‘No plan, no courage, Bayern are out.’ That was Kicker’s headline after Bayern Munich were humbled and embarrassed out of the Champions League by Liverpool in their own backyard in the last 16. Die Roten were rather hapless and listless, playing at something akin to walking pace, had two shots on target in the entire tie, and it wasn’t a great exaggeration to say that the 3-1 scoreline flattered them a bit.
That result means no German side will be in the quarter finals of the Champions League for the first time since the 2005/06, when none of Bayern, Werder Bremen, and Schalke failed to reach the last eight. Schalke themselves were humiliated this midweek, a 7-0 defeat at Manchester City making it a 10-2 aggregate loss, adding to Borussia Dortmund’s exit last week, to complete a horrendous season in the Champions League, leading to inevitable inquests back home.
‘What we have learned from the last 16 is that German has shrunk considerably – and that it no longer has a place among the big teams in Europe’s most important competition’, said Jorn Meyn of Der Spiegel, while Bild-Zeitung’s Matthias Brugelmann described German football as ‘second class’. In fact, it’s not in Europe’s elite club competition that Germany are flailing. Eintracht Frankfurt are the only side left in the Europa League, after RB Leipzig’s group stage exit, and Bayer Leverkusen’s elimination at the hands of Krasnodar in the last 32.
One team out of seven in Europe. And this debacle just adds to the national team’s dour state. Die Mannschaft themselves have had it rough of late, a group stage exit from last year’s World Cup followed by relegation in the Nations League. Then issues were compounded when national team coach Joachim Low closed the door on Bayern trio Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, and Thomas Muller, a decision which Muller described to have made him ‘very angry’, and one the Bayern hierarchy slammed.
Yet, this problems don’t look sudden. They seem more of a decline than a blip, looking more they’ve lost it and not just a hiatus. Bayern haven’t quite been the same since Pep Guardiola, as well as Muller, the giants have won the two league titles on offer since the Spanish coach left, but they’ve faced little competition, and in Europe they’ve been anything but strong, outplayed by Real Madrid in the 2016/17 quarter-final elimination, and then last season having to bring Jupp Heynckes from retire when things looked dire. Since 2016, they’ve looked out of place against the top sides in the Champions League, the strongest opponents they’ve beaten have been Atletico Madrid and PSG in dead rubber group stage games.
This season Bayern are facing a Bundesliga title challenge, top only on goal difference, but they’re still on course for their lowest points total in some seven years. That means second-placed Dortmund are giving the champions a run for their money mostly because of a dip season from Niko Kovac’s side, less because they’re having an impressive (although they are). Dortmund haven’t been great in Europe either, since 2016, they’ve been knocked out of the Champions League by Monaco, losing home and away in the quarter finals, and have been knocked out by Spurs in the last 16, with home and away defeats as well, either side of crashing out of the Champions League group stage with two points in 2017.
As it is, both sides can only go for it in the league, a Klassiker is coming soon, and an intriguing title race continues. But on the continental front, either first-rate, second-rate, or national level, German football looks to have ebbed. A feat that seemed unthinkable a couple of years ago, when they won the Confederations Cup with a second-string side, is very much in play here. The machine is crumbling.