Joshua Kloke is the Toronto FC & Toronto Maple Leafs writer for @TheAthleticTO and member of Sudkurve Toronto, the city’s Bayern Munich supporter’s club. Here, he challenges Carlo Ancelotti to use the DFL Supercup to refresh a tired looking Bayern team.
On Saturday, seven won’t be a lucky number for Bayern Munchen.
The Bundesliga champions are set to take on the DFB Pokal champions, Borussia Dortmund, in the DFL Supercup, the annual contest between Germany’s two best teams from the previous season and their most important pre-season test.
And Bayern have their work cut out for them to repeat as six-time champions of the Super Cup as they’ll be missing seven regulars from their lineup due to injury: Manuel Neuer, Arjen Robben, Juan Bernat, Jerome Boateng, David Alaba, Thiago Alcantara and new signing James Rodriguez.
The sting of losing to Dortmund in last season’s Pokal semi-finals is probably still fresh for bench boss Carlo Ancelotti as he was unable to deliver even the double in his first season at Bayern. So with seven players out, he’ll have to get creative. The problem is, creativity within his lineup and tactical approach was something he lacked last season and in this year’s pre-season as well.
Yes, things have certainly gone from bad to worse this pre-season for Die Roten. A trip through China yielded terrible results, with losses to Arsenal, Inter Milan and AC Milan. Returning home for the Audi Cup, Bayern looked even more lifeless and failed to score a goal against Liverpool and Napoli. Star centreback Mats Hummels called the defeat to Liverpool the “worst game” he had ever experienced at Bayern.
What’s most concerning for Bayern is the aforementioned sense of lifelessness in the squad. Despite exiting the Champions League abruptly early in the quarterfinals last season, there’s no shortage of talent here.
Yet it’s as if that classic mid-season malaise has already set in for Bayern, during which the Bundesliga is inevitably already won and they’ve turned their focus to the knockout round of the Champions League.
Because at Bayern, winning the Bundesliga is a given, winning the DFB Pokal is expected and winning the Champions League is the goal.
But last season, the team fell short largely because of Ancelotti’s lack of creativity. Throughout a dreary winter, the regulars at Sudkurve Toronto, the city’s Bayern fan club, would often throw their hands up in confusion as Ancelotti simply went through the motions, rolling out tired lineups. Even with an ocean of Paulaner to ease the pain, it became clear to the Sudkurve faithful that many of Bayern’s best didn’t feel the same inspiration to play for Ancelotti that they did for previous boss and master tactician, Pep Guardiola.
Ancelotti relied on proven, if at times tired, players. He rolled out his XI most days and let the talent on the pitch sort itself out. Young players, who could have brought a dynamic approach to tired games, including Kingsley Coman, Reanto Sanches and the team’s wunderkid Joshua Kimmich, grew weary on the bench. You can only rely on talent to guide you through games for so long. Eventually, all players, even the uber-talented, required motivation. And to the outside eye, it looked as if Ancelotti barely provided any. Players want to play for coaches who can maximize their talents and push them to improve and adapt to an ever-changing game. Ancelotti did neither, and with his stale 4-3-3, Bayern simply went flat in their attack.
You would think a summer off for most of their stars after a gruelling Euro 2016 would provide respite, but their pre-season campaign has proven otherwise.
So on Saturday, Ancelotti has a genuine opportunity to right the wrongs of the past season and begin to show some creativity both in his tactical approach and his lineup that he hasn’t shown before. Yes, his hand is being forced this time around with many of his preferred players out of the lineup. But with necessity being the mother of all invention, the timing for an overhaul of his lineup couldn’t be better.
Given their injury-filled past, you’re unlikely to get more than half a season out of Boateng, Robben and Franck Ribery anyway, so Saturday serves as an opportunity to see what newcomers Niklas Sule and Corentin Tolisso can offer. And for all of Bayern’s possession-heavy 2016-17 campaign, it’s about time Kingsley Coman and his pace and ability on the ball get a long look. By abandoning the 4-3-3 for 4-2-3-1, Ancelotti will put less pressure on Thiago to spark offense and in turn run him into the ground as he was by the end of last season. Attacking with pace instead of tired possession is just one way for Ancelotti to revamp his ways.
And let’s not forget about Thomas Muller, one of the more creative, unorthodox, players to suit up for Bayern in recent memory. If Ancelotti clamps down on him after one season, could he further get under the skin of Bayern fans, especially given how strong Muller has looked in pre-season?
Obviously Ancelotti is a coach with a tremendous pedigree and he has a squad of incredibly talented players. But as was the case last season, relying on what players and coaches have done in the past instead of adapting to a league full of inventive, young coaches, is problematic.
Ancelotti has done more with less in the past. But it’s high time he gets creative, forces his older players to adapt or die and gives his young up-and-comers a chance to inject some much needed joy into the club. Saturday is as good a time as any to start.