A German media outlet recently published an unofficial pre-season table which reflected the friendly results of all 18 Bundesliga sides. Bayern Munich were last.
The record 31-time Bundesliga champions have not won a single match since the beginning of their summer preparation, losing to teams such as Ajax and Napoli.
Bayern’s new manager Julian Nagelsmann – and his bosses – insist there is no panic, but many people in and around the club feel their quest for yet another title will not be as easy as last season when they finished 13 points clear.
Hansi Flick, Nagelsmann’s predecessor, was successful and well-liked by players and fans, so replacing him was a thankless task.
But other factors have contributed to a less-than-ideal pre-season for the former RB Leipzig manager.
Nagelsmann’s past as a former youth player for 1860 Munich, Bayern’s city rivals, have made him the target of verbal attacks by some supporters during warm-up games – and his relationship with some of the fanbase certainly needs work.
More importantly, the 34-year-old has a long way to go until his team play the way he wants. At Leipzig, he changed the tactical set-up quite drastically compared to his predecessors, turning them from a counter-attacking side into one who were possession oriented.
He does not have to do the same at an already-dominant Bayern outfit, but he does want to introduce several new features – namely inverted full-backs, passing triangles across the pitch, repeated positional switches in possession and deeper pressing than before.
He also intends to change formations mid-match, although the 4-2-3-1 is set to be the default one when the season starts.
What has made the job difficult is the fact Nagelsmann could not practise these new ideas with his best line-up. Players such as Joshua Kimmich, Thomas Muller and Alphonso Davies have recently arrived at the training ground after extended breaks.
Bayern’s first competitive match of the season, a cup game against fifth-division Bremer SV, also had to be cancelled as the opponents were forced into quarantine because of Covid-19, leaving the champions without ideal preparation.
Thin squad could become a headache
Bayern have concerns too about their starting XI and squad strength, with stalwart defenders David Alaba and Jerome Boateng leaving this summer.
French right-back Benjamin Pavard has struggled offensively, while Canadian left-back Davies showed defensive carelessness at the end of last season. Centre-back Niklas Sule also continues to have issues with his fitness and weight following an anterior cruciate ligament tear in 2019.
The two German wingers, Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane, had disappointing campaigns last time and did not play much of a role for their country at Euro 2020.
The main issue for Bayern is they cannot easily replace any of these names. The squad is painfully thin and essentially forces Nagelsmann to work with a core group of 21 players.
While prospects such as the two 18-year-old midfielders, Torben Rhein and Armindo Sieb, have shown promise, they are hardly ready to play in important matches.
“Everyone knows that the squad was better last year from a standpoint of quality,” Flick noted earlier this year, shortly before it was made public he would resign.
Bayern’s transfer policy was the main point of contention between Flick and sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic.
Nagelsmann does not intend to interfere with the club’s transfer operations, but cannot be happy with the fact Munich have not signed anyone since the transfer window re-opened.
The only two new arrivals have been centre-back Dayot Upamecano, from RB Leipzig, and former Reading left-back Omar Richards, who both agreed to deals earlier this year.
Despite Bayern’s healthy finances, club insiders say the club are struggling with a considerable loss of revenue since the beginning of the pandemic, leaving them reluctant to be active in the transfer market.
Bayern have also lost some of their network with the resignations of both Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. The two experienced powerbrokers were able to talk to other club officials and influential agents at the same level.
Salihamidzic and Oliver Kahn, Rummenigge’s successor as executive chairman, have not reached the same status within the football industry yet.
Nagelsmann himself won’t be of much help in this area. At his previous clubs, he felt comfortable in his sole role as coach and has implied he intends to stay on that path for the foreseeable future.
This leaves the question whether he and his team will be able to get through the first weeks – or even months – of the new campaign unscathed. Or if we might witness the rare occurrence of a Bayern side caught up in turmoil.