The regime change at Bayern Munich is not going smoothly. Niko Kovac’s job is in peril just a few months after taking over from adored treble-winner Jupp Heynckes.
President Uli Hoeness wanted Heynckes to remain as Bayern boss this season but the coach opted for retirement instead. The veteran has already managed Bayern four times – most recently as a rescue act after Carlo Ancelotti’s tenure drew to a premature close – and he could well be answering the phone for a fifth time in the coming weeks.
Bayern are again in a tailspin; the stability that Heynckes provided as the club roared to a sixth consecutive Bundesliga title is gone. They are languishing in fifth place in the Bundesliga and already nine points behind leaders Borussia Dortmund.
They lost the Klassiker before the international break and their poor form continued over the weekend with a 3-3 draw at home against Fortuna Dusseldorf, which must have felt like a loss with the equaliser coming in the 93rd minute.
Kovac may well be the first victim of Bayern's crisis but, in truth, this is a team which is falling apart from the inside out. The core of the squad remains the same as 2013, when they won the Champions League under Heynckes. If a week is a long time in football then what is five years?
The continued presence of Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, David Alaba, Javi Martinez, Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Thomas Muller in the line-up is testament to the club’s consistency but the time has come to question whether a few of those are past their sell-by date.
In particular, German World Cup winners Neuer and Boateng have been in pitiful form for Bayern over the past few weeks. Legitimate questions now exist as to whether they will ever get back to their dominant best.
Neuer has long been regarded as the best goalkeeper in the world but the forcefield that once seemed to cover him has disappeared. Neuer has conceded a remarkable 14 goals from the last 17 shots he’s faced. That’s not just bad; that’s Claudio Bravo bad.
In terms of goals conceded, this is Neuer’s worst run since becoming a Bayern player. He has failed to keep a clean sheet in each of his last eight games, an unwelcome record last hit in 2010-11, when Neuer was still at Schalke.
Bayern haven’t had a run of games like this, in terms of goals conceded, since 2000. Moreover, this is the first time since 1994 that they’ve gone four Bundesliga matches without a win. Neuer is a problem but he's not the only problem.
“Manuel is not so stable this season because the defence is not so stable,” Fortuna coach Friedhelm Funkel told Sky on Saturday. “He is still our best goalkeeper in Germany. He can’t do anything about the goals.
“But, in a good phase, he might have saved one or two, because he’d play a bit more successfully. People know that now too. Bayern have conceded 17 goals, and that is in just 12 games. They’ve sometimes done that after 34 games!"
Dusseldorf should be the type of game Bayern win easily, particularly from 3-1 up. But there is a great vulnerability about them at the moment and it all stems from their defensive woes.
Neuer cannot be relied upon as he once was but Bayern are so soft through the centre of their defence. There is little any goalkeeper could do, given the quality of the chances being surrendered by Boateng, fellow world champion Mats Hummels and Niklas Sule at centre-back.
Boateng might well have provided a good assist for Muller on Saturday but his defensive work was dire. He turned his back on the cross which first permitted Dodi Lukebakio to score from close range. His contribution for Fortuna’s second, meanwhile, was woeful.
“When I see how Boateng tried to play the offside trap on the second goal – my dear fellow, that was alarming,” Funkel said.
“No coach in the world can do anything about Boateng playing the offside trap only because he’s too lazy to run after his man. He takes two steps forward and wants to get out of a race with Lukebakio. That shouldn’t happen with such a world-class player."
Both Neuer and Boateng have suffered significant injuries during the past couple of seasons and are performing a long way beneath their once world-class standards. Neuer’s metatarsal injury towards the end of 2017 kept him out for the best part of a year, while numerous thigh and hamstring injuries appear to have caught up with Boateng.
Indeed, there were discussions over the summer about Boateng leaving the club for Manchester United or Paris Saint-Germain but he remains on the books. But for how much longer?
Neuer has a capable deputy in Sven Ulreich – even if he messed up in the Champions League semi-finals last season – and some Bayern fans are asking for his inclusion.
And if Bayern had a bigger pool of talent in the centre of defence, then Boateng would probably be taken out of the firing line too. But Sule and Hummels have been having their struggles too and it’s an area in need of drastic reconstruction in one transfer window or another.
In that regard, Kovac is paying the price for Bayern’s negligence in the summer transfer window. This is a team which clearly had holes in it given their Champions League failure against Real last season but where major changes were needed, only tweaks came.
Loyalty is an admirable quality, but someone has got to get hold of the situation and recognise that this club and these players are not what they once were.