On the opening day of the Bundesliga season, when Bayern Munich were getting in up to the elbow on Eintracht Frankfurt, just the defending Europa League champions, the joke on Twitter was that the league title was already decided. It was only half in jest. Munich have piled up the last 10 league titles, haven’t really been all that challenged in any of them, and the last couple have been at a true canter. Even losing automatic goal-per-game cyborg Robert Lewandowski didn’t seem to matter much, as Sadio Mané looked to have blended seamlessly into the front line that looked a little more dynamic with his varied movement.
That feeling didn’t dissipate as Munich rolled up two more wins in the next two weeks by a combined 9-0 over Wolfsburg and Bochum. We looked set to have yet another season-long debate about the “50+1” model of German football that a lot of people think keeps Bayern unreachable for anyone else, but also keeps the game overall much healthier in Germany than just about anywhere else.
Well, funny thing about that…
Munich haven’t won any of their last four matches in the league, drawing three and losing yesterday to Augsburg. They are currently fourth in the Bundesliga, could drop to fifth depending on what Hoffenheim does later today, and are five points behind the Jordan Pefok-inspired Union Berlin at the top of the table (Jordan Pefok, the striker so good that Gregg Berhalter didn’t want to insult him by making him spend time with the USMNT this week).
So is there anything here? Could Munich actually have to scrap for an 11th straight title? Dare we whisper about the possibility of them… not actually winning?
It’s hard to get there. The metrics still love Munich. They have a five-goal lead in expected goals for the season at 17.7, having actually scored 19. They’ve been just about as miserly as anyone, having the third best expected-goals against on the season, behind only Union and Koln. No one even comes close to them on shots and shots on target per game. And of course, they lead as well in shots and shots on target against per game. If the metrics and the numbers on the field start to shake out together, we know where this goes.
That doesn’t mean weird things haven’t been happening to Munich. They were on the receiving end of the greatest goalkeeping performance of all-time in Germany by Yann Sommer, which kept them to a draw at home against Monchengladbach. They drew against Union when Union scored with one of just their two shots on target while Bayern managed six on target and 21 overall. Same story in their following draw with Stuttgart, as the latter scored with both of their shots on target. And then yesterday they simply couldn’t find the net, even though they piled up 1.8 xG. In this four match winless streak, Munich have compiled 8.8 xG while only scoring four times.
There are probably more than a few Munich supporters who are looking at Mané, who hasn’t scored in these four games (he’s started three of them), taken 12 shots and not scored with any of them. IT’s just about the most unfair aspect in world soccer to be compared to Lewandowski’s metronomic habit of finding the net, but that’s the job one takes on. But then, none of Munich’s forwards have really fired in this stretch. Only Leroy Sané has scored amongst their regular starters in their front three. Thomas Müller hasn’t found the target.
Fatigue may also be an issue. A draw and a loss have followed their Champions League excursions (where they are admittedly 2-for-2 over Inter and Barca). That pace isn’t going to stop once this international break is over, and there is unlikely to be a club anywhere in Europe that won’t feel the crunch.
Still, that feeling of hope fades pretty quickly when looking at Munich’s defensive stats, all of which are better than they were last season. Though they don’t have as many pressures in the attacking third as last season according to FBRef.com, that’s mostly due to them having the ball all the time. According to Understat, they have upped the pressure when they don’t have the ball, dropping their passes per defensive action to just 6.40, lowest in the league by 25 percent (PPDA measures how quickly a team attempts a tackle or interception in the opposition half when the other team has the ball). Mané’s greater mobility and energy than Lewandowski play a role here.
Munich are allowing way less progressive passes this season (passes that travel more than 10 yards from the deepest point of the last six passes or any pass into the penalty area), down to 16 from 25 last year. Opponents are completing just 68 percent of their total passes vs. 75 percent last season. Teams are putting up just 11.5 shot-creating actions per match after 13 last season. Manager Julian Nagelsmann has imported some of his Leipzig seasoning to turn Munich into a more furious pressing and defensive team.
This would appear then to be nothing more than a weird blip of finishing, bad for Munich and good for a string of opponents, but not a trend. In this condensed season, more weird things will happen, but given when the underlying numbers say, the world isn’t about to shift just yet.