Why Bayern can’t take their eye off the ball in the Bundesliga

It’s clear Carlo Ancelotti was brought in to repeat what he did at Milan and Real Madrid and win the UEFA Champions League.

After three years of unprecedented league dominance – but near misses in Europe – recruiting the Italian coach whose career is defined by the tournament, was the only option for Bayern Munich.

With Arsenal needing to overturn a heavy first-leg defeat to have any chance of qualifying, Bayern are all-but through to the quarterfinals for the sixth successive season.

But while there is a voracious hunger to win the club’s sixth European Cup, there are also domestic matters to contend with. The Bundesliga remains the staple fix of Bayern’s season, and there is no desire among the club’s wily executives to lose their dominant grip on domestic competitions.

Over both tenures, Jupp Heynckes and Pep Guardiola saw the Bundesliga as the first priority of the season. While the public message is different, there is an urge for Bayern to win their first Champions League in four years on a sporting level, but also to match their impressive growth internationally.

One local newspaper described this season as ‘Operation Henkelpott’ – the German word for the European Cup and its distinguishable handles.

But while there’s little precedent, a drop-off in Bundesliga form will be catastrophic for Bayern in their pursuit of the title. Five points is all that separates the champions of the last four years and upstarts RB Leipzig, who returned to winning ways on the weekend at Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Amid the intensity of the Champions League knockout phases, there’s the small matter of navigating the toughest fixtures of the league campaign. Following this weekend’s home clash with Hamburg, the Bavarians meet Cologne (A) and Eintracht Frankfurt (H) – two sides to take points off Bayern Munich in the first half of the season.

Both teams, chasing a place in European competition next season, are precisely the kind of team which Bayern have struggled against in the league post-Guardiola – compact, well-organised with rapid transitional play. Factor in potential injuries and suspensions, then these aren’t easy grounds to go to for Bayern.

A trip to Borussia Mönchengladbach closely follows with Dieter Hecking impressively turning things around at Borussia-Park since his arrival in winter.

April doesn’t look so comfortable for Bayern on paper with clashes against Hoffenheim (A) and Borussia Dortmund (H) – two more teams to avoid defeat in Hinrunde against the champions. Bayer Leverkusen has always been a troubling trip for the champions given the quality at Roger Schmidt’s disposal.

The season, of course, concludes with a trip to Leipzig, their closest challengers, and a home meeting with SC Freiburg.

Bundesliga business for Bayern under Ancelotti has been somewhat stale, in comparison to the record-breaking seasons under Guardiola. It always was going to be, but the consistency of Leipzig has brought a little bit of pressure for the Italian coach.

The Red Bull-backed club appears to be over the bout of illness which pretty much decimated their starting 11 ahead of the trip to Borussia Dortmund, a fortnight ago.

With a full squad once again to choose form, Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side look in good shape without European football to distract them over the next few months. There’s been nothing to suggest on a tactical level, that the eastern German club cannot go toe-to-to with Bayern Munich until the end of the season – when their key players are available, of course.

Sunday’s win over Gladbach, 2-1, was impressive for other reasons. While Leipzig carried a sharpness in attack through Timo Werner, they also managed to snuff out Gladbach when under pressure in the second half. While Bayern Munich are more than capable of doing similar, a performance in first gear will make them extremely vulnerable on the road.

If things go their way in Europe over the next few weeks, Bayern could be the outright favourites to win the Champions League. But while the club wants to get to the summit of European football, there’s no room in the German championship for Bayern to take their foot of the gas. They might find that out the hard way.

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