Bayern Munich feel the heat on two counts as PSG loom after Union blow
Pressure mounts on Hansi Flick as draw gives second-placed RB Leipzig hope of catching up
Bayern Munich head coach Hansi Flick gestures during the 1-1 draw with Union Berlin at the Allianz Arena on Saturday. Photograph: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images
Hansi Flick’s biggest expression of frustration on Saturday afternoon was saved for five minutes from the end of normal time, when a dogged Union Berlin pilfered a hardly inevitable but not exactly undeserved equaliser at the home of the champions, as Marcus Ingvartsen’s scuffed effort rolled over the line. In tandem with RB Leipzig’s easy 4-1 win at Werder Bremen, it trimmed Bayern Munich’s lead at the top of the Bundesliga to five points – an inconvenience rather than a crisis – but the keenest suggestion from hearing Flick shout “Mann!” across the turf was less the effect of the goal itself and more that the coach had been holding it all in over the previous two hours.
The pressure had been building as the minutes ticked away – coming not from Union, or even really from the game itself, but from Bayern’s evolving situation, a rarely experienced, nagging doubt that had arguably begun before the Champions League quarter-final first leg with Paris Saint-Germain last Wednesday and continued to fester during and after the event. The reverse in the rerun of last year’s final was one thing and, despite the three away goals conceded, L’Equipe’s morning-after underlining that 95 per cent of teams to have won 3-2 away in the first leg of a European tie since 1970 had gone on to progress had rarely seemed less relevant.
This is not just Bayern but Flick’s Bayern, a particular Bayern built not just on will and self-assurance but upon daring and a deep well or invention. On other knockout occasions producing the same or similar, commentators and analysts would have said not to rule out the vanquished as a tension-building, almost contractual obligation. We know what this Bayern side are made of. Yet as absentees mount up, the stress levels are really rising amid a growing sense of internal conflict at Säbener Strasse.
Flick spoke in the wake of the Union draw of the importance “that we regather our strength, switch off and clear our heads”. It felt like a call for calm after his Friday press conference which had made for fraught viewing, as with shades of the beginning of the end for Thomas Tuchel at PSG Flick ventured: “Last year we had a team that – and everyone knows this and everyone will agree with me – was qualitatively better than the team this year,” before making it clear he was shutting down any queries over his future and the Germany job. Outside the floor in the press conference, naturally, the big question won’t go away. Kicker’s traditional Sunday morning poll of the week posed the question of who is more important for Bayern – Flick or the sporting director, Hasan Salihamidzic?
“Outwardly and inwardly,” Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Christof Kneer wrote this week, “the club does not speak with one voice” and, of course, it never has. This is the price for traditionally having the strongest upstairs structure of any club in the European game. Yet while Bayern’s coach might often be a pawn in a power struggle, he is rarely a participant. While the differences between Tuchel’s differences with Leonardo at PSG and Flick’s with Salihamidzic are clear, with Flick openly identifying himself as part of Bayern’s bumps in the road on Friday and very deliberately stating he still has “a great team” at his disposal, the friction is clear.
Every time Jérôme Boateng, a Flick favourite invited to find himself a new employer at the season’s end by Salihamidzic, appears it comes to mind. Even Tiago Dantas, the diminutive Portuguese midfielder who performed creditably against Union on his first start, is a minor symbol of the conflict; brought on loan from Benfica at Flick’s behest and unlikely to have the permanent option on his services taken up, yet blooded into the first team by the coach after Bayern had already indicated to the Portuguese giants that would be the case.
Dantas’s inclusion was not political with Flick down to the bare bones, recalling the personnel difficulties that stymied Bayern’s efforts towards a comeback in 2015’s semi-final with Barcelona. The much-changed team to face Union contained two debutants in the XI (Dantas and Josip Stanisic) and another three on the bench without a first-team minute to their name before Saturday. The minute the fist-bumps between Flick and his opposite number Urs Fischer and their support staff were effected on the final whistle, the Bayern coach’s thoughts switched to Tuesday, publicly. Privately, they were already there.
There is much to ponder. Robert Lewandowski’s hope of a near-miraculous comeback for the second leg seems destined to end in disappointment, so the withdrawal of Kingsley Coman against Union (precautionary, according to Flick) and the absence of Leon Goretzka – not a direct replacement for the prolific Pole by any means, but a substantial target for his partner-in-crime Joshua Kimmich’s favourite diagonal ball from infield – with muscle tightness are major issues. The Goretzka-Kimmich partnership is at the heart of the best Bayern, and any curbing of this would be a sharp brake on the team’s ability to build momentum on Tuesday, and a huge boost to PSG. With Serge Gnabry having pulled out on the eve of the first game after a positive Covid-19 test and still quarantining for the return, Bayern have little room for manoeuvre.
In an era when few care to consider the influence of luck in Europe’s premier knockout competition Bayern will need an overdue helping of it but firstly, they will need to recover their sangfroid. Yet just like in 2015, if Bayern are to go down, they will do so with their boots on.