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A Surprisingly Conciliatory Bayern Munich Season Preview

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In which I attempt to explain the Bayern Munich fan base’s utter meltdown.

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Uli loves a good Paulaner.
Photo credit should read CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images

I’ll be honest, when I first sat down to write this preview, I had every intention of making it an unhinged salt fest filled with embedded clips of Bayern Munich’s defeat in the Champions League to Liverpool, GIFs of Rumenigge getting beer dumped on him, and jokes referencing Uli Hoeness’s tax evasion. I can’t do it, though. For the first time in my tenure at Fear the Wall, I have a desire to actually write serious analysis of Bayern Munich and... (gasp)... defend it.

The primary reason for this is that the Bayern Munich fanbase is in an absolute meltdown right now, and my mindset towards the Bayern fan base isn’t so much one of annoyance as it is confusion. I’m not necessarily talking about Bavarian Football Works as I am their fans on Twitter, Reddit, and the rest of social media. The varying levels of panic, depression, and outrage has been baffling to me, especially for a club that’s coming off of a domestic double, and which made some decent signings this summer.

Let’s break it down:

Last Season

As much as I dislike the cliché, “A Tale of Two Halves”, I also think that it’s a truly apt description of Bayern Munich’s season. Bayern’s Hinrunde was the worst stretch of football that I’ve ever seen Bayern play. After a strong start to the season with four wins in a row, Bayern only picked up one point from the next three matches, including a disastrous 3-0 defeat to Borussia Mönchengladbach at the Allianz Arena. A few weeks later, Bayern again stumbled, gaining only two points from three matches, including their defeat to BVB at the Westfalenstadion. Bayern’s struggles during this period were the result of a confluence of factors, including injuries to key players like Thiago Alcantara, tactics, dreadful goaltending from Manuel Neuer, and poor finishing.

Bayern’s struggles on the pitch were reflected by instability off the pitch. With Bayern lagging well behind Dortmund in the title race, manager Niko Kovac’s position at the club seemed to be seriously under threat. Despite outward confidence from Bayern’s Board of Directors, rumors abounded of dissatisfaction in the locker room, and many Bayern fans called for Kovac to be sacked.

Unfortunately for BVB fans, Bayern’s struggles were ultimately short-lived. After their November 24th draw to Fortuna Düsseldorf, Bayern won seven in a row en route to an 18-3-1 finish to the season, while Dortmund floundered down the stretch during the Rückrunde. Despite being seven points down at the end of the first half, Bayern managed to chase down BVB and finish in first place in the Bundesliga.

I cannot stress this enough: Bayern were really, REALLY, REALLY good during the second half of last season. Thomas Müller, whose struggled contributed to Bayern’s poor start to the season, rekindled his on-field chemistry with Robert Lewandowski, and began racking up goals and assists again. Serge Gnabry had a torrid second half as well, and Mats Hummels, who also had a horrible first half, seemingly flipped a switch and turned back into an elite defender. Propelled by a combination of youth and a return to dominance of Bayern’s core, the Bavarians shredded through the Bundesliga and deservedly won the Meisterschale and the DFB Pokale.

Things were really looking good for Bayern. They managed to send off Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry with a domestic double, and Chairman Uli Hoeness was promising a €200 million+ transfer window that would revitalize an already strong club, and turn it into a European powerhouse capable of going toe-to-toe with the Manchester City’s and Barcelonas of the world.

So why, only three months later, is Bayern’s fan base in such a meltdown? Why did Bavarian Football Works predict that Dortmund will win the league this season?

Bayern’s Tumultuous Transfer Window

In a vacuum, Bayern’s transfer window hasn’t actually been that bad. They broke their transfer record on Lucas Hernandez, a star center back in his prime from Atlético Madrid, and Benjamin Pavard, a standout player who helped propel France to a World Cup victory last summer. They also signed Ivan Perisic, who can be a valuable depth option on the wing to replace the production of the retired Robben and Ribéry. Aside from the departure of those two, Mats Hummels, and James Rodriguez (who was never that good for Bayern anyway), Bayern kept their core intact and strongly bolstered their back line.

The reason why such a decent transfer window seems so bad is because of the context. As I mentioned above, Uli Hoeness promised a truly transformational summer. Bayern fans were teased with the possibility of nine-figure purchases of truly world class players like Timo Werner or Kai Havertz. Instead, as the summer went on, a seemingly endless procession of transfer rumors fell through. First, it was Matthjis de Ligt. Then, it was Callum Hudson-Odoi. It now looks like Leroy Sané might fall through, depending on whether Bayern considers the Manchester City winger’s ACL tear a deal-breaker.

With each passing transfer saga, it appeared more and more like Bayern didn’t really have a concrete transfer strategy. Bayern’s main targets either didn’t have interest in joining Bayern, had other clubs in mind, or didn’t want to be sold by their respective clubs. When each transfer fell through, Bayern didn’t seem to have a clear backup. Each transfer falling through increased the perception of failure among Bayern fans, even among impressive signings like Hernandez and Pavard. Add to this the context of Borussia Dortmund’s impressive string of quality, affordable signings, and you can certainly understand why Bayern fans might be a bit concerned.

But...

What to Expect Next Season

Bayern’s squad is still... and again, I cannot stress this enough... really, REALLY, REALLY good. I would argue that despite all the impressive transfers that Bayern has made this season, their Starting XI is still mostly better than Dortmund’s. Let’s take a look at Bundesliga.com’s projection for Bayern’s top starting XI:

Ask yourselves this: how many BVB players would make this Starting XI? I would argue that there would only be three locks: Roman Bürki (who yes, at this point is better than Manuel Neuer), Axel Witsel over Javi Martinez, and Marco Reus over Thomas Müller. Outside of this, it’s either questionable or clearly in Bayern’s favor. Bayern’s back four is better across the board. Lewandowski is better than Paco Alcacer. Kingsley Coman is, in my opinion, better than any of Thorgan Hazard, Raphael Guerreiro, or Jacob Bruun Larsen. I think you could make an argument that Sancho might start over Serge Gnabry, and that with a change of formation, Julian Brandt could potentially find a spot, but it wouldn’t be definitive. That gives us three locks and two maybe’s. That’s it, and that doesn’t even take into account players like Leon Goretzka or Corentin Tolisso who can come off the bench.

You might point to BVB’s victory against Bayern in the Super Cup as evidence of BVB’s superiority over Bayern. In response, I’d point out that a) BVB also won Der Klassiker at the WFS last season, and look how that ended, and b) Bayern had a ton of chances, and the result easily could have won a way if it weren’t for some truly appalling finishing and Marvin Hitz standing on his head.

If Bayern has one weakness, it’s a slight lack of depth at the wing (Alphonso Davies and Ivan Perisic are their two current backups), and no natural full backs other than their two starters. Other than that, their squad really is in good shape. The addition of Leroy Sané or a player of similar caliber would clearly improve them, but it’s not like they’re a bunch of scrubs without him.

So what should you expect this season? Well, Bayern are going to be good. Very good. Good enough, in fact, that...

Prediction

I think Bayern are going to win the league again. Yes, Dortmund have improved as a squad, and seem prepared to fight tooth and nail for a title once again, but if I do a player-by-player comparison, I have a hard time justifying picking Dortmund over Bayern. Barring serious injury concerns, Bayern are poised to field a stronger starting XI night-in and night-out. Even though Dortmund could give them a run for their money in Der Klassiker, Bayern has the quality to go out and win consistently in the games that it needs to win, something where Lucien Favre’s BVB have struggled in the past. I think it will be close, but I have to pick the Bavarians to win it all once again.

Prediction: First Place ( )