bundesliga

Why Bayern Munich will get back on the winning horse sooner rather than later

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Bayern Munich are winless in four Bundesliga matches for the first time in over 20 years, while 12 points from a possible 21 marks their worst return at this juncture since 2010/11. Should the record champions be worried? Not with Sadio Mane & Co. in the ranks...

Bayern started 2022/23 in ominously good form. After brushing aside DFB Cup winners RB Leipzig in the Supercup (5-3), they set the tone with a 6-1 rout of UEFA Europa League holders Eintracht Frankfurt on Bundesliga Matchday 1. The defending champions made light work of Wolfsburg (2-0) and Bochum (7-0), before hitting a Yann Sommer-shaped wall in their 1-1 draw with Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Since then, Bayern have dropped points to leaders Union Berlin (1-1) and VfB Stuttgart (2-2), and lost to Augsburg (1-0). As a result, they resume their pursuit of a record-extending 11th successive Bundesliga title with ground to make up. Julian Nagelsmann's side host Bayer Leverkusen in Matchday 8's opening fixture, five points adrift of the summit.

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"We had a lot of chances, but we wasted a lot of presentable opportunities - we were too sloppy in the final third," opined Nagelsmann after Bayern failed to score for the first time in 87 Bundesliga matches, in the shock derby reverse at Augsburg.

"Augsburg played with real courage, they pushed everyone forward. We conceded, and from then on it was tough. We just wasted loads of chances. At the end of the day, we've not been picking up enough points. We've had plenty of chances to win."

Nagelsmann is only communicating the facts. Across their previous four fixtures, Bayern's shot count totalled 95, but the end product was four goals. In their first three league games of the post-Robert Lewandowski era, the Bavarians averaged a goal roughly every fifth shot (a record 15 from 69). According to Expected Goals (xG), they've dipped from +6.5 after Matchday 3 to -4.9 heading into Matchday 8. In other words, they should be roundabout five goals better off.

Bayern had scored in every league game going as far back as 9 February 2020, prior to the 1-0 Augsburg loss. - IMAGO/osnapix / Titgemeyer/IMAGO/osnapix

That they're not can be partly explained by an uncharacteristic creative downturn. The 31-time Bundesliga champions carved out 13 clear-cut chances in the wins over Frankfurt, Wolfsburg and Bochum, taking eight of them. Compare that to their last four league matches, in which only six of their openings could be termed 'clear-cut', and not one resulted in a goal. Two of the four goals they did manage to score, came via crosses from out wide.

Bayern's output has decreased in other areas. They were league leaders for sprints (254) and second for intensive runs (739) after three matches. Across the current four-game winless run, there has been a respective drop-off of 15 (239 sprints) and 44 (695 intensive runs). Nagelsmann's team have also conceded at least once in each encounter, having been breached just once across the first three.

The jam-packed scheduling ahead of the winter FIFA World Cup in Qatar could be seen as a mitigating factor. Between the Gladbach and Union draws, Bayern hammered fourth-tier Viktoria Cologne 5-0 in their rearrranged DFB Cup first-round tie. They also won 2-0 against Inter Milan and Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League before slipping up at home to Stuttgart and away to Augsburg respectively.

Leroy Sane and Jamal Musiala have helped Bayern make a perfect start in UEFA Champions League Group C. - IMAGO / Passion2Press/Markus Fischer

On the one hand, Nagelsmann is blessed with the depth to juggle domestic and continental commitments. On the other, rotation can come at the expense of continuity and results. Between the Supercup and first three Bundesliga matchdays, the Bayern coach shuffled his pack just twice, with four-goal joint-top scorer Jamal Musiala injured and summer signing Matthijs de Ligt handed his full debut against Bochum. They won the lot, by an aggregate score of 20-4.

In the four games Bayern failed to win, there have been between two and five changes to the starting line-up. It's quite plausible that Nagelsmann is not yet set on his strongest composition. New recruits Mane, de Ligt, Ryan Gravenberch, Noussair Mazraoui and Mathys Tel are still finding their feet, after all. Not forgetting Lewandowski's 344 goals in 375 competitives games for the club, which, but the coach's own admission, were never going to be replaced like for like.

Watch: Bayern Munich's new-look attack

Yet it's Bayern's embarrassment of attacking riches that provides so much cause for optimism. Mane has scored five and had six ruled out in all competitions, the rejuvenated Leroy Sane is level with Musiala on four strikes, Thomas Müller and Serge Gnabry guarantee single-season double figures for goal involvement and serial title winner Kingsley Coman has previously been described by Nagelsmann as "Bayern's key". They can't all play at once, but each man has their own game-changing qualities.

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All but ex-Liverpool star Mane and Germany's Sane were present and correct the last time Bayern occupied fifth place in the standings after seven matchdays. They proceeded to clean house, capturing an unprecedented 2020 sextuple of Bundesliga, UEFA Champions League, DFB Cup, Supercup, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup. All things considered, Bayern's latest crop are just experiencing a few teething troubles. Opposition teams will not want to be around for the inevitable form eruption.

Chris Mayer-Lodge