Before the surprising elimination against FC Villarreal, FC Bayern Munich had not failed in international competition for a long time against a nominally weaker team. When it last happened – and how it went on.
How did that actually feel? And will it ever be like that again? Shortly before the kick-off of the quarter-final second leg between FC Bayer Munich and FC Villarreal on Tuesday, everyone on site knew: Exactly like that – and yes! It was finally back, that special atmosphere that blows around the motorway junction in Munich-Fröttmaning before a big Champions League evening. This crackling, this expectant anticipation garnished with Bavarian certainty of victory.
After months of Corona-related spectator restrictions, the Allianz Arena was sold out in an international knockout game for the first time in over three years with 70,000 spectators. The shrill Champions League anthem, plus an impressive choreography of the south curve in honor of the late club legend Gerd Müller, then a really excellent, heated atmosphere.
The last big Champions League evening in a sold-out Allianz Arena took place in February 2019. At that time, an uninspired FC Bayern under coach Niko Kovac stole a 0-0 draw against Liverpool in the round of 16 first leg, which led to elimination after a 3-1 loss in the second leg. Well, in April 2022, Villarreal stole a 1-1 draw against Munich, who missed out on the semi-finals after losing 1-0 in the first leg.
FC Bayern only has the championship title left
So the supposed holiday ended with the realization: FC Bayern is playing the most disappointing season in ten years, when it last didn’t win a title. Since then, they have “only” won the championship four times, the only trophy that Munich can still win this season – and with a nine-point lead over Borussia Dortmund, they will also win five games before the end.
In the meantime, FC Bayern has only failed in the Champions League against opponents who are equal or stronger: Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, FC Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain. This time, the 0-5 debacle in the second round of the DFB Cup at Borussia Mönchengladbach was followed by a surprising Champions League defeat against Villarreal. As a reminder: the seventh in the Primera Division, who had only qualified for the competition through the Europa League.
If you are looking for a comparably surprising failure of FC Bayern in an international competition, you have to look far back: In 2007/08 Bayern lost to Zenit St. Petersburg in the UEFA Cup semifinals. In the Champions League, since it was introduced in 1992, there has actually only been one elimination against nominally much weaker competition: In 2002/03 FC Bayern finished last in a preliminary round group with AC Milan, RC Lens and Deportivo La Coruna.
FC Bayern: What happened in 2002 and 2008?
The opponents who were surprisingly victorious at the time inspired FC Bayern to make transfers: Midfield warhorse Anatoliy Tymoshchuk then came from Zenit, and goalscorer Roy Makaay from La Coruna. Will Bayern hit Villarreal this time? In fact, it would fit the supposed new transfer strategy not to want to access the highest player shelf in the future.
Incidentally, the fact that expensive, prominent transfers do not necessarily lead to immediate success is shown by the UEFA Cup defeat against Zenit in 2008: Before the season, FC Bayern had put up what was probably the biggest spending spree in the club’s history and, for a lot of money, won the World Cup 2006 finalists Franck Ribery and Luca Toni signed.
Ottmar Hitzfeld sat on the coaching bench during the disappointments of 2002 and 2008. He had previously led Bayern to victory in the Champions League, and in those two seasons he still won the championship. After failing in the Champions League group phase in autumn 2002 and Hitzfeld’s departure, FC Bayern continued to dominate national football under successor Felix Magath, but was only second-class in a European comparison.
When things finally went downhill in Germany, too, Hitzfeld returned for a year and a half. After his second departure, Jürgen Klinsmann’s experiment failed, before the successful modern era of FC Bayern began under Louis van Gaal – at the beginning of which Jürgen Klopp’s BVB was still a bit annoying.
Julian Nagelsmann: season “not enough”
Since Dortmund’s double season in 2011/12, FC Bayern has had a subscription to the championship title and has failed internationally when faced with equal or stronger competition. Until April 2022, until Villarreal. Julian Nagelsmann is Hitzfeld’s successor coach when it comes to surprising elimination from an international competition. He had been signed by RB Leipzig before the season for over 20 million euros and without a professional title.
He called his first season, which was disappointing in terms of results, “insufficient” regardless of the upcoming championship title, but it will not have any consequences for the coach, who is tied until 2026. CEO Oliver Kahn was deliberately relaxed and didn’t want to “burst into tears” because of the surprising departure.
The performance should give you a bit of cause for concern. Especially since FC Bayern and Gladbach also failed in the DFB Cup because of a weaker team. Especially since the Munich side were eliminated in the same rounds against Holstein Kiel and PSG last season.
A look at the time between the last two crackling Champions League evenings in the Allianz Arena shows how quickly everything can change in football and especially at FC Bayern. The bankruptcies against Liverpool and Villarreal frame a triple that FC Bayern won in an impressive manner in 2020 under coach Hansi Flick.