x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Bayern Munich still far from settled side

The German Bundesliga club's stars played better on the international stage, but their opening defeat to Monchengladbach has left questions over form of the back four and goalkeeper.

Bayern Munich, in red, were beaten by Monchengladbach, and there is concern ahead of their visit to Wolfsburg today.
Bayern Munich, in red, were beaten by Monchengladbach, and there is concern ahead of their visit to Wolfsburg today.

Having put themselves on a familiar war footing on the torn battlefield of club versus country for much of the summer, the executives of Bayern Munich will have been gnashing their teeth after Wednesday's 3-2 victory by Germany over Brazil.

For all the club's reflected glory - an unprecedented seven players from Bayern started the game for the national team, and eight took part in the impressive triumph - there was an uncomfortable recognition that the football produced by this Germany team was a good deal better than that shown by Bayern three days earlier.

For Manuel Neuer, Phillip Lahm, Holger Badstuber, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos and Mario Gomez, beating the five-time world champions, Brazil, seems a good deal more than taking on last season's serial relegation flirters, Borussia Monchengladbach, who grabbed three points from the opening league fixture of the season.

But perhaps Wednesday was actually what Bayern's sheepish players needed after Sunday's setback, a chance to restore morale.

That would not be an argument to put too loudly in earshot of Karl Heinz Rummenigge, the vice-president of Bayern and the whole sport's loudest spokesman in favour of international federations conceding more ground - and money - to clubs in the tug-of-war over football's calendar and its hierarchy.

Rummenigge had been studiously creating headlines during the close season, hinting that European clubs might break away from existing governing bodies if their complaints about how much of football's wealth and resources are consumed by international tournaments are not addressed.

Now he hears Germany happily celebrating the "Bayern-Block" in the national team, while Bayern worry about a mental block.

These are very early days, of course. But ahead of Saturday's visit to Wolfsburg, the 2009 Bundesliga champions, there is anxiety about whether Bayern, the league's biggest spenders during the summer, have done enough, or done the right things, to correct the problems that left them well off the pace in trying to defend their 2010 title.

They were lucky, in many ways, to have scraped into pre-qualifying for the Champions League, where they will meet FC Zurich next week.

"Who are we?" was the question that the Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper suggested Bayern pose to themselves, reacting to the opening day upset, the 1-0 loss to Monchengladbach. Changes to personnel have been substantial enough to both offer the alibi that Bayern need a period of adaptation but also to demand uplift.

The position of goalkeeper, so unsettled last season when the then head coach Louis Van Gaal dropped the veteran, Hans-Jorg Butt, and replaced him with the novice, Thomas Kraft, has been filled amid fanfare by Manuel Neuer, Germany's No 1, from Schalke.

The back four has two costly newcomers as well, in Rafinha and Jerome Boateng, who have returned to the Bundesliga after a year away, respectively with Genoa in Serie A and Manchester City in the Premier League.

Neuer and Boateng had both been at fault, conspicuously and even comically, for the goal Bayern conceded last weekend, which began with an unthreatening counter-attack against the run of play.

For Neuer, it would be a particularly uncomfortable debut. There are a group of Bayern fans who have displayed prominently their unhappiness at the club's having recruited a goalkeeper who once provocatively celebrated a Schalke win in front of Bayern loyalists and was a Schalke season-ticket holder from childhood.

During pre-season, Jupp Heynckes, the new Bayern coach, found himself obliged to speak out against the anti-Neuer brigade.

Heynckes's own challenge now is to show himself sufficiently distinct from Van Gaal.

He must assuage fears that by far the most gifted squad in German football can be made tougher to beat and, that, going forward, they can at least look the sum of their talented parts.

sports@thenational.ae