BAYERN MUNICH recently reminded everyone they are a powerful club with substantial financial resources. Furthermore, by drawing 1-1 at RB Leipzig, they also stopped dead – for now – any talk of an imminent shift in the balance of power in the Bundesliga. Leipzig may have held the champions, but they also failed to beat them and record a victory that would have provided evidence that Bayern are in transition and there is an opportunity to be grasped.
They may well be entering a phase of rebuilding, but Bayern Munich are still the team to beat and who would bet against them winning yet another Bundesliga title?
Bayern’s economic advantages are impossible to match in Germany and it is from this financial base that their on-pitch success comes from. Astute team-building and seeking-out talent that’s not getting its chance in places like the Premier League seems to be on-trend in Germany but Bayern also have the clout to buy virtually anyone they choose.
When you see that Bayern’s shareholders include Adidas, Allianz and Audi, three of the top 12 brands in Germany, there’s no disputing they also have equally powerful friends and relatives, underlining the club’s position in the business fabric of the country.
In 2018-19, the club generated revenues of € 750 million, a 14% increase on 2017-18, despite having a shorter than normal UEFA Champions League run. Bayern posted a gross profit of € 75.3 million and a net profit of € 52.5 million, the latter rising 78% on the previous season.
Bayern, who said farewell to Franck Ribery, Matt Hummels, Rafinha and Arjen Robben, spent around € 130 million in the close season, including a loan fee for Barcelona’s Philippe Coutinho. For much of the summer they were chasing Leroy Sané, but they couldn’t or wouldn’t match Manchester City’s valuation. They spent big on Lucas Hernandez of Atlético Madrid and VFB Stuttgart’s Benjamin Pavard, paying € 80 million and € 35 million respectively.
Last season, Bayern had their toughest title-race since they started their current era of dominance started. Just two points separated them from Borussia Dortmund, who for a long time were fancied to win the Bundesliga for the first time since 2012. With the departure of some household names, the neutrals were hoping that 2019-20 might see the end of the hegemony. Borussia Dortmund, four times runners-up in the past seven seasons, looked exciting in 2018-19, but they have lost Abdou Diallo (€ 32 million PSG), Christian Pulisic (€ 64 million Chelsea) and Maximillian Philipp (€ 20 million Dynamo Moscow). At the same time, they’ve paid over € 25 million apiece for Julian Brandt (Leverkusen), Thorgen Hazard (Gladbach), Nico Schulz (Hoffenheim) and Bayern’s Hummels.
The problem for the pretenders is that Bayern don’t lose many games, they are relentless when they are on a run. In 2018-19, they were beaten four times and were unbeaten from February 2 to the end of the campaign. Over the past five seasons, only Borussia Mönchengladbach seem to have the secret to beating the Bavarians, they have done it four times. Dortmund have managed it twice.
Leipzig fancied their chances of making a sustained challenge for the title this season and before welcoming Bayern, they had won all three of their Bundesliga games. This is their fourth season in the Bundesliga and in 2018-19, they moved up to third after two previous campaigns in which they finished second and sixth. But are Leipzig ready to seriously have a stab at unseating Bayern, the resilient champions for seven consecutive seasons?
On the evidence of the first half against Bayern, they still have a long way to go to cause too many sleepless nights at the Allianz Arena. After just three minutes, Robert Lewandowski, who has just extended his contract, demonstrated his finishing prowess with his seventh goal of the season, racing clear and side-footing past Peter Gulacsi. Business as usual? Not quite, because Bayern of old would have built up a commanding advantage against their opponents. But by half-time, it was 1-1 after Emil Forsberg levelled from the penalty spot.
The second half was very different and suggested Leipzig under Julian Nagelsmann may have what it takes to last the distance, something which has been largely missing in Germany over the past seven years. Nagelsmann made some changes at the interval, moving to a back four and adding bodies to the midfield. They unsettled Bayern and the outcome hinted that this season might be different. Meanwhile, Bayern were less than happy about being over-generous to their hosts. Bayern coach Niko Kovač called for his players to become more ruthless as he reflected on their first half dominance. “The result is annoying,” he said.
Fit for Europe
Assuming that Bayern will be there or thereabouts, what could really decide the fate of Kovač is how the club negotiates the UEFA Champions League. It’s six years since they won the competition, beating Borussia Dortmund 2-1 at Wembley, and 18 years have lapsed since they beat a non-German team in the final. They’ve been perennial semi-finalists for most of the past eight years, but in two of the last three attempts, they have failed to reach the penultimate stage. Last year they were beaten by Liverpool and in five of the last six Champions Leagues, they have gone out to the eventual winners.
Bayern begin their group games at home to Red Star Belgrade and they also have to face Tottenham Hotspur and Olympiakos of Greece. While this would appear to be a perfectly acceptable group, are Bayern sufficiently tested domestically to prepare them for a successful run that goes to the latter stages? The same question could be asked of Juventus in Italy and Paris Saint-Germain in France. Runaway champions are not accustomed to being stretched on a regular basis.
If Kovač’s prediction of a four-way title chase that includes Leipzig, Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen is accurate, then Bayern will have something like the competition they need to be finely tuned for clashes with Europe’s uber-elite.
At home, is it merely wishful thinking on the part of their rivals, or are Bayern more vulnerable than usual? If they are, who is robust enough to last the pace?