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Bundesliga

Lack of depth has put mighty Bayern Munich in a very deep hole

Coming off their best season in years, the reigning German champs saw no need to strengthen their squad. But as Sunday’s dismal loss to Dortmund showed, they may have badly miscalculated.

Bayern's Bastian Schweinsteiger, right, and Dortmund's Sven Bender challenge for the ball

Schweinsteiger and Co. have been completely out of sorts

What do Hanover, Freiburg, St. Pauli, Nuremberg and Eintracht Frankfurt have in common? After seven rounds of play this season, they are all ahead of Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga table.

The bosses in Saebener Street have spent the past two months denying that there are any problems at Germany's lone football colossus, but the denials are over.

“It's time for us to stop kidding ourselves,” fumed Bayern President Uli Hoeness to reporters after the club's 2-0 loss to Dortmund. “It's time to take a long, hard look at our situation. I think we've got to be honest with one another about what's wrong.”

Ahead of Sunday, Germany's football Kaiser and Bayern fan number one Franz Beckenbauer dubbed the Dortmund match a must-win for Munich, and in past seasons, the team would have done whatever was necessary to ensure victory.

Instead the men in red went down to an opponent who was clearly tired from a Thursday Europa League fixture and didn't even play particularly well. The loss – Bayern's third of the young season - left them a baker's dozen behind current Cinderella Mainz.

“There's a long way to go in the season, but 13 points are a big deficit,” said a resigned Beckenbauer in his post-match analysis. “At the moment, with this team and this starting 11, I can't see them doing it.”

Bayern made no significant personnel moves in the off-season, and they're paying a heavy price for that right now.

Heavyweight with no punch

Franck Ribery injures himself

Ribery went down for the count in round 5

Much of Bayern's current impotence is down to the absence, because of injury, of their two superstar wingers, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery.

Coach Louis van Gaal was forced to adjust against Dortmund, giving also-rans Danijel Pranjic and Edson Braafheid starting nods and playing Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Mueller out of the positions where they're most effective.

The result was that Bayern only generated four scoring chances against Dortmund, three of which were squandered by rarely used striker Mario Gomez. That - together with two bad lapses by defender Martin Demichelis - combined to cook Munich's goose.

It was not a one-off problem, either. Bayern have scored in only two of their seven Bundesliga matches thus far this season and currently possess the worst offense in the entire league. Even lowly Nuremberg and Cologne have scored twice more than the defending champs.

Toni Kroos, in particular, has disappointed, failing to extend his form of last season, when he was out on loan to Leverkusen. He has no goals and only one assist after seven outings.

Bayern still have more of the ball in their matches, but their vaunted short-passing game from last season now only works laterally. Against Dortmund, Munich reverted to long balls to create pressure in their opponents' half - hardly a recipe for success.

Calm before the storm?

Munich's head coach Louis van Gaal with a guy in lederhosen

Van Gaal's Bavarian machine is stalled

Bayern, of course, frequently stumble out of the blocks, only to take the league by storm once they find their rhythm. But this year, there's reason to think that the favorite may not pass the field from behind in the home stretch.

The beginning of Munich's 2009-10 campaign, for example, was seen as a disaster, and van Gaal was widely considered to be only a loss or two away from losing his job. After seven rounds, Bayern had 11 points and were in seventh in the table.

This time round, it's eight points and 12th. And whereas last year, van Gaal's first at the club, Bayern could argue that the team was still getting used to a new style, that excuse no longer applies.

There is no sign of an imminent return for either Robben or Ribery, and questions have to be asked about why Bayern seem to have had no back-up plan for either of these oft-injured players. Their absence left van Gaal unable to play the 4-2-3-1 formation that was so effective last year.

For the moment, Bayern have lost sight of undefeated Mainz in the table. And perhaps more worryingly, Dortmund - a team that could potentially contend for the title - are also 10 points clear of Munich.

The good news is that Bayern have the financial resources to beef up their thin-looking squad in the winter transfer period. The bad news, however, is that by that point, it may be too late.

Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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