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Thursday, March 23, 2023

Bayern Munich troubles could lead to first genuine Bundesliga title race in years

Not since the 2011/2012 season have Bayern Munich failed to win the Bundesliga title. 10 seasons have passed with the Bavarians the dominant force in German soccer. Most assumed their dominance would continue into this season. Now, though, there’s a chance Bayern Munich might have a title race on their hands.

Julian Nagelsmann’s team are struggling for momentum following the resumption of the season after the 2022 World Cup. Indeed, Bayern Munich have drawn three consecutive Bundesliga matches with many questioning whether Nagelsmann is the right man for the job at the Allianz Arena. 

“We definitely have to get better results, but ‘crisis’ is a very hard word,” Nagelsmann replied when asked how deep the issues are at Bayern Munich. “For actual crises, you can watch ‘Heute-journal’ (a current affairs news show in Germany) for example. We want to play better, but talking about a crisis is too far.”

Nagelsmann is right that Bayern Munich can still recover their form to get out of trouble. However, the problems being experienced by the German champions are real and their rivals are ready to take advantage – Bayern Munich are now just one point above Union Berlin and two points above RB Leipzig.

No matter how the second half of the 2022/23 campaign pans out, Union Berlin have already provided one of the stories of the season in the Bundesliga. This is only their second-ever top flight campaign, yet they are the closest challengers to Bayern Munich at the top of the table. Their rise has been remarkable.

RB Leipzig, however, look like being the biggest threat to Bayern Munich’s supremacy. Marco Rose’s side have won seven of their last nine Bundesliga fixtures and proved they can hold their own against the defending champions in a 1-1 draw in their first game back following the World Cup break.

Rose inherited one of the strongest squads in the Bundesliga after the dismissal of Domenico Tedesco in September and the former Borussia Dortmund boss is getting more and more out of it with every passing match. In some ways, RB Leipzig actually have greater squad depth than Bayern Munich at this moment in time.

Christopher Nkunku might be destined for a transfer to the Premier League at the end of the season, but the French attacker is still delivering for RB Leipzig in the meantime. Timo Werner has given Rose’s team a different dimension since returning to the Bundesliga from Chelsea last summer.

Dominik Szoboszlai is starting to look like the superstar RB Leipzig thought he would become when they signed him from Red Bull Salzburg and Dani Olmo is still a difference-maker with his excellent mix of guile and explosiveness. Then there’s the midfield pairing of Amadou Haidara and Xaver Schlager.

This is before Josko Gvardiol’s name is even mentioned, with many viewing the Croatian international as the best young central defender in European soccer right now. There is good reason to believe RB Leipzig have the individual quality to keep close to Bayern Munich and maybe even leapfrog the 10-times defending champions.

Reports this week suggest Nagelsmann must prove to the Bayern Munich board that he is still the right man for the job at the Allianz Arena over the coming weeks. It’s not just that recent results have been underwhelming, it’s that there is little suggestion that Bayern Munich’s squad is adjusting to the tactical ideas of their 35-year-old head coach.

Bayern Munich bought into the idea of Nagelsmann being German soccer’s next great manager. Last season, the Bavarians suffered a drop-off in form in the second half of the campaign, but most put this down to the transition between tactical approaches. There is less of an excuse for Nagelsmann to fall back on this term.

He has been backed in the transfer market. Bayern Munich allowed Robert Lewandowski to leave for Barcelona last summer in the belief his departure, coupled with Sadio Mane’s arrival, would allow Nagelsmann to implement the 4-2-2-2 formation that worked so well for him during his time at RB Leipzig.

At first, the results and performances in the new-look shape were encouraging, but Nagelsmann reverted to Bayern Munich’s default 4-2-3-1 formation soon enough with Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting brought in as a direct replacement for Lewandowski. As long as Bayern Munich’s identity crisis continues, the rest of the Bundesliga has hope.

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