likes of Ribery, Sandro Wagner and Gnabry.
Kovač will have to rely on Robert Lewandowski to carry the load. That’s nothing new, but again, everyone is struggling. Gnabry has struggled to find the back of the net, but his movement has opened up space for his teammates. That makes him a consistent threat.
Still, the former Frankfurt man has plenty of work to do. And he might be running out of time to do it.