Bundesliga Focus – Van Gaal feels the heat

International breaks can be a quiet time for managers of top division sides, but there has been no lack of work for Bayern Munich boss Louis van Gaal during the last fortnight. The last two weeks has seen van Gaal’s troublesome tenure as Bayern Coach repeatedly questioned by fans, media and pundits alike despite the distraction of World Cup qualifiers and international friendlies. Such is the furore surrounding the club at the moment, even the tragic death of Robert Enke couldn’t keep van Gaal’s name out of the papers. It seems like one problem after another for the Dutchman who, in truth, is still trying to clear up the mess from their disappointing 1-1 draw with Schalke last time out. The result provided plenty of drama for the media to get their teeth into, but most of it, unfortunately for van Gaal, came in the Bayern dressing room as opposed to on the pitch.

In-house fighting and power struggles are nothing new for Bayern, but the latest squabbles are an unwanted headache for the under-pressure van Gaal. In the days following the result that was greeted with loud boos at the Allianz Arena, it appeared that all hell had broken loose in the Bavarian camp. Out of form striker Luca Toni was fined after it was revealed that the Italian hitman had stormed out the ground in a petulant rage after being subbed subbed at half time, while full-back Phillip Lahm was similarly punished for a scathing attack on the clubs tactics and transfer policy in a post-match interview. Although both have since apologised for their misdemeanours, the worrying aspect for van Gaal is that although Toni’s actions were criticised, many seemed to feel that Lahm had a point.

In the interview, Lahm stated that he felt the club were simply trying to bring in big names and not necessarily the right players for the job. He went on to insinuate that the manager didn’t know the best way to play his team, and that the club is moving backwards. On the evidence of the side’s current performances, few can argue with Lahm’s damming evaluation. The team looks disjointed and lacks the fluidity of the championship side of 2008. In recent games, van Gaal has seemed to lose faith in players and doesn’t appear to know what his best XI should be. The team looks unbalanced with a plethora of attacking options, a lack of defensive stability and not much in between. Mark van Bommel tried in vain to defend his team this week, saying people still fear Bayern, but next to Lahm’s interview his comments seemed to carry little weight.

The biggest concern for Bayern fans at the moment is the ease with which teams cut through their defence. Bayern lost talismanic centre-back Lucio in the summer and, in reality, haven’t replaced the Brazilian. Holger Badstuber has been promoted from the reserves in an attempt to create a new star, but the 20-year-old is still learning and will clearly not be the finished article for some time. Martin Demichelis has been dreadful at times, while Daniel van Buyten’s three goals this season make him more useful in attack than in defence right now. The club currently possess no top class full backs, with Lahm the best of a bad bunch, and van Gaal has not helped matters by trying a multitude of players in the problem position without success. Couple this with goal-shy strikers like Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez and it is easy to see why no one ‘fears’ Bayern like van Bommel has suggested.

Despite all the negatives, van Gaal does have some positives to hang on to. The emergence of Thomas Muller has been mainly his doing, having given him more first team minutes, while the signing of Arjen Robben was apparently at the coach’s request. More importantly, history seems to be on the Dutchman’s side. In previous jobs, van Gaal has always seen his most successful periods come later on in his tenure. Last season’s Eredivisie title with AZ came after an average season that saw the side slumped in mid-table, while success at Barcelona and Ajax came following a slow start. Whether that will convince the powers that be at Bayern to give him more time remains to be seen. Word on the street is nothing will change before the winter break, but few would put money on van Gaal making it to 2010 – especially if his team lose to table-toppers Leverkusen this weekend.

Also under pressure is German national team boss Joachim Low. In the last year, supporters have been critical of the country’s style of play and little will have changed after Germany’s 2-2 draw with with Ivory Coast on Wednesday night. After a Lacklustre performance, the home side required an injury-time penalty from Koln striker Lukas Podolski in order to salvage a largely undeserved draw. It was Podolski’s second of the game, with his first putting them 1-0 up before falling behind. Despite the poor performance, the media went easy on Low’s men, taking into consideration the recent passing of Robert Enke. The players looked visibly shell-shocked from the previous week’s events and was clearly a factor in the result. A more positive aspect of the game were the debuts of striker Stefan Kiessling and goal keeper Tim Wiese, who both played well.

Finally, it seems two Bundesliga teams are facing stiff competition in their bid to hold on to their star players in the January transfer window. There were strong claims in both German and English newspapers this week that Manchester City are planning a double swoop for Borussia Dortmund centre-back Neven Subotic and Wolfsburg goal machine Edin Dzeko. City failed to confirm or deny the rumours but it seems they only stand a chance in one of the bids as Dzeko moved to quash any suggestion of a move to Eastlands. However, the Bosnian wasn’t pledging his future to Wolfsburg – instead choosing to declare his interest in a move to AC Milan instead. Milan failed in a bid last summer but are rumoured to be coming back in January. It seems Dzeko has already made his mind up, and the striker now looks destined for the San Siro.

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