An awful lot has happened at Bayern Munich since the Bavarian giant won an unprecedented treble of the German Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal (German Cup), and the UEFA Champions League in 2013. For starters, Jupp Heynckes, coach of that historic team, announced early-on that he would be stepping down at the end of that season. Soon thereafter, club president Uli Hoeness announced that he was stepping down, too, owing to the fact that he was heading to prison for tax evasion. However, prior to his sentencing, Hoeness tried to secure Bayern’s immediate future by recruiting Pep Guardiola, winner of 14 titles during his three years at Barcelona, who was on sabbatical in New York City at the time, to replace the departing Heynckes.
If Heynckes’ Bayern was all about organization, physicality, and the clever playmaking of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, Guardiola’s Bayern would be -- as it was at Barca -- all about possession and high-pressing whenever the team lost the ball so it could be regained quickly.
Predictably, the transition to a new style of play was not always easy
However, aside from the additions of central midfielder Thiago Alcantara and forward Mario Goetze in the summer of 2013, Guardiola assumed a team whose personnel had mostly remained the same. Nevertheless, Bayern went on to win the Bundesliga and the DFB-Pokal for the second year in a row.
Ahead of his second season, with a view towards bettering the club’s semifinal finish in the UCL in the prior campaign, Guardiola beefed up his signings, adding striker Robert Lewandowski, central defender Medhi Benatia, left wing-back Juan Bernat and the veteran deep-lying playmaker Xabi Alonso.
For the first two-thirds of the season, Bayern was absolutely flying. While Ribery endured yet another injury-hit campaign, Robben was indisputably the club’s— -- indeed, the Bundesliga’s -- best player, aided by Alonso’s incredible vision from deep-lying positions a la Andrea Pirlo at Juventus.
However, aside from Alonso, Guardiola’s signings had once again failed to have the impact he wanted
And yet, despite this, it was all going swimmingly for Guardiola until Robben—himself ever-injury prone—was forced to leave the match against Borussia Monchengladbach on Mar 22 with a torn abdominal muscle, effectively ending his season at the worst possible time. With Ribery also failing to recover, Bayern suddenly found itself exposed. In the absence of the speedy wingers, Alonso’s form dipped as both he and Bayern failed to find suitable replacements for them.
In the 13 games since Robben fell injured, Bayern scored 18 goals and conceded 15 in all competitions -- stats that are somewhat skewed given Bayern 6-1 skewering of FC Porto in the UCL quarterfinal second-leg on April 21. Nevertheless, these stats speak for themselves.
Which brings us to our point for today: with season two of the Guardiola reign now over following Tuesday’s 5-3 aggregate loss to Barcelona in the UCL semifinals, both Bayern and its coach find themselves at a crossroads. But regardless of whether Guardiola stays or goes, the Spaniard’s future looks brighter because he is still a young, in-demand coach who could easily bring his talents elsewhere.
The club, on the other hand, has a real short-term dilemma on its hands, because it needs to replace what looks increasingly like a creaking spine. Aside from Robben and Ribery, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Alonso are all now on the wrong side of 30. If anything, this season showed that the club has become overly reliant on a team of veterans that it can’t count on to play 50+ games a season anymore; Guardiola proved that Bayern will not win the UCL again with veterans as the club’s base. And while the likes of Thiago, who has finally recovered from injury, and Lewandowski look promising, the German giant needs to sign three-to-four big-name players this summer to fill the big boots of its veterans when they finally decide to move on.