Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich have had the last fortnight to take stock after their 1-1 draw at home to Cologne, which ended Carlo Ancelotti’s winning start at the helm.
Hours after the draw, the players and coach were captured by photographers at the annual Oktoberfest celebrations in the heart of Munich.
Under Ancelotti’s predecessor, Pep Guardiola, this would have been fraught with edginess. The shackles have been loosened on Bayern’s players since the summer, both in terms of personal commitments and media appointments – the Catalan wouldn’t allow one-to-one interviews sometimes up to 60 hours before a game.
“We’re a bit frustrated with the draw, but we have 16 points from six games and we’re definitely top. If that’s a crisis, we can live with it,” said defender Mats Hummels. It’s worth noting, that the usual post-game chat with the sporting director – formerly the outspoken Matthias Sammer who left his post recently – are kept in the can.
But Bayern’s so-called slump in form in the league hasn’t been too surprising. Given the change in coach and the transition from positional play to a more reserved structure, it was always going to require a few weeks to settle. Ancelotti’s side have made hard work of their previous opponents, the matches a portent to what was to come.
Weeks earlier, the Bavarians were fortunate to see off Ingolstadt at the Allianz Arena. It was followed by Joshua Kimmich’s stoppage time winner at Hamburg, then by a defeat at Atletico Madrid in the Champions League. The manner of Cologne’s performance, the compactness and pace on the counter, left few surprised. Frankfurt proposes to be a potential banana skin – last year’s meeting in Germany’s financial capital was a goalless draw.
Return of creators is a boost, Kimmich vital
Through Guardiola’s tenure, it was often Bayern’s intuitive wide men, who came to the fore to breakdown sturdy opponents. Arjen Robben, the wrong side of 30, was practically reinvented by the Catalan coach. From Guardiola’s arrival in 2013 until now, Robben has averaged a goal every two Bundesliga games and has recovered from a bruised rib. Douglas Costa’s absence has been perhaps more of a hindrance given the speed and technique he combines.
The 26-year-old Brazilian has taken to the field just twice in the league season so far. When both Costa and Javi Martinez return from the sidelines, Bayern will have a full compliment to choose from ahead of their Champions League date with PSV Eindhoven next Wednesday. Strains, niggles and long-term fitness problems were par for course under Guardiola, whose demanding approach took its toll.
Yet despite a raft of potential forward options, Bayern’s impetus has come from 21-year-old Joshua Kimmich who has three goals in five Bundesliga outings this season. Kimmich’s talent was acclaimed in German football circles, even as far back as his spell with RB Leipzig on loan. But the certain self-assurance, mixed with classiness and poise on the ball has been a surprise to most.
To a point, Kimmich has answered some of Ancelotti’s queries in midfield. Xabi Alonso, now 34, is struggling with the increased focus on defensive transitions. Thiago has been quiet, while Renato Sanches has needed time to adjust to life at the German champions. So, all over the space of a busy summer which featured a stint at the European Championship, Kimmich has become indispensible.
What his long-term role contains at Bayern is still unanswered: Philipp Lahm remains the first-choice right-back, although the captain turns 33 next month. Kimmich has found the role suitable for the German national team, with the guidance of Joachim Löw, but under Ancelotti, the midfield is noticeably invigorated when the youngster is there.
When Bayern have needed a rush of inspiration and flair, Kimmich has answered the call. However, even with a heightened focus on the collective than previously, Ancelotti’s team haven’t looked as convincing under the cosh. Against Eintracht Frankfurt, who have beaten Schalke and Leverkusen at home this term, the champions have an opportunity to ease those worries.