Whenever Bayern Munich find themselves in crisis at this time of year, the headlines in Germany write themselves.
And so it was after Bayern lost 1-0 away at neighbors Augsburg on the opening weekend of this year’s Oktoberfest, their first defeat of the season and fourth Bundesliga game in a row without a win cementing their worst league start in 12 years.
“Less of a party, more like drinking their frustration away,” said broadcaster ZDF, while others played on the theme of Bayern being hungover before even heading to the beer tents of the “Wiesn”, where the Oktoberfest takes place.
Statement Champions League wins may have left the casual international observer with a rather foreboding impression of the German champions but, as chief executive Oliver Kahn told the team in a rare dressing room appearance after Tuesday’s win over Barcelona:
“We would be well advised not to get carried away and sink into euphoria. Such victories are even more valuable when we build on them, and that means beating Augsburg.”
But they didn’t and, as Kicker magazine pointed out on Sunday: “The truth lies in results in the league.” There, by Sunday evening, Bayern were fifth, five points behind leaders Union Berlin.
Thomas Müller, “angry for the first time this season” after last week’s 2-2 draw against Stuttgart, described himself as “aghast” on Saturday, stating that “it can’t just be bad luck” and accused his teammates of “sloppiness.”
Julian Nagelsmann, who praised his side’s “best performance of the season” against Borussia Mönchengladbach recently despite a 1-1 draw, now lamented his team’s “laissez-faire” profligacy in the final third.
Leroy Sane and Jamal Musiala both missed good chances but the main culprit in front of goal was Sadio Mane.
The star summer signing netted five goals in his first six games for Bayern but is now without a goal in five. In Augsburg, he only touched the ball 46 times, wasting a golden opportunity when one-on-one with Rafal Gikiewicz in the first half while his only shot of the game was easily saved by the Polish goalkeeper in the second.
He is yet to register a single assist this season either, leading to inevitable ponderings as to whether Bayern are missing Robert Lewandowski after all?
“The question is purely hypothetical,” laughed Müller dismissively when asked at fulltime. “We have the squad we have.”
At his post-match press conference, Nagelsmann was visibly annoyed by the question.
“What difference does it make whether I say ‘yes’ or ‘no?’ It doesn’t matter what I answer. If I say ‘no,’ you’ll all say I can’t see the problem. If I say ‘yes,’ you’ll all say I’m missing Lewandowski. So, it doesn’t matter what I say.”
Sadio Mane was frustrated by Augsburg goalkeeper Rafal Gikiewicz on Saturday
Like Carlo Ancelotti in 2017 and Niko Kovac in 2018, Nagelsmann is attempting to weather an Oktoberfest storm. It’s the first time in over 20 years that Bayern have gone four games without a win, and the first time in 87 Bundesliga games that they’ve failed to score.
Reports in Germany last season suggested that Nagelsmann’s interpersonal skills were sometimes lacking as he failed to involve experienced dressing room figures in decisions at a time, it shouldn’t be forgotten, when Bayern failed to win six of their final 11 competitive games, including the two Champions League quarterfinal legs against Villarreal.
That particular situation has reportedly improved but former Bayern captain and German national player Stefan Effenberg still felt inclined on Sunday morning’s Doppelpass talk show on Sport1 to point out:
“When you have such quality in a squad, you don’t need to explain certain runs 10 times; the players know what they have to do. Rather, it’s the interpersonal skills which are most important at Bayern Munich. Nagelsmann is still young, and he needs to learn that.”
Indeed, the 39-year-old may be an interminable source of energy, encouragement, instructions and tactical tweaks on the touchline. But he said himself ahead of the Gladbach game that he saw himself a little differently this season, “less focused on tactics, more on man-management.”
Still, given that the draw against Gladbach ended up with Matthijs De Ligt up front, and that the closest Bayern came to a later equalizer in Augsburg was a Manuel Neuer header from a corner, perhaps there is an argument that more work is required on the tactical switch away from a central striker to a more fluid front line.
Prost! Bayern Munich’s official visit to Oktoberfest was a subdued affair.
Despite suggestions from the usual suspects in Germany’s tabloid media that the pressure on Nagelsmann is exacerbated by the availability of Thomas Tuchel on the market, the head coach, for whom Bayern paid €25 million ($24.9 million) in 2021, is expected to get time to do that.
“We are totally convinced by Julian,” CEO Kahn told media at the club’s official Oktoberfest visit on Sunday — a contractual obligation that Nagelsmann had said he “could do without” given the current mood around the club.
“When you have a bad run of form, it’s not just the coach who is dissatisfied but also the players and we as officials,” Kahn continued.
“We’re all in a bad mood but we now have 14 days to analyze ourselves critically, hold discussions and approach the next part of the season [after the international break] with new strength.
“We’re not thinking about any other names or any other coaches at the moment.”
But Bayern are looking for an Oktoberfest hangover cure and have two weeks to find it.
Edited by: Chuck Penfold