Niko Kovac would probably have earmarked this fixture in the summer as an exciting one full of anticipation, he would be returning to the city of his birth, and the Olympiastadion where he spent four years as a player in the 90’s, as manager of Bayern Munich. By the end of Friday however, his mood was far darker than he would have predicted, not only having overseen Bayern’s first domestic loss of the campaign, but losing only three days after dropped points in the 1-1 draw at home to Augsburg – where their 100% record was ended by former player Felix Gotze four minutes from time.
Such has been Bayern’s hegemony in recent years that since the 2012/13 season, they have never failed to win the title with a gap of less than 10 points. The idea of an actual “title race” in Germany has become fanciful for rivals and neutrals; the Bavarians simply cruising along – domestically speaking – ever since Jupp Heynckes’ side first recovered the title back from Borussia Dortmund five years ago.
Dortmund pounce on the slip
Hertha’s 2-0 win over Kovac’s Bayern on Friday night gave the Bundesliga’s other unbeaten sides – Werder Bremen and Borussia Dortmund – the opportunity to close the weekend at the summit. Werder blew their chance with a disappointing 2-1 loss at the hands of VFB Stuttgart, who themselves were collecting their first win of the season, while Lucien Favre’s Dortmund made the most of Bayern’s failings, coming from two goals behind to produce a late salvo that saw them score four goals that included two from the new boy Paco Alcácer.
Defensive frailty a concern
Maybe the dropped points in midweek could be forgiven or brushed off. Profligacy at its finest: missed chances, over-confident play and a certain complacency that it would be only a matter of time before they made the game safe. Whatever the precise shortcoming in that game, it did feel like nothing more than a blip, something that wouldn’t happen again. Now, after such a convincing defeat in this grand old arena on Friday night, it feels there may be more to it.
The defensive frailty was the most concerning, none more so than in the individual performance of Jérôme Boateng, who gave away the penalty for Hertha’s opener with a careless sliding tackle and followed it with suspect defending that allowed Valentino Lazaro to sprint to the touchline to cross for Ondrej Duda to fire home.
Thin on the ground
Bayern lacked a spark throughout, and despite having 25 shot attempts on goal, of which only five were on target, and 70% possession, a laxity in possession and a rare lack of creativity in the ranks was symptomatic of Bayern’s evening.
The underlying factor beyond Friday’s encounter is that Bayern’s squad not only looks tired, but thin. Having only signed one first team player in the summer – Leon Goretzka on a free transfer from Schalke – the feeling is that even if, as expected, Bayern do shake off their current stumble and go on to retain their Bundesliga title this season, a squad overhaul is needed to provide fresh impetus to a collective unit that, thrilling as they have been, needs younger legs to rejuvenate any hopes of recovering the Champions League crown to Bavaria.
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