Stung by a 3-0 humiliation at the hands of Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich head to Lazio on Wednesday knowing only a deep run in Europe will salvage their season.
Thomas Tuchel’s side were humbled by an outstanding Leverkusen on Saturday and are now five clear in the league and remain unbeaten after 31 games in all competitions.
Bayern managers are judged primarily on the team’s Champions League showings, particularly in recent years when the side’s financial might made domestic dominance a formality.
Despite winning the double, Niko Kovac never recovered from a last 16 elimination at the hands of Liverpool in 2019.
Tuchel’s predecessor Julian Nagelsmann’s days were numbered after his Bayern were dumped out by Villarreal at the quarter final stage in 2022.
A poor showing against Lazio, who sit eighth in the Serie A table, could push Tuchel closer to an unthinkable exit, less than a year after joining the German champions.
– ‘Nothing has changed’ –
With 13 games remaining, Bayern could still bridge the five-point gap — particularly given Leverkusen’s reputation for second-place finishes — but it was the manner of the defeat which was most troubling.
Bayern only had one shot on target compared to Leverkusen’s eight and no clear chances at goal.
Xabi Alonso’s side showed they are clearly the best in Germany, despite a budget dwarfed by that of the six-time Champions League winners Bayern.
Despite Tuchel’s previous success, the highlight of which was winning the Champions League with Chelsea in 2021, he has failed to put his stamp on a Bayern side too often reliant on individuals.
Bayern CEO Jan-Christian Dreesen told reporters on Saturday that “nothing had changed regarding the question of the coach’s future.”
But the fact that Tuchel has failed to put his stamp on the club despite taking over just six months after Alonso took over at Leverkusen will worry the Bayern hierarchy.
Tuchel has an acute appreciation of Bayern’s unyielding thirst for success.
He got the job after his predecessor, Julian Nagelsmann, was sacked with the side just one point behind in the league.
Unlike this season, Nagelsmann’s Bayern were still in the German Cup and had won six from six in a Champions League group which included a La Liga-title bound Barcelona and eventual finalists Inter Milan.
– No title for Kane? –
Already eliminated in the German Cup by third-division Saarbruecken, Bayern are looking down the barrel of a first trophyless season since 2012.
That this should happen after the famously trophyless Harry Kane arrived at the club has not been lost on football pundits on either side of the pond, who asked if the England captain was jinxed.
Bayern would however be in a far worse position without their 100-million-euro ($108 million) striker, who has scored 28 goals in 28 matches in all competitions this season.
Kane received little service on Saturday from a stodgy Bayern midfield. Veteran Thomas Mueller slammed his side’s performance, saying “Leverkusen were taking risks, looking for solutions and playing football.
“We’re playing from A to B, B to C, and nobody plays freely or takes risks.”
A clearly disappointed Kane told Sky Germany on Saturday that Europe was now the focus.
“We didn’t play well with the ball… every time we won it back, we gave it straight back to them”
“This one hurts, we wanted a different outcome, but we have to focus on, first, the Champions League, and obviously the next game.”