Bundesliga: As Bayern’s rivals gamble, the champions have a seemingly strong hand

With another season of Bundesliga action out of the way and Carlo Ancelotti picking up his first major trophy in Germany, Kevin Hatchard looks at Bayern’s stability as their rivals make managerial moves…

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By their own lofty standards, Bayern Munich have just had a disappointing campaign. They secured a fifth consecutive Bundesliga title, but were pushed hard by RB Leipzig, and failed in the cup competitions. Their old foes Borussia Dortmund dumped them out of the German Cup with a thrilling semi-final victory in Munich, and in the Champions League they were edged out by the eventual winners Real Madrid.

Neutrals with the Bundesliga’s best interests at heart agree the health of the league would be improved by an exciting title race which sees the Bavarian giants genuinely tested. Although RB Leipzig look likely to stabilise with their outstanding coach Ralph Hasenhuttl set to stay put, there are big question marks over some of Bayern’s traditional challengers as we look towards the new season.

Dortmund had a dramatic campaign which featured spine-tingling highs, and a traumatic nadir, the like of which no club should ever have to endure. The attack on the BVB team bus in April, in which thankfully no-one was fatally injured, further laid bare the growing rift between coach Thomas Tuchel and CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke. While Tuchel openly criticised the decision to play a Champions League quarter-final match against Monaco the day after the bus bombing, Watzke supported it. While Tuchel received praise for his handling of the incident and the warmth he showed his players, Watzke was perhaps unfairly cast by some as the bad guy, a man who failed to put his players first.

Tuchel had already fallen out with the club’s influential chief scout Sven Mislintat, and the decision to leave popular midfielder Nuri Sahin out of the squad for the German Cup final angered senior players like skipper Marcel Schmelzer. BVB won the final against Eintracht Frankfurt to secure their first major trophy for five years, but it wasn’t enough to save Tuchel, who was then jettisoned a year before the end of his deal.

Tuchel’s replacement at the helm is Peter Bosz, who lead Ajax to the Europa League final, only to lose to Manchester United in Stockholm. Bosz speaks German and knows the country well after a spell at Hansa Rostock, but even he seemed surprised Dortmund came calling. Although he put together a thrilling young side, Bosz didn’t actually win anything with Ajax, and it took a long time for his ideas to take hold in Amsterdam.

Given Dortmund’s transfer policy has shifted towards signing talented teenagers like Christian Pulisic, Ousmane Dembele, Alexander Isak and Dan-Axel Zagadou, you can understand how Bosz’s ability to develop young talent appealed to Watzke and his fellow powerbrokers. However, this is by far the biggest job of the Dutchman’s coaching career, and he needs to make an instant impact. BVB were hamstrung last summer by losing Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the same window, and now it feels like discarding Tuchel may once again cost them valuable time at the start of a campaign.

Dortmund’s Ruhr rivals Schalke may also have suffered a self-inflicted wound, with the decision to part company with coach Markus Weinzierl after just one season. The arrival of the former Augsburg coach, in tandem with new sporting director Christian

Heidel, was supposed to herald a bright new dawn in Gelsenkirchen, but the gloom deepened.

A series of injury problems meant the team never really played to its full potential in the Bundesliga, and Schalke were always playing catch-up after a start that saw them lose their first five league games. However, Weinzierl seemed to find his feet as the season wore on, and the Royal Blues reached the quarter-finals of both the Europa League and the German Cup. Heidel made some great signings (Naldo, Guido Burgstaller, Nabil Bentaleb) but also some very poor ones. Ukraine winger Yevhen Konplyanka had a disastrous campaign, while ex-PSG midfielder Benjamin Stambouli was publicly criticised by both Weinzierl and Heidel.

Instead of working with Weinzierl to further develop the squad in line with his coaching philosophy, Heidel has pressed the panic button. 31-year-old Domenico Tedesco has been regarded for some time as a hugely promising young coach, and has worked with Julian Nagelsmann, who at the age of 29 has just led Hoffenheim into the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history.

Tedesco showed great promise in the season just gone by keeping Erzgebirge Aue in Bundesliga 2 against the odds, but giving him one of the biggest jobs in German football is a huge risk. Nagelsmann has proved his critics wrong, but he has done so at a smaller club where the pressure isn’t so smothering. If Tedesco proves to be a success (he has a talented squad to work with), then this will look like a masterstroke from Heidel. However, if the gamble fails, the decision to part ways with Weinzierl so quickly will seem hasty and unwise.

Bayer Leverkusen is another big club venturing into the unknown. Last season Die Werkself made two bad coaching decisions that almost proved catastrophic. Firstly, they held onto coach Roger Schmidt for far too long, even though his relationship with his players had clearly deteriorated to the point where they simply weren’t listening anymore. Then, in a bizarre move, they tried to coast to the end of the season with Tayfun Korkut. Although he insisted his appointment wasn’t a stopgap, everyone else knew he was merely a placeholder, and crucially that included the players.

Leverkusen only finished four points clear of the bottom three, but they still have a squad packed with young talent, and a solid infrastructure for a coach to rely upon. Therefore, it came as a surprise when they went from being linked with an ambitious move for ex-BVB coach Tuchel, to bringing in former Bayer striker Heiko Herrlich.

Herrlich has vast experience of top-level football from his playing days, and as a coach he has taken Jahn Regensburg from the fourth tier to the second in just two seasons. He plays a high-tempo, aggressive style, which is presumably what caught the eye of sporting director Rudi Voeller, and his previous experience of playing for the club should buy him time with a fanbase that isn’t particularly strident anyway.

However, just like Dortmund and Schalke, Bayer are making a leap of faith. There are no guarantees in football, but clubs like Bayern like to stack the deck in their favour, and have already signed Germany trio Serge Gnabry, Niklas Sule and Sebastian Rudy. The best chance Bayern’s rivals have of knocking them off their

perch is to hope some of the Bundesliga’s big hitters can make a few dents in the champion’s armour over the course of the season, but it remains to be seen whether three big clubs who have made big gambles are in a position to do so.

 

You can follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinHatchard

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