Bayern Munich are not used to being in the Bundesliga’s second spot going into the league’s midseason break.
They had been Herbstmeister (the term given to the Bundesliga leader after the first half of the season) for the previous seven seasons, a title which Borussia Dortmund stole this season. It is perhaps not a coincidence that Bayern’s fall from grace this term has come with Niko Kovac at the helm.
The former Bayern star has had difficulties getting the best out of his players this season. In league play, his side is scoring at a rate 22 percent lower than last season and allowing goals 28 percent more frequently. On several occasions, his team has run out of ideas going forward and been completely undisciplined in the back.
DW’s Davis VanOpdorp believes Niko Kovac deserves a chance to start fresh
But this descent down the mountain has not been as steep as some suggest. Despite some trying periods in October and November, Bayern are still just six points behind Dortmund in second place. They are also in the last 16 of both the Champions League and German Cup, exactly where they should be.
More importantly, they showed this week that they can still get big results when they need to, evidenced by their 1-0 win against Leipzig on Tuesday and their 3-0 win over Frankfurt on Saturday.
A seventh consecutive league title could still be in Bayern’s future, even if the average German football fan is pleading for that not to be the case. With the way Kovac has positioned the club going into the winter break, he deserves the chance to bring the German giants back to the promised land.
Niko Kovac has struggled to make an impact this season
A fresh start
In fairness to Kovac, he was not exactly set up for success.
Many of his key players participated in the World Cup, giving him less time to work with them in the preseason. The club also sold important squad pieces in Arturo Vidal, Sebastian Rudy and Juan Bernat before the season while bringing in Leon Goretzka, another World Cup participant, as the only replacement.
It’s no wonder that Kovac had difficulties trying to find the right balance in his team. But he eventually helped his side find consistency while mostly relying on a core of Niklas Süle, Joshua Kimmich, Thomas Müller, Robert Lewandowski and, when healthy, Thiago and Serge Gnabry. As a result, Bayern won all four of their Bundesliga games in December and did just enough to win their group in the Champions League.
The 47-year-old now has a month to regroup with his team and perhaps to work with several players he only spent weeks with before the season started. And as this week’s performances have shown, he has the acumen to make the right tactical tweaks to get his side victories.
Perhaps all Kovac and his team need is a bit of a reset, which the month-long winter break can bring. Many coaches struggle at first with a new team. The fact that coaches like Jupp Heynckes and Pep Guardiola didn’t is the exception, not the rule.
After leading Bayern back to second place for the first time since October, Kovac has proven he should at least be given the opportunity to start afresh.