In the end it was inevitable. Last Saturday saw Bayern Munich claim the Bundesliga title for a seventh successive season with victory over Eintracht Frankfurt, who never threatened to spoil the party.
Kingsley Coman opened the scoring after just four minutes and, even when the visitors equalised shortly after the break, David Alaba restored the Bavarians’ lead just three minutes later. Renato Sanches made it 3-1 shortly afterwards and the champagne corks were already flying, with Bayern eventually running out 5-1 winners.
This weekend they have the chance to add the DFB Pokal trophy to their cabinet as they face RB Leipzig in the final.
This makes it hard to understand why the biggest news story surrounding the club is the probable sacking of manager Niko Kovac.
There are, of course, reasons. Firstly, the silverware cannot hide the fact that this has been a disappointing season by Bayern’s usually high standards. This is the second time in a row that they have had to chase Dortmund in the Bundesliga and, despite their eventual success, the plaudits have instead gone to their challengers.
Dortmund have shown signs of improving each year since Jurgen Klopp’s departure in 2015, while Bayern’s tally of 78 points is their lowest since the 2011/12 campaign. This title-winning team is a far cry from the one that stormed to the top in 2013 with 29 wins from 34 games.
Moreover, a path to the DFB Pokal final that seemed straightforward instead proved unnecessarily tricky to navigate. Kovac’s side could not win any of their five matches by more than a single goal, which is embarrassing given that two of those victories came against sides from the fourth division. Meanwhile, second tier outfit Heidenheim scored four times at the Allianz Arena but could not hold out.
A long term problem?
Laying the blame solely at Kovac’s feet, however, is an unfair reflection of Bayern’s gradual decline. For all their dominance in the Bundesliga, they have only won the Pokal once in the past four seasons (having lost last year’s final 3-1 against Kovac’s Frankfurt team). They have also not reached the Champions League final since winning the competition six years ago. Their current squad is made up of just 24 players, four of whom are set to depart and of which four are goalkeepers.
Bayern’s recruitment strategy over the last few years has been simple: to strip domestic rivals of their top talent. Mario Gotze, Robert Lewandowski and Matts Hummels have all joined from Dortmund, with the latter duo undoubtedly improving Bayern while simultaneously weakening their former employers.
Last season Niklas Sule, Sebastien Rudy and Sandro Wagner all made the switch from Hoffeheim. However, this trio are yet to have the same impact as their predecessors, with Wagner having already departed for the Chinese Super League.
The departure of club legends Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery has made the summer transfer window far more crucial than in recent years, given that a search for their replacements has so far been unconvincing. Coman’s injury struggles have been well documented, while Douglas Costa came and went without holding down a place in the side. Serge Gnabry and Alphonce Davies will become far more familiar to the Bayern faithful in the 2019/20 season, but another recruit is needed. Germany international Leroy Sane has been heavily linked, as has Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi.
There is good news, too. The club have moved early to strengthen in defence, having already announced the capture of World Cup winners Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez. Both players are just 23-years-old and should fix two positions in the side for years to come.
Whether Kovac remains in charge to manage them next season is another matter. His situation cannot have been helped by the availability of Massimiliano Allegri and Jose Mourinho, especially when there are only a certain number of high profile jobs available. Success this Saturday could see him keep his job, but this season has been a warning to himself, the board and the fans. If they want to be celebrating again in 12 months’ time, the new generation of players cannot afford a similar campaign.