😰 On the verge of crisis: Why are Bayern Munich suddenly beatable?

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Lewis Ambrose

Article image: 😰 On the verge of crisis: Why are Bayern Munich suddenly beatable?

Lokomotiv Moscow, FC Köln, RB Salzburg, Borussia Dortmund, Werder Bremen, RB Salzburg (again), VfB Stuttgart, Atlético Madrid, RB  Leipzig, Union Berlin, VfL Wolfsburg, Bayer Leverkusen, FZV Mainz, Borussia Mönchengladbach. And Holstein Kiel.

They’ve all scored against the German champions since Manuel Neuer last kept a Bundesliga clean sheet on 24 October.

After eight Bundesliga games in a row saw Bayern go 1-0 down and avoid defeat, they finally took the lead last Friday. And made it 2-0, too. But, this Bayern, this season, aren’t what they were. And Borussia Mönchengladbach rallied to win 3-2.

“We need to put more pressure on the ball and look at when there’s no pressure on the ball, then make sure there isn’t a threat in behind,” Hansi Flick said in the week. “Right now we’re making the wrong decisions.”

But can it all be about decision-making from individuals when it’s wrong so often? Losing to Gladbach can happen, sure, but what followed on Wednesday just cannot.

Bayern twice took the lead as they met second tier Holstein Kiel. And were twice pegged back before losing on penalties, suffering their earliest DFB Pokal exit since the 2000/01 season. The treble, then, won’t be repeated.

And if Bayern aren’t careful, they won’t repeat last season’s Champions League or Bundesliga successes either.

With 19 wins and a single draw, Hansi Flick’s side picked up 58 of the last 60 available points in the Bundesliga last season. Of those 19 wins, 16 were by more than one goal.

This season, they’ve already dropped 12 of the 45 Bundesliga points available to them. And it could’ve been more. Of their 10 wins, only five have been by more than one goal.

The fact they have fallen behind so often this season illustrates that they aren’t at the same level defensively — only five Bundesliga teams have conceded more this season, only four have fewer clean sheets — but it suggests something even more important about their opponents.

They aren’t afraid of Bayern Munich anymore.

They aren’t resigned to defeat before a ball is kicked. They aren’t even resigned to defeat when they find themselves behind.

There’s no other explanation for their two results over the last week. Or the fact that Mainz took a 2-0 lead at the Allianz Arena the week before.

Of course, Bayern won that one 5-2 in the end, such is the firepower at Flick’s disposal. But that won’t happen every game. It can’t happen every game. You can only get away without keeping clean sheets for so long.

Perhaps the most concerning thing is that no end is in sight. Bayern aren’t improving and they’ve conceded in 10 consecutive Bundesliga games now. And that’s with Manuel Neuer in good form.

Niklas Süle looks unsure of himself after almost a year out with an ACL tear.

Jérôme Boateng and David Alaba, who superbly steered the defence as Bayern won the treble last season, are both in the final six months of their contracts and set to leave the club.

Left-back Alphonso Davies has had some injury problems this season and doesn’t quite look like himself, while right-back Benjamin Pavard was hooked at half-time against Mainz with Flick admitting the Frenchman maybe rushed back from injury in the summer.

But Bayern can’t even rest him, because Joshua Kimmich is too important in midfield and Bouna Sarr is a complete liability.

With fixture congestion a bigger problem than ever, Bayern’s intense, co-ordinated pressing from last season has dropped off, and the defence is suffering as teams find the time and the space to get in behind them.

In a normal season, Bayern wouldn’t be too worried. Things would be sorted in January.

Not in the transfer window, but off, and then on, the training pitch. The Bundesliga usually enjoys the longest winter break of the major European leagues, with players given a couple of weeks off, then a couple of weeks to train ahead of the season’s restart.

But not this year.

This year, there was one weekend off. Bayern, in Europe and the Club World Cup, have it even worse than most. Wednesday’s game against Kiel should’ve taken place before Christmas but it was moved so the players could have a slightly longer break.

Ultimately, it has meant an extra 120 minutes in an already packed six weeks.

From now until the end of February, Bayern play eight times in the Bundesliga, once in the Champions League, and twice — right in the middle of that run, on 8th and 11th February — in the Club World Cup in Qatar.

Include their two defeats from the past week and Bayern, from 8 January to 27 February, have a 52-day run with a game every four days on average.

A game every four days with an increasing reliance on Manuel Neuer, 34, to produce the goods at one end of the pitch and Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Müller, 32 and 31 respectively, to do the same at the other end.

By hook or by crook, Bayern need to not only start winning again but do so convincingly. Winning isn’t enough. They need opponents to feel hopeless before kick-off. They need to canter to victories. Because exerting themselves over 90 minutes every single game could see it all come crashing down.

Next up, on Sunday, they host a Freiburg side who have just won five consecutive Bundesliga matches for the first time in their history. And have enjoyed a week off to prepare for the game.

Bayern remain top of the Bundesliga, two points clear of RB Leipzig, and are still one of the heavy favourites for the Champions League.

But their season will be hanging in the balance if they don’t improve at the back. And quickly.