Never before in Bundesliga history has a team been as dominant as Bayern Munich have been over the past six years. Their title-winning streak, which has seen the Bavarians crowned German champions for six straight seasons, is the longest and most sustained the division has ever seen, and yet Bayern Munich find themselves at a crossroads.
Ultimately, Bayern finished top of the Bundesliga pile by a commanding 21 points last season, but their campaign wasn’t without its turbulence, with Carlo Ancelotti sacked in September and Jupp Heynckes lured out of retirement as his short-term replacement. Now, Robert Kovac starts his tenure at the club with questions being asked of his credentials for such a role.
Indeed, Bayern Munich are a team either nearing, or already in, transition. Club stalwarts like Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben are well into the twilight of their careers, with others like Thiago Alcantara and Jerome Boateng also reported to be keen on an exit from the Allianz Arena. Even Thomas Muller, once the face of the club, is no longer the force he once was. This group of players has delivered great success for Bayern, but there is a sense that it’s finally time for change. For evolution, if not revolution.
In defence, there have been questions asked in recent times, although David Alaba, Mats Hummels, Joshua Kimmich and Niklas Sule should form a solid basis for Kovac to build upon. Plus, Manuel Neuer will be back having returned from injury at the World Cup. Bayern Munich didn’t just miss him as a goalkeeper last season, but as someone to spark passing moves from the back.
Arturo Vidal is gone, joining Barcelona earlier in the transfer window, but with with Javi Martinez, Leon Goretzka, James Rodriguez, Thiaga, Sebastian Rudy, Corentin Tolisso, and Renato Sanches still all at the club, Kovac won’t be short of options in the centre of the pitch. And in attack, the new Bayern Munich boss must find a way to re-energise a Robert Lewandowski who has made no secret of his desire to move on this summer.
Not for a long time has there been so many questions asked of Bayern Munich before the start of a new season. This is a club that has its sights firmly set on European success, sacking Ancelotti after an historic Champions League defeat to Paris Saint-Germain last season. They want to dominate the continental game in the way Real Madrid have of late.
But by focussing on Europe, is there a chance that Bayern Munich could take their eye off domestic matters? Schalke finished as the best of the rest in Germany last season, but they have since lost Goretzka to Bayern Munich. The gap appears to be too wide for them to bridge in a single season, with Hoffenheim also in a difficult position as manager Julian Nagelsmann prepares to take over at RB Leipzig next year.
The last team to topple Bayern Munich at the top of the Bundesliga was Borussia Dortmund and despite finishing fourth last season, it’s difficult to envisage any other club possessing the clout to overthrow the Bavarians any time soon. Their squad isn’t what it was a few years ago and they are still without a new number nine despite looking for one all summer, but Dortmund possess young players like Christian Pulisic on top of established names like Marco Reus, Shinji Kagawa, Mario Gotze, Nuri Sahin and summer signing Axel Witsel. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that they could put up a challenge.
The Bundesliga has become one of European football’s most top-heavy leagues in recent times, with Bayern Munich presumed champions in-waiting season after season. Six titles in a row is expected to become seven by May next year. This Bayern Munich side have spent the past two seasons treading water, though. Maybe one day they’ll start sinking.
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