All is not well at Bayern Munich. The usual air of dominance which surrounds the perennial Bundesliga champions has faded and been replaced with an unfamiliar uncertainty.
At a club with such high expectations, which has won the last 10 Bundesliga titles, all it takes for a mini crisis to develop is a run of four league games without a win. On Saturday, Bayern were beaten 1-0 by Augsburg. It was their first Bundesliga defeat of the season, yet left them in fifth place, five points off top spot, and there are serious questions about the continued the side’s young manager, Julian Nagelsmann, and whether this is a job that’s, right now, too big for the 35 year-old.
The availability of Thomas Tuchel has stirred the pot further, with rumours circulating that the former Borussia Dortmund man could be targeted by the club’s top brass following his sacking by Chelsea. Here Mirror Football gives you an overview of what is going on in Bavaria, and how things are shaping up as the German giants head into their international break with plenty of questions and speculation swirling.
An unhappy camp?
Nagelsmann took charge at Bayern in the summer of 2021 and the ex-Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig manager has won 70 per cent of his matches in that time. Saturday’s loss against Augsburg was just his seventh in 57 matches across all competitions.
A glance across those statistics makes it hard to believe he is under pressure. But that has never really been the be-all and end-all at the club once known widely as FC Hollywood and when the worm turns, they’ve often wasted little time in making changes previously – just ask Niko Kovac.
Right now, the Bayern camp appears to not be all that happy – and that is partly down to the words of their manager.
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Following a 2-2 draw with VfB Stuttgart on September 10, Nagelsmann appeared to criticise his own players, declaring: “The aggressiveness in possession was a bit lacking, a tad too much control, a bit too little risk and greed to go forward.”
He would go on to point the finger of blame at Serge Gnabry, Leroy Sane and Jamal Musiala. “But we still had three huge chances where you have to score a third goal – with Serge, Leroy and Jamal.”
Lots of Bayern’s players left the Allianz Arena without saying a word to the waiting reporters and reports soon emerged to suggest why. BILD reported that some players believe that Nagelsmann should look at himself rather than blaming his team.
Notably, three days later when Sane – having scored – was substituted during the Champions League win over Barcelona, he stormed off down the tunnel, furious with the decision. Eventually he was cajoled to return to the bench and sit alongside his teammates, but it was another, very public, sign of growing issues at the club.
Bayern signed Sadio Mane, Matthijs de Ligt, Ryan Gravenberch, Mathys Tel and Noussair Mazraoui in the summer transfer window. But it the major departure from the club who has dominated the football talk shows in Germany amid the team’s current problems: Robert Lewandowski.
The Polish striker was the Bundesliga’s top goal scorer for the past five seasons and banged in a frankly ridiculous 344 goals in 375 appearances altogether for the club. His exit to Barcelona was always going to cause problems, but at the moment Bayern don’t seem to have the answers. It is not a question Nagelsmann is keen to answer right now.
“What difference does it make whether I say yes or no?” he snapped on the weekend when asked by a reporter if his side was missing Lewandowski. “It doesn’t matter what I answer. If I say no you’ll all say I can’t see the problem. If I say yes you’ll all say I’m missing Lewandowski. So, it doesn’t matter what I say.”
When Nagelsmann was made aware of Lewandowski’s desire to depart in the summer, he implored those above to not sign a direct replacement – having seen Erling Haaland join Manchester City – as he wanted to harness a more collective responsibility towards goalscoring, with more attacking variation. As such, sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic targeted Mane and was widely praised when he ultimately pulled off the deal.
But after netting five goals in his first six appearances for the club following a £34million transfer from Liverpool, Mane has gone five matches without finding the back of the net. He was guilty of missing a one-on-one with Augsburg keeper Rafal Gikiewicz on the weekend and looked far from his best in front of goal.
Former Liverpool and Bayern midfielder Didi Hamann did not hold back in his assessment of Mane’s recent showings. “He doesn’t look happy to me,” he said.
“He seems isolated and hardly participates in the game. FC Bayern has to get that under control. You could of course put Mane on the side. He would be better off there. However, they already have three great players there in Musiala, Sane and [Kingsley] Coman.”
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Young phenom Musiala has six goals in 10 games, but just one of those has come in the last five matches. Sane has a respectable five strikes in 11 appearances, but Gnabry only has three – and none since August 21.
Having gone from a free-scoring attack, Bayern are now producing far less in front of goal. Again, Nagelsmann’s analysis of the problems was not particularly sensitive to his unhappy stars.
“When I look at the statistics, we should have won,” he said after the Augsburg loss. “We could have tried simple things to play into the space behind (Augsburg’s defence), but we played very laissez-faire in the final third. The trend doesn’t bode well. I’m thinking about myself, about the situation – about everything.”
So far, the Bayern chiefs are unmoved: Nagelsmann is their manager and they will defend him. Oliver Kahn, Bayern’s chief executive, faced the media on the weekend and took Nagelsmann’s side.
“We are not dealing with any other coaches now. We are totally convinced of Julian,” Kahn told Sky Germany. “Of course we are all dissatisfied, in a bad mood. We have to get to the bottom of it all. And assume that as soon as it starts again against Leverkusen, we will and must attack fully.”
He then added cuttingly: “Perhaps one or the other (player) has taken hold of the belief that you could do the Bundesliga on the side. But that’s not the case.”
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Salihamidzic has taken a similar approach to the thorny issue of where things are going wrong: “We haven’t won in four games in the Bundesliga, we got three out of twelve possible points, so I’m a little worried,” he said. “You can’t win in the Bundesliga the way we played today.”
Salihamidzic added: “I said to the coach: ‘It’s more important to me that we’d rather draw once more than that we have too many dissatisfied players.’ Of course Julian is finding his style. This is also a learning process. He hasn’t had a squad like that either.”
Nevertheless, the German media does not think that Nagelsmann is safe from the sack. BILD has reported that Bayern ‘appreciate’ Tuchel, while reporting on a ‘secret clause’ which allows them to sack Naglesmann for a set figure – but which is weighted, meaning the earlier he’s sacked into his five-year contract, the more they must pay in compensation.
Chelsea owner Todd Boehly made the surprise decision to sack Tuchel on September 7. His dismissal came in the wake of a 1-0 defeat by Dinamo Zagreb, but is understood to have been brewing for a while.
So, could he be on the way into employment sooner rather than later, at the club who he so frequently fought against during two years in charge of Dortmund? Tuchel released a statement saying he was “devastated” after being sacked and after a whirlwind summer in which he clashed with Boehly over transfers and experienced a tumultuous time in his personal life due to a divorce, he might want to spend some time out of the game.
But the former Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain manager will certainly have one eye on Bayern’s results following the two-week international break. Nagelsmann’s side will play Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga on September 30 before hosting Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League.
Those fixtures could prove crucial for his long-term employment, not merely in terms of results gained, but more how the team responds and whether they are seen to still be playing for their manager.