I can picture Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola hunched over in his kitchen, still dressed in one of his typically immaculate suits, a couple buttons undone and his tie hastily loosened, remarking aloud about his team’s debilitating injury crisis this season. “Just when I thought we were out, they pull us back in.”
Coming into yesterday’s DFB Pokal semifinal against Borussia Dortmund, Bayern were in great position to repeat their historic treble-winning season of a couple years ago. They had just days before mathematically ensured their fourth-consecutive Bundesliga title, were big favorites in the domestic cup, and were rounding into form and shape to challenge for the Champions League. After injuries hampered their performance in the first leg of the UCL quarterfinals against Porto, they blew them out in stunning fashion in the return leg and eagerly awaited the imminent returns of such critical cogs as Arjen Robben, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Franck Ribéry, and hopefully a little further down the line, David Alaba and Javi Martínez.
Instead of cruising to victory during yesterday’s game against Borussia Dortmund and carving out a few minutes for Robben and Schweinsteiger to stretch their legs, Bayern lost the opportunity to win the DFB Pokal, and saw Robert Lewandowski and Arjen Robben fall to significant injuries. That brutal two-handed bash to the side of Lewandowski’s head towards the end of that match really did give him a concussion (because, duh), and it also broke his nose and jaw. And Robben’s brief substitute appearance was made even shorter when he pulled up with what was discovered to be a season-ending torn calf muscle.
At this point it’s unclear how much time Lewandowski will miss, but the odds of him suiting up for a semifinal match against Barcelona a week from today look long. Schweinsteiger managed to come through his sub appearance yesterday without injury, which will be a boost to Bayern’s depleted midfield, but they’ll still be hobbling into what are now essentially their season’s final two games of any significance.
Earlier this month, Medhi Benatia was injured for the 52nd time this season (though he too made his return after about three weeks out in the Pokal semifinal), Holger Badstuber was just recently lost for the season, no one knows when Ribéry will be back, and who knows how Martínez will look after being sidelined for so long. Almost all of Bayern’s key players have spent some time on the training table, and while it looked like everyone would come back at just the right time, here comes all of this.
For as often as dumb NFL fans impugn the physical nature of soccer, the two sports actually have more in common on the injury front that they realize. In both games, making it through the gauntlet that is the grueling schedule without too many key injury casualties is often even more important than your roster’s raw talent when it comes to determining who winds up celebrating at the end of the season.