The Bundesliga champions will be without six key players in the second leg against Real Madrid after two more stars picked up injuries in Munich
Real Madrid’s second goal against Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final first leg was a goal of what ifs: What if Manuel Neuer was in goal instead of Sven Ulreich? What if David Alaba had been fit to start instead of Rafinha? What if Jerome Boateng was able to stay on the pitch?
And then later, when Bayern continued to miss great chances in front of goal: What if Arjen Robben did not go off injured? What if Sandro Wagner could have come off the bench? What if Corentin Tolisso was available? What if Arturo Vidal and Kingsley Coman were able to feature in either leg?
What if 2017-18 was the year injuries cost Bayern Munich the Champions League?
With such an extensive list of casualties, Jupp Heynckes’ side always faced an uphill battle getting anything from their first leg in Munich. Forced to start with 35-year-old Franck Ribery and 34-year-old Robben due to the continued absence of bright young winger Kingsley Coman, Bayern were already without their preferred attacking line-up.
Then an early injury saw Robben last just eight minutes before being forced off. Thiago came on in his place, with Thomas Muller shifted out wide in the absence of a proper out-and-out winger. Uncharacteristically, Thiago was sloppy in possession, while Muller failed to make an impact from the wing.
Even that decision was forced upon Heynckes, who was unwilling to use the more attacking-minded Corentin Tolisso, as the club’s record signing was not yet fully fit following a shin injury and could only play the last 15 minutes. Vidal would have been another option instead of Thiago, but an injury in training ruled him out for the rest of the season.
Boateng also pulled up injured during the first half in Munich, worsening an already deep injury crisis for Bayern. It meant that by the 34th minute, Heynckes had used up two of his three substitutions, ripping up his gameplan in the process.
With Robert Lewandowski misfiring in front of goal, Bayern could have called upon backup striker Wagner, who has been in excellent form since joining in January, with eight goals in 12 appearances.
Madrid’s winner in the first leg came from poor decision-making from Rafinha, a right-back forced to play on the left due to Alaba’s absence. A left-footed player probably would have not made the same error, as he would have spotted the danger inside and not gifted the ball to Real, who broke quickly to score past Ulreich. Additionally, Boateng’s pace may have helped him catch Marco Asensio, while four-time UEFA Goalkeeper of the Year Neuer might have done better than the flailing Ulreich.
Alaba and Tolisso are properly in contention for the second leg, while Javi Martinez has shaken off a knock to prove his fitness, but Heynckes is still without Neuer, Boateng, Vidal, Coman and Robben, all of whom are almost guaranteed starters.
Heynckes is refusing to blame the injury crisis for his team’s failings, praising the depth of his squad in comparison to his Munich panel which won the Champions League back in 2013.
“I have never said that important players are not there,” the 72-year-old insisted. “Since all teams have here and there problems. We have a very good squad, I have confidence in the whole squad. It is true that you have to find a balance and have an inner peace.
“That’s what characterizes big teams. We had that in 2012-13. Today we may have an even better squad. In such big games, there are really great players who have leadership skills and are leading the way.”
Heynckes may praise the merits of his fringe players, but the truth is that Bayern are a different side with everyone fit. One capable of winning the Champions League. With so many players out, it is going to be an almost impossible task for them to overturn Real Madrid on Tuesday.