Wherever he is, George Steinbrenner must’ve smiled and nodded at the news of Bayern Munich firing their manager with three-quarters of the season gone. Not only would that have reminded Big Steinn of his “glory” days (obviously the Yankees didn’t regain their spot atop the baseball world until Steinbrenner calmed the fuck down), but so would the standards that Munich apparently find acceptable and unacceptable. Julian Nagelsmann got shitcanned after winning the Bundesliga last year, and currently one point off the top of the league and in the Champions League quarterfinals. This was not good enough at the Allianz Arena, somehow.
But this is how things look at a club like Bayern when the club has won the last 10 Bundesliga titles and didn’t have to sweat all that much for any of them. Suddenly being in a title race might sound all the “battle stations” cries in the club offices… but it also seems like the most first-world problems of any club in the world. Though Juventus did fire Maurizio Sarri after he won the Serie A because Cristiano Ronaldo told them to, and they haven’t been close since. Could be a lesson there.
So what was Munich’s reasoning? There has been a downshift in their performances this season for sure, but one wonders how much that is Naglesmann’s fault. They’re down from 2.26 points per game last season to 2.08 this, thus the title race they’re mired in (though some of that is attributable to improvement from Borussia Dortmund, the latest team to go full Ewing Theory after the departure of Erling Haaland). The underlying numbers sort of tell the same story. While Munich’s goal difference is +45, just about on track with last season’s +60 after the whole season, their expected goal difference has shrunk from 52.7 in 2021-2022 to “just” 25.9 this season.
Perhaps what scared the Munich higher-ups, if they looked this deeply, is that Munich have been wildly outshooting their metrics so far this season in attack. They have 72 goals from an expected goals count of 53.2. There’s been an uptick in Bayern’s goals-per-shot and goals-per-shot-on-target without any increase in the number of chances or shots they get. That’s been best exhibited by Jamal Musiala and Eric Maxim Choupo-Mouting both just about doubling up their expected goals tally with their actual goal tally. There has been some luck involved (Choupo-Mouting is scoring on 77 percent of the shots he puts on target for fuck’s sake), and maybe Bayern was afraid that luck would dry up in the season’s last two months.
You can point to, however, Munich losing Robert Lewandowski before this season and his replacement, Sadio Mané, barely getting on the field after the World Cup thanks to injury. If Munich cast an eye to Mané’s former teammates in Liverpool and saw the ravages the 63-game campaign of last season had wrought, they’d probably conclude they got slightly damaged goods in Mane. It should be to Nagelsmann’s credit that he’s been able to cobble together so much without a primetime central striker for most of the season.
A hard man to love
It’s hard to believe that Munich would make this move that reeks of desperation so close to the end of the season purely based on metrics though, and with so much to still lose. It’s not hard to see Nagelsmann guiding this team to a treble, which is still very much on. And they could lose all three of those trophies as well, and there will be plenty focusing on the change in manager should that happen.
From some reports, Nagelsmann was pretty hard on his players, and that didn’t really soften over his one-and-three-quarter-year tenure. Nagelsmann also had a habit of bending his tactics to that week’s opponents, which rubbed some players the wrong way. After all, this is BAYERN MUNICH. You show up, do what you do, and make everyone else adjust to you. You don’t concern yourself with the tendencies of the plebes. Or maybe it was just this jacket.
Still, that was more a habit of his when at RB Leipzig, who did need the extra juice of being tactically flexible given that they just didn’t have the talent that Munich had. At Leipzig, Nagelsmann would regularly bounce from a 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 to the traditional Red Bull set-up of a 4-2-2-2. Munich this season have almost exclusively played in a 4-2-3-1, which orbits the team around the strength of Joshua Kimmich and Leon Gortezka in midfield. Nagelsmann did switch to a three-at-the-back system for the first leg against PSG, which saw Munich walk out of the Parc de Princes with a win and eventual advancement. He’d been using that system more in the league of late too. Is that what scared Bayern?
There were also rumors that Nagelsmann never won over Manuel Neuer and Thomas Muller, two institutions on the roster. But they’re both well into their 30s, and Neuer is out for the season with an injury, so if that were true how much longer does Munich plan on catering to these two?
If it was all this, Thomas Tuchel is a funny appointment then, given how much he favors a 3-4-3 system too. Tuchel as well has been known to drive his players nuts after a short while with his rabid attention to detail. His teams were also never known for being terribly dynamic in attack, and Munich already have a water-tight defense. What exactly are they aiming for?
It’s also just about the worst-possible timing for a new manager. There’s currently an international break, meaning Tuchel won’t get his full squad back to train until Tuesday or Wednesday. Saturday sees the visit of Dortmund, the biggest game in Germany this season. 10 days after that is the Champions League quarter against Manchester City, who just dispatched Leipzig eleventy-billion to one or whatever it was in the last round.
This definitely feels a bit like the play the old “FC Hollywood” days. It’s a cold, cold world where even the possibility of only having won 10 of 11 Bundesliga titles is considered a failure, but that’s apparently the deal at Bayern Munich.