Bayern Munich are stuck in a ‘horror film’ – and Tuchel has little chance of escape

Bayern Munich are stuck in a ‘horror film’ – and Tuchel has little chance of escape

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“It feels like a never-ending horror film,” a shell-shocked Leon Goretzka said after the final whistle.

Bayern Munich’s 3-2 loss at mid-table Bochum on Sunday certainly capped off a nightmarish week of three consecutive defeats for the perennial German champions that have plunged the club into deep crisis.

Now eight points adrift of still-unbeaten Bayer Leverkusen, this oddly unfocused and disordered Bayern team do not look as if they can keep up with, let alone overtake, Xabi Alonso’s men. Their Champions League future hangs in the balance, too, after the 1-0 away defeat against Lazio last Tuesday in the first leg of their round of 16 tie.

Coach Thomas Tuchel put a brave face on things in the aftermath last night. Unlike in Leverkusen (last weekend’s 3-0 defeat) and Rome, he felt his side didn’t deserve to be beaten by Bochum, who began the day just six points clear of the relegation zone and were beaten 7-0 by Bayern in the reverse fixture in September.

“It was Murphy’s Law — everything went against us,” Tuchel said in relation to defender Dayot Upamecano getting sent off for a second time in five days, after committing a foul in the penalty box and his forwards missing three huge chances. “Today, I can’t blame my players. If we were to play this game again, we’d have a high probability to win it.”

Look at Bayern’s expected goals (xG) figure of 3.35, the fact they took 27 shots to Bochum’s 10 and had more than two-thirds of the possession, and Tuchel had a point. 

But success isn’t defined in hypothetical terms in Munich. If they had snatched a late draw against Bochum, or an even later win, it wouldn’t have made their incoherent performance much less concerning.

Midfielder Goretzka’s assessment was more accurate. “It’s individual mistakes we make — and too many of them,” he told the game’s domestic broadcaster DAZN. “At the moment, I think we have to question everything.” Asked if he still believes Bayern can win the Bundesliga this season, his verdict was even more pointed: “Not right now. I’m being honest about that.”

For the umpteenth time since Tuchel’s reign began 11 months ago, the team were a mediocre mishmash of some half-decent periods and spells of timid fragility. That famous Bayern DNA, a deeply held belief in their own magnificence, seems irretrievably buried underneath an ugly splotch of collective uncertainty — or has perhaps been lost amid a sense of dark foreboding.

Instead of taking strength from their run of 11 consecutive league titles, these players appear gripped by the fear of becoming the side that will bring that golden era to an end.

Maybe Tuchel is simply unlucky to have arrived at the inevitable sunset of a historic period of dominance. Bayern were already poor enough not to win the league last season, but somehow fluked another championship when Borussia Dortmund threw it all away with a draw at home against Mainz on the final day.

Tuchel is feeling the chill at Bayern (Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images)

This season, they are objectively a better side than that one — defensively more stable and more efficient up front, courtesy of new signing Harry Kane (25 goals and counting in the league after scoring late on yesterday to halve the deficit) — but still prone to mystifyingly bad off-days that threaten to end their 2023-24 quest for trophies with three months of football still to play.

Internally, there’s talk of too many big, well-paid personalities having lost their hunger. But every single player has lost form and confidence in recent weeks, which brings Tuchel’s role into sharp relief once more.

The 50-year-old former Dortmund, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea manager hasn’t been able to strike up much of a bond with a majority of players in the dressing room after implicitly questioning their credentials on many occasions. “He’s undermined everybody,” a senior member of Bayern’s leadership told The Athletic, on condition of anonymity due to the volatility of the situation at the club.

As countless managers have found before him, tactical proficiency counts for little if you can’t keep the dressing room on your side.

Sunday night saw further signs of disenchantment when midfielder Joshua Kimmich, who had been subbed off in the second half when it was still 11 vs 11, exchanged angry words with assistant coach Zsolt Low at the end of the match. “It’s a normal thing as long as it doesn’t go too far, and it didn’t go too far,” Tuchel said about that incident.

Kimmich was taken off after 62 minutes against Bochum — and wasn’t happy about it (Lars Baron/Getty Images)

Things are bad enough between him and the team, however, for the club’s bosses to consider the situation essentially untenable. The only real question is whether results will allow Tuchel to see out the season.

Bayern have already sounded out their former coach Hansi Flick as an emergency replacement, but some powerbrokers at the club are uncertain whether the 58-year-old can repeat his all-conquering run of 2020 and early 2021 (six trophies) after overseeing horrific results with the German national team, which features half a dozen Bayern players.

The club would much prefer to muddle through with Tuchel and use the time between now and the summer to target a big name who will come in and overhaul the whole squad with fresh momentum for next season. Leverkusen coach Alonso, who starred in midfield for Bayern from 2014 until his 2017 retirement, is unsurprisingly their dream candidate.

Tuchel is meanwhile safe, for another six days at least. Chief executive Jan-Christian Dreesen confirmed to reporters in Bochum that Tuchel would “naturally” be on the bench for the home game against RB Leipzig next Saturday evening but also cautioned that “such oaths of loyalties don’t tend to last more than a week.”

A fourth defeat in a row then could well force the board to pull the plug, even without a ready-made saviour to step in. Bayern last lost as many consecutive games in April and May 2015, but that Pep Guardiola-managed side had already clinched the title by then.

People used to complain the Bundesliga season was routinely over by March. This year, it might not take that long.

(Top photo: Lars Baron/Getty Images)

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