Rivals seek to ramp up pressure on Kovac and Bayern
It might be only six rounds in, but Bayern Munich's wobbles -- along with some impressive performances from their rivals -- have threatened to breathe life into the 2018-19 Bundesliga title race.
Second-placed Bayern take on fourth-placed Borussia Moenchengladbach on Saturday evening, but may start the match four points off the pace if leaders Borussia Dortmund win their afternoon fixture against mid-table Augsburg.
Given the congestion at the top of the table, if Munich fall to Gladbach, they could end the round in sixth –- increasing the pressure on new coach Niko Kovac to turn it around ahead of the international break.
Bayern fans will be hoping coach Kovac has the answers. After Wednesday's 1-1 draw with Ajax in the Champions League, Kovac said he needed to "process the result", but told reporters he'd be doing all he could to get the side to "forget the three previous games".
"I need to sort out my thoughts and work out why we performed like that," Kovac said.
Strong starts to the season from traditional rivals Dortmund, Gladbach and Werder Bremen – along with Bayern's vanquishers from last round Hertha Berlin – have meant that only three points separate first from sixth in the table.
Dortmund, the only unbeaten team left in the Bundesliga this season, have started the year on fire under new manager Lucien Favre.
- 'Freedom' key for Dortmund -
Favre has kept his reputation for blooding promising youngsters intact, with Christian Pulisic, 20, Jacob Bruun Larsen, 20, and Jadon Sancho, 18, all impressing under their new boss. Sancho on Thursday earned himself an England call-up after re-signing with Dortmund until 2022.
Led by captain Marco Reus – a veteran in comparison at only 29 - BVB have struck a rich vein of form, scoring 14 goals in their last three matches.
Reus told reporters that the secret to Dortmund's success was the freedom afforded to them by coach Favre.
"Defensively we all have clear roles to play. But offensively we've been given the freedom to make our decisions instinctively," Reus said.
However for those hoping for some respite from Bayern's recent dominance, it's worth remembering some recent history.
At the same time last season, Munich were sitting three points behind Dortmund in third position. The club took decisive action, sacking coach Carlo Ancelotti and bringing in former manager Jupp Heynckes for the latter's fourth stint with the club.
They went on to claim victory in 23 of the remaining 28 rounds, winning the Bundesliga for a record 27th time.
Bayern president Uli Hoeness said talks of crisis at the club were premature. "Ten days ago the Bundesliga was a competition for second place. And now suddenly our club is broken," Hoeness said.
"We have some problems at the moment, but that's normal," he added.
Fixtures (all times 1330 GMT unless stated)
Werder Bremen v VfL Wolfsburg (1830)
Hanover 96 v VfB Stuttgart, Fortuna Duesseldorf v Schalke 04, Mainz 05 v Hertha Berlin, Borussia Dortmund v Augsburg, Bayern Munich v Borussia Moenchengladbach (1630)
Freiburg v Bayer Leverkusen (1130), Hoffenheim v Eintracht Frankfurt, RB Leipzig v Nuremberg (1600)
© 2018 AFP