It has been a crazy week at Säbener Street in Munich. FC Bayern Munich have had a great season but things have changed a lot since 2015 started. Just this month Bayern still have a crucial Champions League quarter-final leg and a DFB Pokal semi-final against Porto and Borussia Dortmund, with a Bundesliga game against Hertha Berlin sandwiched in between.
“Bayern Munich hospital” have a number of injuries to deal with: Arjen Robben (stomach muscle), Frank Ribery (ankle), Bastian Schweinsteiger (virus), Medhi Benatia (groin), Javi Martinez (groin), David Alaba (knee), Tom Starke (ankle). Most of these players are all regular starters and world-class players who are very important and game changers for the team.
Robben and Ribery have scored 28 goals between them and their absence will hurt the team. Alaba, the free-kick specialist, has been among Europe’s top players and is instrumental for Bayern’s defence. Bastian Schweinsteiger is the man Die Bayern can rely upon to control games, but will not be present. Medhi Benatia, the Moroccan, is always a strong defender and a force to be reckoned with. Thankfully, all of them are well on the way to recovery: even Schweinsteiger, who suffered one of the longer-term injuries, has been seen completing laps around the training ground.
In the Bundesliga match two Saturdays ago against Eintracht Frankfurt, Bayern Munich proved they are beyond injury problems and bad refereeing. With most of their players injured, Bayern managed to win 3-0 at Allianz Arena with a brace from the ever-reliable Robert Lewandowski and a beautiful finish from Thomas Müller.
It was under these circumstances that Bayern flew to Portugal last Wednesday for the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final clash against Porto. Claudio Pizarro, who was originally travelling with his team-mates, also stayed back in Munich.
The match was probably Bayern’s worst game of the season. From the start, Porto broke up Bayern’s play, and a series of defensive errors meant that Porto shockingly won 3-1. Xabi Alonso and Dante made two poor defensive errors, the former of which caused Manuel Neuer to give away a penalty. The tragedy didn’t end there. Thiago Alcantara, who had only recently returned from an injury which kept him out for over a year, did manage to bring one back before half-time, but another defensive error, this time from Boateng, meant that Porto scored again.
Dante had his worst game in a Bayern shirt: he was lucky not to make more mistakes leading to goals, passed the ball recklessly, and did not produce a performance warranting a place anywhere near the starting eleven. One thing’s for sure, Bayern badly needed all of the players whom they were missing.
Bayern were much better in the second half, though they conceded again, but the game started to lose control as the referee dished out seven yellow cards. Alex Sandro and Danilo will be missing for Porto in the second leg at Allianz Arena, and Guardiola’s men will badly need to exploit what Porto are missing.
Mario Götze has suffered a dreadful run of form recently, and this was shown again last week. Manuel Neuer, the best goalkeeper in the world, managed to make some brilliant saves, but will be disappointed to have let three goals past him, though the defence is much more to blame than he is.
Sebastian Rode and Holger Badstuber, the substitutes, both changed the rhythm of the game when they entered and helped their team improve, but that was not enough to change the result. Whether or not the pressure got to the players, the performance was inexcusable and, injury problems or not, they are able to play much better football, as they will need to in the second leg.
Götze will be fit for the Champions League match, whilst Alonso and Boateng were left on the bench over the weekend out of caution. Pep Guardiola, despite the current difficulties, is still perfectly happy. He said in a recent press conference: “More than ever, I want to fight on with these players. These players are my heroes. They’ve been outstanding.” Even Captain Philipp Lahm was out for last Saturday’s game because he was ill, but nobody is sure as to how long he will be out for.
On Saturday, Bayern beat Hoffenheim 2-0, and Guardiola played a number of his youngsters. Lewandowski, Bernat, Götze and Müller were in better shape than they had been in the Champions League, looking much more potent in attack. Manuel Neuer was sensational as ever, making some jaw-dropping saves which prevented Bayern from conceding a number of goals.
However, the highlight of the match was Rode’s beautiful goal after Lewandowski’s shot failed to find the net. It was a beautiful finish from Rode who had five Hoffenheim players surrounding him. His goal was rather Robben-like and he may well start against Porto, which would greatly be to the benefit of the team. Bayern’s defence was no stronger than it was against Porto, and Badstuber’s and Dante’s communication was almost non-existent. Thiago, brought on in the second half, showed just how important he is to the team, and will need to be at his best for Bayern to cut the deficit in the Champions League. The Bundesliga championship seems to be sealed, but the defence must improve vastly if Bayern are to stay alive in Europe.
Will Bayern learn from their mistakes and complete the comeback, or will they go out in the Champions League before the semi-finals for the first time since 2011? If any team can complete the comeback, it’s Bayern Munich.
Possible Bayern Munich Starting XI line-up: Neuer, Boateng, Alonso, Rafinha, Bernat, Thiago, Lahm, Götze, Müller, Weiser, Lewandowski (4-2-3-1)