Bayern problems mounting after unconvincing start to season

(AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

By CIARAN FAHEY

Associated Press

BERLIN (AP) Carlo Ancelotti's second season in charge of Bayern Munich hasn't started as well as his first.

Bickering from players, contradictory statements from the bosses, a lack of cohesion on the field, and the first league defeat after only three games have all heightened the sense of disharmony at the club.

Bayern's Champions League opener against Anderlecht on Tuesday should have shown a reaction to Saturday's Bundesliga loss at Hoffenheim, especially when the visitors were reduced to 10 men after only 11 minutes.

Instead, Bayern toiled to a flattering 3-0 win against the Belgian side, displaying an uncharacteristic lack of precision as passes were mislaid and stars failed to play in teammates in better positions.

One year ago, Bayern began its Champions League campaign with a 5-0 win over Russian club Rostov. The team scored 18 goals and conceded none in his first four competitive games.

On Tuesday, Arjen Robben's frustration with Robert Lewandowski for going it alone when a pass was a better option was apparent, while the Poland striker displayed similar annoyance when Joshua Kimmich wrapped up the win in injury time instead of playing him through. Lewandowski turned away angrily and didn't celebrate the goal.

Franck Ribery ripped off his jersey in rage and threw it at the dugout when he was taken off. The France winger had been one of the few to impress against Anderlecht for his will to make something happen.

Ribery said it "had nothing to do with a lack of respect" after he was criticized for the action, adding: "Some will never understand what it means to give everything for his club."

Robben indirectly criticized Lewandowski for giving an interview in which he questioned Bayern's ability to attract top stars as transfer fees rocket.

Bayern's most expensive signing, Corentin Tolisso from Lyon for 41.5 million euros ($49 million), looks paltry in comparison to Paris Saint-Germain's signing of Neymar for 222 million euros ($262 million).

In the face of these issues, Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic has been conspicuous by his silence, especially when compared to predecessor Matthias Sammer.

While Salihamidzic hasn't been talking, the club bosses have. Chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge sharply criticized Lewandowski for his interview, and he had strong words for Thomas Mueller, who had taken aim at Ancelotti for his substitute role against Werder Bremen.

"Dissatisfaction on the bench is OK, but no open criticism of the coach," Rummenigge said.

Present Uli Hoeness responded by saying he didn't like "that every word is given so much importance with us, also internally."

Hoeness called for improvement on the field: "We have to solve our problems. We're not playing so well since the start of the season. That's what needs to be worked on."

Ancelotti, who has been irritated by questions over his rotation policy, faces added pressure after being outshone by Julian Nagelsmann. The 30-year-old Hoffenheim coach has overseen two straight wins at home over Bayern, and he remains unbeaten in three Bundesliga games against the defending champions.

Nagelsmann is being touted as a future replacement for the experienced Italian, and he did nothing to dampen the speculation when he said in a Eurosport interview that it was his dream to coach a club like Bayern, and that his family is already having a house built in Munich.

Nagelsmann later backtracked on his comments, "especially for my colleague Carlo Ancelotti, for whom I've the utmost respect. He has won more titles than I have underpants."

However, the damage is done. Ancelotti, who took over last season, has a three-year deal, but many speculate already that this will be the 58-year-old coach's last in charge of Bayern. That speculation does not help his standing at the club, nor does it facilitate his ability to rein in his bickering players and get the side performing as one again.

But the season has just begun and Ancelotti is experienced enough to turn things around. A string of good results would ease tensions among his stars - it's hard to sit on the bench when you feel you can do better than the players on the field - and the side needs time for new leaders to emerge following the retirements of Philipp Lahm and Xabi Alonso.

Saturday's visit of Mainz in the Bundesliga provides Bayern with another chance to show its own fans its true potential. Mainz as been poor away from home and Bayern hasn't lost a league game in Munich since March 2016 - when Mainz won 2-1.

Updated September 14, 2017

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