Bayern Munich has not been on a run this bad in more than three years. By its recent exceptional standards, its current form is diabolical. That should have the alarm bells ringing for coach Pep Guardiola and his players ahead of Manchester United's visit in the Champions League quarterfinal second leg Wednesday.
A draw to Hoffenheim, another away to United and a loss at regional upstart Augsburg mean Bayern has not actually won a game since claiming the Bundesliga title outright against Hertha Berlin on March 25. Prior to that match, the Champions League last 16 first-leg draw with Arsenal was the only time the club had failed to win in 2014.
Bayern's recent slump
That relentless superiority has been stopped dead in its tracks since clinching the Bundesliga shield. Guardiola reckons it's no problem. However, winning matches puts teams into a rhythm in which they expect nothing but success. Not winning, inversely, has the opposite effect. This Bayern squad's strengths were forged in the bitter heartache of defeats, don't forget. It is not unreasonable to assume that the doubts are creeping back in for a side once regarded as psychologically brittle.
Manuel Neuer before the first leg compared the situation to the Champions League final of 2012. Despite Bayern's status as the overwhelming favorite — as it is for this tie against United — the club managed to lose to Chelsea in its own backyard. That was the game on Neuer's mind — not the emboldening sequence of 53 unbeaten league matches. "We just have to think back to two years ago," Neuer told reporters. "Chelsea who finished sixth and won the Champions League, unfortunately for us."
In the early part of 2011 Bayern suffered three successive losses to Borussia Dortmund, Schalke and Hannover. Although Bayern recovered to defeat Hamburg 6-0 a week later, it then went out of the Champions League after an inexplicable lapse at home against Inter. There are similar warning signs about this recent Bayern slump.
The records have been tumbling all season for Guardiola's side but the weekend defeat to Markus Weinzierl's team added more. These were the unwanted stats, though. It was a first Bundesliga loss in 54 matches. Bayern was held scoreless in a Bundesliga match for the first time in 64 games. Their efficiency in front of goal was lacking against United too despite Bastian Schweinsteiger's brilliant equalizer. It is startling, also, to think that Bayern has kept only one clean sheet in its last nine matches; the club allowed only one goal in the previous 10.
Guardiola was disdainful of Augsburg's landmark win. He said it was not important and reiterated that the right thing to do was to rest players ahead of the game against United. "If this had been important, then Philipp (Lahm), Franck (Ribery) and Arjen (Robben) would all have been here," he told reporters after the game. "The Bundesliga is over for us. Our target is the Champions League."
Guardiola also pointed out that Bayern played Augsburg with a shadow squad — three players were making their first-team debuts — but he doesn't exactly have a full complement from which to select against United either. The needless red card for Schweinsteiger late against United meant that he has arguably lost all three of his preseason "first-choice" central midfielders.
Thiago Alcantara is injured. Javi Martinez is suspended. This means that Philipp Lahm and Toni Kroos will be playing in the middle with Thomas Muller or Mario Gotze fielded just ahead of them — close to Mario Mandzukic. The injury to Xherdan Shaqiri has robbed Pep of the option of fielding Robben in behind Muller as he did in the recent 6-1 win over Wolfsburg. It is the type of formation that Bayern has played a few times in the Bundesliga when opponents simply give up before they start but United will be more diligent in its defending. United will fancy its chances of holding the hosts at arm's length in Munich.
Buoyed by an away Premier League win against Newcastle, David Moyes' men come to the Allianz Arena on an encouraging run of form. Despite the loss of Robin van Persie, United is full of goals with nine scored in its last three games. Juan Mata, cup-tied, will be missed but David Moyes nonetheless has decent options now for those three places in behind Wayne Rooney on Wednesday. Adnan Januzaj and Shinji Kagawa are in good form and Javier Hernandez is an effective substitute. At the moment, United is capable of scoring all sorts of goals. The Red Devils can nod one in from a set piece — a classic Bayern vulnerability is not defending those properly — and they are creating presentable chances in open play. They will come to Bayern expecting to score.
There is a sense that momentum in this tie has swung toward United. If David Moyes' side can limit Bayern to the kind of sterile ball retention like at Old Trafford, it will go through. United has the confidence. Lingering doubts over its own suitability for this stage of the Champions League are receding. The same, presently, cannot be said of Bayern.