Must Do Better!
Scrawled in angry red pen, Bayern Munich are going home with a note for their parents after the first day back in the Bundesliga’s school of hard knocks.
Coach Jupp Heynckes and captain Philipp Lahm made all the right noises as the Christmas holidays drew to a close last week.
Each man lent a steely glint to their eyes as they spoke of a fast start to the second half of the season, one that would leave their competitors in the dust.
But Bayern were the ones to choke when the moment arrived, with a 3-1 loss away to Borussia Moenchengladbach leaving the door wide open for reigning champions Borussia Dortmund and the rest of chasing pack.
Top of the table by three points when the German domestic season entered its winter break in late December, the Bavarian giants have had five weeks to dream of what might be come May 2011.
Wrestling the title back from Dortmund is first on the agenda, but the small matter of a Champions League final at Bayern’s own Allianz Arena is impossible to ignore.
On May 19, the biggest show in the world of club football comes to town, and there would be no better stage for Bayern to re-state their credentials as one of the continent’s best.
If they are to do so, it will take a considerable improvement on Friday’s unsatisfactory submission at Borussia-Park.
Bayern enjoyed the majority of the possession throughout the contest, but their much-vaunted attack, led by Mario Gomez, Arjen Robben and Thomas Mueller, failed to fire.
The only clear chance for the visitors came when a loose ball from a corner fell to Bastian Schweinsteiger in the 76th minute.
The midfielder made no mistake, smacking it home from close range, but it was far too late for his team to salvage anything from the match.
They had already been undone by Gladbach’s live-wire forward Marco Reus, who on January 4 spurned Bayern’s advances to commit his future to boyhood club Dortmund from next season onwards.
Reus netted one goal and Patrick Herrmann two as the home side’s pace and invention on the counter earned them a commanding 3-0 lead.
Manuel Neuer will have nightmares about the first goal—the Bayern keeper sent a poorly attempted clearance straight to Reus, who duly guided the ball into an unguarded net 11 minutes in.
While that glaring error was bad enough, the second and third goals are likely to be of far more concern for Heyneckes and his backroom staff.
On both occasions, Bayern were dispossessed in forward areas, with their defence either caught out or simply bypassed.
In the 40th minute, Robben lost the ball to Filip Daems, allowing Juan Arrango to take possession.
With the Bayern defence backtracking, Mike Hanke threaded a perfectly weighted through ball for Herrmann to run onto, and he produced a smart curling finish to beat Neuer at the far post.
After repelling Bayern’s advances with relative ease, Gladbach struck again with 19 minutes to go as a quick forward pass released Reus down the left flank.
He drew two defenders toward him, before conjuring a brilliant reverse pass.
The move allowed Hermann to beat the offside trap and round Neuer, then tuck the ball home to put the outcome beyond doubt.
As thoroughly outclassed as Bayern were on Friday, panic stations are unlikely to be sounded just yet.
Prior to the Gladbach reverse, the Bavarians boasted the best defensive record in the league, and it remains to be seen if Dortmund can prevent them from regaining their crown.
But if the dream of winning the Champions League on home turf is to be realised, Bayern must cut out the schoolboy errors, and prove better at holding on to their lunch money when a bully like Real or Barca comes to class.