By Preben Gietz
“Are you going to give up?”, Louis van Gaal was asked on German television last night after Bayern’s epic collapse against Inter Milan. He paused for five seconds. Then, he said, “No”. It was a very unconvincing ‘no’. He turned, and walked out of the camera’s sight.
One word, two letters, and a five second pause were enough to express the overall mood in Munich. It wasn’t so much the word itself, but rather the way in which it was delivered. ‘No’ is usually followed by an explanation of sorts – especially when said after a lengthy pause. This sounded like the response from a man who doesn’t know if he should give up – someone who has run out of ideas.
In all honesty, can you blame the man? Bayern controlled the first hour of the game. They were so dominant that in the 31st minute, when Thomas Mueller gave Bayern the lead with a silky chip, the game appeared over. Mario Gomes and Bastian Schweinsteiger both pointed out after the game that they should have been up 4-1 at halftime. They were right. Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben squandered one-on-one situations with Julio Caeser, Inter’s goalkeeper, while a Gomes attempt was cleared off the line into a sliding Mueller and from there making contact with the post.
Once Wesley Sneijder made it 2-2 with 30 minutes to go, the game changed. Inter gained confidence and Bayern showed some anxiety. Everything seemed a bit more open now. But it was Bayern who wasted the biggest scoring opportunities. In one instance, Mueller and Gomes decided to go with one extra, unnecessary pass, and in the other, a three-on-one counterattack, Gomes inexplicably lost the ball to the sole defender.
The inevitable happened when Goran Pandev gave Inter the lead in the dying minutes. Unsurprisingly, in the end it was Bayern’s defense that led the team down. Breno looked silly, and a mixture of questionable positioning by Pranjic, Schweinsteiger, and Ribery cleared the path for the Macedonian striker. Sure, Pranjic was too central and Schweinsteiger somewhat lost track of Pandev. But it was Ribery who was trotting around midfield. In the last few minutes, with the team hanging on to a draw, this is certainly not the position a winger should find himself in.
In postgame comments, Arjen Robben seemed to hold the backline responsible for the result, “our defense is not Champions League worthy”. Schweinsteiger, on the other hand, talked about the team’s responsibilities as a defensive unit, but noting that, “if two guys don’t do their job, you can’t win at this level”. Only he knows who he was talking about.
Another eyebrow-raising incident occurred when Robben, Bayern’s best player on the night, asked to be taken off, in the biggest game of the season, because he felt some pain, but after the game stressed that he, “wouldn’t call it an injury”.
This was a painful result for Bayern. How it happened made it even worse. Louis van Gaal may very well feel like giving up. It is mid March and a club spoiled with trophies and success is fighting for third place in the league. And, this is all they have left to fight for.