As Carlo Ancelotti closes in on yet another title he will surely take a deep breath in after what has been a not so easy season. The Bayern boss has seen his side struggle at times to exert its dominance on a league that it has controlled fairly easily over the last six years or so. Bayern’s dominance of the Bundesliga is without question but in recent seasons the gap between them and the chasing pack appears to be shrinking. The proverbial cracks are appearing in Bayern’s armour and that may indicate the need for change sooner rather than later. Old age is catching up with the Barvarian team in more than one sense.
The need for change was highlighted in their 3-2 semi final German Cup defeat this year at the hands of Borussia Dortmund. Despite leading the game 2-1 at half time, Bayern appeared to fade and tire as the game went on as Borussia upped the pace of the game by giving its younger stars who had energy to burn more of the ball. Goals from Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and 19 year old french sensation Ousmane Dembele ultimately settled the game and sent Dortmund through to the final against Frankfurt. This most recent defeat means that Bayern haven’t won a game in five attempts with their last victory being ironically against Dortmund in the league at the beginning of April. Over those five games though Bayern were knocked out by Real Madrid in the Champions League, held twice in the league by Bayer Leverkausen and Mainz and knocked out of the German Cup. With only four games left, Bayern should manage to stumble over the finish line and in doing so lift their five successive Bundesliga title. But Ancelotti will know that Bayern needs refreshing before the start of next season if they are to lift the title again and hold off their main competitors.
Bayern unlike its rivals in the league are an aging team with more than a handful of key players on the wrong side of 26 (the league average). Indeed two of its most influential players in recent years are set to retire at the end of current season. Captain Philip Lahm (33) and midfield anchor Xavi Alonso (35) will hang up their boots after remarkable careers leaving sizable and notable gaps in the Bayern squad. Added into this, wingers Arjen Robben (33) and Franck Ribery (34) are speeding towards the end of their careers although are still both classified as important members of the squad.
More worryingly for Bayern is the lack of youth products coming through and breaking into the first team. Arguably other sides like Dortmund and Schalke have better youth development programs that are bearing fruit on a semi regular basis. Just a quick look at either squad will show that at least 20% has come through youth development channels in recent seasons. But for Bayern it’s less than 15% and even those that have broken through have been limited to very few minutes on the field. That’s not to say that Bayern does not have talent coming through its youth ranks, it certainly does (Marco Stefandl, Sinai Kurt, Gianluca Gaudino etc) but it’s simply not at the same rate as some of its main competitors.
Luckily for Bayern they can and have been able to flex their financial muscles over the past few years and have bought some talented younger players like Kingsley Coman (transfer confirmed for end of season after successful loan spell), Renato Sanchez and Joshua Kimmich. All three have featured regularly this season under Ancelotti with Sanches in particular impressing. Its likely that Ancelotti will add to this trio in the summer with the transfer of Niklas Sule already confirmed and rumours surrounding Julian Brandt also gathering weight. The manager and the club are aware of the issue of having an aging squad as is captain Lahm who spoke publicly of his concern at the beginning of this season. The former Germany World Cup winning captain told Sport Bild that it was “important that the club starts to think about this (the aging squad) at an early stage”. He called it a huge task to replace the likes of Robben, Ribery and Alonso in the squad over the next couple of years with Neuer, Rafinha and Vidal also mentioned as concerns for later as they too enter the latter parts of their careers. A huge task indeed but one that Bayern are very capable of doing given their vast resources and current domestic and international pull.