Even if Bayern Munich wraps up a record fifth consecutive Bundesliga title on Saturday, it won’t compensate for the disappointment of two defeats.
Bayern was knocked out of the German Cup by a 3-2 defeat at home to Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday, just over a week after its Champions League ambitions was ended by Real Madrid in the quarterfinals.
Bayern’s 2013 feat of a Champions League, Bundesliga, and German Cup treble under Jupp Heynckes has arguably become the yardstick by which his successors are measured.
Pep Guardiola was unable to replicate it in three seasons that ultimately failed to meet Bayern’s extraordinarily high expectations, and now Carlo Ancelotti is learning that “only” the league title will not be enough to keep criticism at bay.
“Coaches have to live with criticism,” Ancelotti said on Friday in Munich. “Criticism helps you to focus and concentrate. Then you have to weigh up what criticism is fair and which is not.”
Ancelotti’s side has failed to win its last five games in all competitions, with defeats in the games that matter most. It’s a remarkable failure given the Italian coach assured the club his side would be primed for the decisive stage of the season.
“Everything was still good at the start of April,” Ancelotti said.
Bayern looked far from prime in its two games against Madrid, against which goalkeeper Manuel Neuer was the team’s outstanding performer in the 6-3 aggregate loss.
Against Dortmund, Bayern paid the price for missing chances after leading 2-1.
Bayern captain Philipp Lahm’s face afterward said it all. He looked crushed, inconsolable to be ending his career with only the league title, his eighth altogether.
“It’s a tough time for us. We’re not happy,” said Ancelotti, who blamed injuries and referees’ decisions for the Champions League and German Cup exits. “Now we have to win the Bundesliga quickly.”
Bayern can wrap up the league title with three games to spare on Saturday with a win at Wolfsburg — which is playing its worst ever Bundesliga season — and if second-placed Leipzig also fails to beat relegation-threatened Ingolstadt in the earlier game.
If it doesn’t happen this weekend, it will surely happen the next. Beer will flow and departing players like Lahm and Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso will be given worthy send-offs, but the disappointment of what could have been will linger.
Kicker magazine said that winning the league title is a praise-worthy achievement, but Ancelotti “and his star-team have only fulfilled their duty with it, no more.”
Bayern is already thinking of next season. Thiago Alcantara extended his contract on Friday, joining Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Mueller, Javi Martinez, David Alaba, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Manuel Neuer, Kingsley Coman, and Renato Sanches in committing his long-term future to the club. Coman’s loan move from Juventus was made permanent for a reported 21 million euros ($22.8 million) on Thursday.
Defenders Niklas Suele and Sebastian Rudy are arriving from Hoffenheim.
But Lahm and Alonso will leave huge holes that need to be filled, veteran wingers Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben are not getting younger, and Ancelotti hasn’t succeeded in bringing younger players like Coman, Sanches or Douglas Costa through. Joshua Kimmich has played less under Ancelotti than in his breakthrough season last year under Guardiola.
Players like Werder Bremen’s Serge Gnabry, Bayer Leverkusen’s Julian Brandt and Leipzig’s Naby Keita have been linked with the club, though Bayern president Uli Hoeness has attempted to dampen expectations.
“It’s often said that the transfer market is the cure for everything. I don’t see it that way,” Hoeness said. “If we had two other expensive players against Dortmund, we probably still wouldn’t have won. Transfers aren’t always the only solution.”
Bayern’s next Bundesliga title will be the club’s 27th German championship.
“I always said the championship is the most important title. And we’re going to win it,” Hoeness said.
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