Bayern Munich have plenty of work to do if they want to have a chance of catching Borussia Dortmund at the top of the Bundesliga table. They currently sit nine points behind their rivals with only four league matches remaining before the conclusion of the hinrunde.
Bayern have experienced a roller coaster of a start to their 2018/2019 campaign under Niko Kovac, but they’re coming off of two impressive wins over SL Benfica (Champions League) and Werder Bremen (Bundesliga). Despite Bayern’s shaky start, Robert Lewandowski has picked up where he left off last season, having already scored 14 goals and provided 4 assists from 18 appearances across all competitions (exluding the DFL-Supercup, in which he bagged a hat-trick). In an interview with Bild, the Polish ace said his side remain confident they’ll close the gap on Dortmund in pursuit of their seventh consecutive Bundesliga title
Admitting that there’s clearly been a rough patch for Bayern, Lewandowski was quick to downplay the suggestion that his side were in “crisis” mode:
What exactly do you mean by “crisis”? The last few weeks were difficult. We very uncharacteristically dropped points, especially in the final minutes of games that we normally have won. And the situation was surprising: after the first few weeks of the season, we thought that things were going as well as in the past few years.
A large part of Bayern’s troubles came in the form of conceding cheap, late goals that proved to be costly. Losing focus in the dying stages of matches has cost them a handful of points so far this season, and Lewandowski feels that his side have shown improvements in their last two matches in keeping the focus until the final whistle:
We weren’t vigilant enough. We had problems staying focused until the end. Early we never conceded these goals after a lead. But I hope that now the trend holds after the win in Bremen. Against Benfica we played again almost the way we intend. Bremen wasn’t perfect yet, but we’re on the right track. It has to continue against Nürnberg, even if they lay concrete.
Niko Kovac has been under the microscope and has received a great deal of criticism for some of the poor performances, but Lewandowski says that Kovac was hardly to blame. Instead, it was Bayern’s confidence that had taken a dip after one or two results hadn’t gone their way. The number of injuries to the squad, of course, hasn’t helped either:
Things happen quickly in soccer. When we didn’t play play well, we also lost our self-confidence. We needed a few games until it came back. And generally you need time when a new coach arrives. We also had many injured players. Still we have to try to show our brand of soccer, no matter who is playing. We know that we can play much better.
There was a meeting a few weeks back between Uli Hoeness, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge Lewandowski, Franck Ribery, Manuel Neuer and Thomas Muller to discuss whether or not the squad was fully behind Kovac, or if there was perhaps an element of unrest in the dressing room:
This exchange helped all of us, gave us strength. In a situation like the one we were in, you have discuss, analyse. It’s good to state your opinion, to hear the opinion of others. Every side explained what we can do better. Afterward you feel relief; it’s easier to keep working. The whole club is profiting from the conversations last week. Now we’re all going in the same direction together.
The four players, including Lewandowski, expressed their belief in Kovac and Lewandowski went on to give his manager credit for working hard to fine-tune the small details to try and cut out the mistakes they were making:
The coach tried to change things when things were’t going well. It concerns little things, details. If he shows this insight, that’s not a sign of weakness. Only this way can he become a better coach.
Having both Thiago and Kingsley Coman back fit in the lineup is a massive boost and Lewandowski admitted that not having them in training sessions limited Kovac’s options:
We recently had injured wingers. In modern soccer that’s a major handicap and it prevented us from having several offensive options. That limited us, also because we couldn’t practice things on the highest level in training 11 vs 11. Kingsley is back, Thiago too. That gives us more options for the offense and another kind of soccer.
Lastly, Lewandowski said that Bayern just might benefit from being behind Dortmund at this point in the season. His side are so used to being in pole position, so it might be more beneficial and help keep the squad more focused on the task at hand to be chasing them from behind:
Sometimes it’s not bad at all to attack from the second row! We’re now happy to be the hunters. In the past few years, we’ve always looked behind us. When you see that someone’s in front of you — it means that you’re more under pressure. You want to do it even more then — catch this team. As the hunter it’s easier to attack from behind than as first to look out for attacks from behind. Especially when you don’t have experience.