If you are a Bayern Munich fan, you might want to look away now. “On Wednesday evening, FC Bayern under the aegis of Carlo Ancelotti reached its low point so far: 2-3 in Rostov—a disgrace.” Come on, Kicker, tell us what you really think, no need to hold back.
“That’s too much,” Bayern captain Philipp Lahm said when the German magazine overstepped the mark and asked whether his club was in crisis after a second successive defeat. “Crisis” is indeed a big word to employ just because the team is not top of the Bundesliga table—they’re second, three points behind leaders RB Leipzig—nor heading their Champions League group.
Their loss—shock loss, it must be said—in Russia does, however, raise a number of worrying issues if you are of the Bayern persuasion or, indeed, Carlo Ancelotti. As Lahm rightly pointed out, per the aforementioned Kicker piece: “We have to stop making mistakes as quickly as possible.”
Mistakes, yes. Gosh, where to start?
The back four is as good or, perhaps, as bad a place as any. Given the five defensive players—including second-choice goalkeeper Sven Ulreich—had probably never even played together in training, never mind a competitive game, their lack of understanding was, well, understandable.
The early mix-up between Ulreich and Holger Badstuber, in the starting XI for the first time in 287 days, that required a last-ditch Juan Bernat clearance to deny Rostov an early goal set the tone for one of the worst defensive performances from the German champions in recent times.
It’s as simple as that, we gave the points away too easily last night. We’ll show our team’s true character on Saturday! #MiaSanMia pic.twitter.com/Da4KkRWiW9
— Philipp Lahm (@philipplahm) November 24, 2016
“We have to say clearly that our opponents didn’t create scoring chances themselves,” Lahm explained in another Kicker report. “We gifted them to them.” It was indeed Christmas come early on the River Don, as Carlo “Santa” Ancelotti’s elves—clad warmly all in red with white trim, appropriately enough—dished out the goodies to Rostov, a hard-working but uninspiring side beaten 5-0 in Munich in September.
The first goal came from a misplaced, ill-advised pass from just inside his own half by Rafinha, the second due to Jerome Boateng’s extraordinarily bad clearance—more on him to come—and the third from a Thiago Alcantara trip that gave a free-kick in a position that any gifted South American worth his salt would gobble up. Christian Noboa of Ecuador, take a bow.
Boateng’s night, which veered from catastrophic to cataclysmic with chaotic in between and ended with him crocked, was remarkable. Remarkable in the sense that it stood out so glaringly as the Germany international centre-back has been the picture of serenity and style in recent months.
The only style he had in Rostov was that of a middle-aged father giving an energetic, hip-grinding interpretation of Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” at a family wedding disco as his horrified teenage daughter looks on through the gaps in the fingers clamped to her face.
Outpaced by Sardar Azmoun on 20 minutes, Boateng was then outmanoeuvred and left prone on the turf by the “Iranian Messi” just before the break, even if Rafinha—for a woeful pass—must take a good portion of the blame for Rostov’s equaliser.
It was not Boateng’s most glorious moment, nor was it even his worst in the match. While his challenge on Noboa should not have led to a penalty, his miscued clearance that presented the Ecuadorian with the opportunity to dart goalwards menacingly was the reason he—and Bayern—was in trouble. “It’s not good enough for the Champions League,” Boateng told Kicker.
If only Bayern had been as incisive at the opposite end of the pitch as they were in their post-match analysis of what was an infamous defeat. Once more, they were not helped by Ancelotti making six changes to the side that lost Der Klassiker in Dortmund last weekend.
The midfield three of Lahm, Thiago and Renato Sanches at times looked like they had never played together. That’s probably because they hadn’t. It meant they trod on each other’s toes at times, and that the link between the back four and the front three was fragile. Yet, there were some encouraging signs, notably from Sanches, whose ability to strike a mean ball from distance was one of Bayern’s sole significant goal threats.
Douglas Costa cut inside promisingly on a couple of occasions in the first half and scored—for which he should be thanking Sanches, who split Rostov with a penetrating dart in from the left—but was otherwise harmless. On the opposite flank, Franck Ribery was uncharacteristically short of verve. With full-backs Rafinha and Bernat providing little width and fewer crosses, Robert Lewandowski was all but redundant. A one-star hotel in the world’s grubbiest tourist trap would have been embarrassed had it provided the sort of service the Bayern frontman was given.
Martin Meissner/Associated Press
Carlo Ancelotti was let down by his players in Russia.
The question now is: where does this leave Ancelotti? Bayern aren’t in the habit of firing their coaches after a bump in the road, though the new boss at the Allianz Arena is hardly helped by one damaging comparison: his predecessor, Pep Guardiola, suffered his third competitive loss in his first season at Bayern when he had already secured the Bundesliga title. “Now it’ll be frosty for Ancelotti,” Bild stated (in German), making good use of the fact Bayern’s maiden European defeat to a Russian club came with the thermometers reading minus-seven Celsius (19.4 degrees Fahrenheit).
Yet can he really shoulder all the blame. “Did Ancelotti underestimate Rostov? The fact is: his wholesale squad rotation didn’t really work,” the aforementioned Bild article said. Yes, he made changes, but with Borussia Dortmund last weekend and Bayer Leverkusen next, who wouldn’t have? Even a streaky 1-0 win in Rostov would have seen him hailed—no doubt by Bild themselves—as a sovereign of squad rotation, a tsar of turnover, sagely resting those players required for bigger tests to come.
Regardless of the switches he made, every player on the pitch at kick-off, bar Ulreich, has played for their country at senior level. Two of them had won the FIFA World Cup; one is a freshly crowned European champion.
All have a dazzling array of high-profile medals won at the top of the game, yet most of them—Sanches and Lahm excepted, and Lewandowski by default as he barely got a touch—played poorly. “We didn’t play well, that’s why we lost,” Ancelotti told media, per Bayern’s official website, succinctly and 100 percent accurately.
Undoubtedly Rostov “wanted it,” as they say in football parlance, much more than Bayern, and the Russian club’s players were obviously uber-motivated to perform well against one of the competition’s bona fide big boys. Ultimately, however, it was Bayern who contributed most to their own downfall.
Here’s how the table looks after last night’s results. #FCBayern progress to the next round of the #UCL as runners up in Group D. #MiaSanMia pic.twitter.com/z5u6QDogc0
— FC Bayern English (@FCBayernEN) November 24, 2016
Perhaps the loss could be a blessing in disguise, the wake-up call that this Bayern squad has needed for some weeks.
“As FC Bayern, we should also win here regardless of the temperature or the state of the pitch,” Lahm said, per Bild. “The problem is: we’re too carefree. I don’t know if we think that we can’t concede goals. But with these kinds of mistakes, you have problems against any side. We invited Rostov to score goals, and made far too many mistakes. We have to change something quickly.” Their attitude, already questioned by club CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge a few weeks ago, according to Bild (German), would be as good a place to start as any.
Also, for those of you saying that Bayern will now face a more difficult opponent in the last 16 as a group runner-up, take a look at this: Paris Saint-Germain, Benfica, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Monaco, Dortmund, Leicester City, Juventus, and Arsenal, Napoli, Manchester City, Bayern, Leverkusen, Real Madrid, FC Porto, Sevilla.
If the knockout-stage draw was made today, the first group of eight would be the group winners, the second, the group runners-up. You tell me in which group you would prefer to be? Neither? Exactly.