Tuchel’s future and title hang in the balance as Bayern teeter towards the unthinkable

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There was a sense in which it could be argued that this was to be expected. After all, this was the third time in consecutive seasons that Mainz had sent Bayern Munich home with a defeat in late April. “Oops, I did it again,” was the caption on the club’s social media post, with the inevitable Britney Spears mid-dance with the Mainz club crest on her jumpsuit.

It was the only familiar thing about this scenario. More accurate was the later, second attempt of the pranksters who made social media for Die Nullfünfer. It featured Homer Simpson walking home—the Mainz crest superimposed on his overalls—joyfully proclaiming “I got the job!” and greeted by a proud Lisa (wearing a Bundesliga badge) who tells him she always knew he could do it. Bart, sporting the Borussia Dortmund logo, joins in as he secretly tosses a frosted cake with the words “At least you tried” into the bin.

Related: Bayern Munich retire and look like a fading force in Europe’s new elite | Jonathan Liew

We still don’t know if this is the match that finally changed the course of the Bundesliga title race, with Bayern’s slide allowing Dortmund to top with five games to go thanks to a 4-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt shortly after. It is enough for us at least to believe in an exciting season finale, 11 years after a team other than Bayern lifted the title Meister bowl (of course it was Jürgen Klopp’s BVB).

What we surely know is that there is something really, seriously wrong with Säbener Strasse. The nuclear option of removing Julian Nagelsmann and replacing him with Thomas Tuchel can be confirmed as a failure, burning the long term for the short and making matters worse. Few would blame Tuchel himself – despite Bild’s Walter M. Straten’s ironic suggestion that he might be fired now given his “catastrophic start” matching Sören Lerby’s slow “indestructible” start in 1991-92 – but not many they would argue that the former Chelsea manager has done a good job so far.

The manner of their implosion in the second half on Saturday was stunning, and clearly the straw that broke the camel’s back. They took the lead at half-time thanks to Sadio Mané’s first club goal since the end of October against the same side, which had been the third in a 6-2 win, as Bayern swaggered in familiar fashion. Losing in Mainz can happen. Mistakes can happen, such as Yann Sommer’s failure to collect Lee Jae-sung’s bouncing shot, which paved the way for Ludovic Ajorque for the equalizing goal. What can’t happen is the flurry of three unanswered goals in 14 minutes, with no real response sculpted from 74% ball possession. Lack of desire was something Oliver Kahn could not accept. “Who was the team that wanted to be champions of Germany?” he yelled. “It certainly wasn’t ours. In the end there are 11 men who are on the pitch and who simply have to get busy for the goals of this club.”

Thomas Tuchel was Bayern's short-term option but lost three out of seven games.

Thomas Tuchel was Bayern’s short-term option but lost three out of seven matches. Photography: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Yet if the behavior of the players – the subject of particularly intense scrutiny following Mané and Leroy Sané’s altercation in Manchester 13 days ago – is receiving heavy criticism, even Tuchel will no longer be getting a free ride. The Mainz defeat means they have racked up as many competitive defeats (three) in their first seven games as Nagelsmann has in 37 this season, crashing out of the Champions League, the DfB Pokal and the seemingly impossible to be deposed from first place in the Bundesliga . .

Like much of this, though, it was about the way rather than just the raw data. Or, more precisely, the ways of Tuchel. His post-match press conference following the quarter-final first leg in Manchester caught attention with his soup of eccentricities, as he claimed he was satisfied with his team’s performance (“a huge step forward”), the The 3-0 score had been tough and his side were “brutally punished” for their mistakes.

The German media were less forgiving of his words at the Mewa Arena on Saturday. “Tuchel used the word ‘obviously’ eight times in his press conference after the 3-1 (loss) in Mainz,” Mario Krichel wrote in Kicker. “Six times he said: ‘I don’t know’” Bild called his words “completely in the dark”.

Many of Bayern’s problems predate Tuchel; defensive frailty (although that is one area where he has strengthened Chelsea quite quickly), a questionable transfer policy and more. However, for a supposedly ruthless manager, he seemed uncertain when asked to explain this damaging defeat. “Obviously we don’t have the energy right now to fight back, to deal with setbacks,” he said. “I don’t know why now.”

This feeling of not knowing the answers, but also of not knowing how to look for them, has many Bayern observers worried. It’s all very different from Bayern. With doubts about the abilities of Kahn and Hasan Salihamidzic to take charge, it has been suggested that board member Uli Hoeness could make a new break for power and attempt to revive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.

Bayern need to salvage this season’s all-time low, the Bundesliga title, and it’s not in their hands. Of Dortmund’s five remaining games, three are at home, and the higher-placed side they face will be Bayern winners Mainz on the final day. They currently sit in seventh place.

It is far from impossible that Edin Terzic’s team conjure up a slide of its own. With the coach following his sporting director, Sebastian Kehl, in openly admitting that his side are challenging for the title, it is perhaps no coincidence that Dortmund have played as if they have something to lose in recent games, including against Eintracht collapsing, BVB look very nervous and vulnerable at 2-0, with Mats Hummels taking a break from making vital saves to head in a third before the break and settle his nerves.

Donyell Malen had been the star man with the brace (“it was his best game for us,” said Terzic) and BVB celebrated by teasing a photo of the Dutchman with Ronaldo’s haircut at the World Cup 2002, notated with Captain ‘Ronyell Malen’ . How could Bayern do with someone ready to step up and take center stage in a similar way right now.

Borussia Mönchengladbach 0-1 Union Berlin, Leverkusen 2-0 Leipzig, Freiburg 0-4 Schalke, Dortmund 4-0 Eintracht Frankfurt, Hertha Berlin 2-4 Werder Bremen, Hoffenheim 1-3 Cologne, Mainz 3-1 Bayern, Bochum 1- 5 Wolfsburg, Augsburg 1-1 Stuttgart

Talking points

• Underdogs are taking over the top four. Union Berlin’s late win against Borussia Mönchengladbach and Freiburg’s more predictable 4-0 thrashing of Schalke place them third and fourth respectively, with fiery Leverkusen doing them the favor to beat Leizpig 2-0 with a dogged defensive performance, emphasizing another bowstring from Xabi Alonso.

• Pál Dárdai’s comeback at Hertha was less than hoped for, with Marvin Ducksch taking over Niclas Füllkrug’s absence to score a hat-trick to give Bremen victory in Berlin. They are not stuck due to Schalke’s ineptitude, Stuttgart have only drawn against Augsburg and Bochum, still not in the bottom three, were beaten at home by Wolfsburg. Bochum manager Thomas Letsch has spoken of “catastrophic mistakes” as their home form falls apart – and neighbors Dortmund visit on Friday.







Borussia Dortmund


Bayern Monaco


Berlin Union




RB Leipzig


Bayer Leverkusen






Eintracht Frankfurt


Borussia M’gladbach




Werder Bremen






VfL Bochum




Schalke 04


Hertha Berlin

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