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The clash with unbeaten league leaders Bayer Leverkusen is “a game to pull (our) trousers down and put our cards on the table,” said buoyant Bayern Munich head coach Thomas Tuchel. But instead of the desired show of strength, Saturday's big reveal was a truly sorry sight.
His Bayern side had a slight front and a dangerously exposed back. Their hand turned out to be seven deuces, two of the worst cards in poker, and coincidentally, those same two numbers summed up their helpless misery better than a thousand words: a 0.27 expected goals in a 3-0 loss they managed in the most important game of the domestic season.
It was unbelievable to see the defending champions get knocked out on such a big occasion. 11 years running, gories against the closest person in that time, but their defeat at the BayArena is reminiscent of the 5-2 hammering in the 2012 DFB-Pokal final. Their dominance began.
In the league, you had to go even further back to find eventual champions Wolfsburg after 2009's 5-1 humiliation to find this one-sided match in favor of their opponents.
The post-mortem was predictably magnified in Tuchel's surprise 3-4-3 formation, which trained all week behind gray curtains at the Sabener Strauss training ground.
The unfamiliar formation, used for the first time this season, was designed to mirror Leverkusen's and required right-footed Sacha Boey to be deployed on the left to deal with Jeremy Frimbank.
Tuchel couldn't have known Xabi Alonso would choose a different formation, moving away from his wing-back-oriented game and switching to a more defensive-minded Bayern-four/five-at-back hybrid with Lonny Josip. Stanisic replaces Frimbank.
Boy hasn't played on the “wrong side” in four years. And going to negate their opponents' strengths rather than ruthlessly exploiting their weaknesses is not how things are traditionally done in Munich.
Nevertheless, he insisted it was “very controversial” for Tuchel to put it down to making it. Bayern started well and controlled things, at least for 10 minutes, before a series of mistakes and mishaps that had little to do with the system opened the door for the home side. But the lack of reaction after Stanisic's goal in the 18th minute proved it went deeper than that.
“A team like ours has to adapt to a new system,” said second-half substitute Joshua Kimmich quite rightly. Thomas Muller agreed, speaking loudly and angrily about the players “not having the balls” to play with the freedom and guile they routinely display in training.
“We don't have to go to the manager, it's not about tactics,” said the 34-year-old. “We had enough international quality players. But I am talking about making decisions with the ball, playing smart, scoring runs and understanding situations. It's okay to feel the pressure. But that pressure must be converted into energy.
Additionally, he criticized his side for playing too many safe passes that did not advance the ball. “We're overdoing things,” he said.
Mueller's remarkable intervention described the problem well, but it stopped short of an explanation. How come these good players don't play with more fluidity and determination? Is it because, as some suspect, many of them have lost their appetites after those championships? The malaise is certainly nothing new: low energy and disarray plagued Bayern's possession game even before Duchel arrived last March.
But the manager also has to take some responsibility. Tuchel, not for the first time, played down the attacking problems on Saturday as the players did not hit their men. One of his guiding tactical ideas, influenced by Pep Guardiola, is to isolate defenders in one-v-ones.
Given that Bayern's players are by definition better than their Bundesliga rivals, that should be a promising strategy. But injuries to Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman have reduced the general impact of the side, while Leroy Sane and Jamal Musiala have lost pace since the winter break, among others.
Several players are struggling with their form to play with the personality and presence expected of an experienced Bayern starter, while their outspoken and critical coach has done nothing to bolster their confidence. Look at midfield duo Leon Goretzka and Kimmich, both of whom have been undermined by the former Chelsea coach's public pursuit of a specialist holding midfielder.
Worst of all, Duchelball doesn't seem to have a joint fall-back option. It presupposes individualism, so many of the people in question cannot function properly if they are preoccupied with their shortcomings.
Against Leverkusen, Bayern were so blatant going forward that one wondered if Harry Kane's goals had only created an illusion of attacking potential up until now.
This was not a situation that would be tolerated for long in the capital of Bavaria. Alonso's last Bayern Munich loss to Leverkusen saw Julian Nagelsmann sacked five days later.
Things are not as bleak for Tuchel as they were for his predecessor 11 months ago; Not yet anyway. But it will take a strong run in the Champions League to ease the shock of Bayern's most un-Bayern-like performance in the title decider in 15 years. Unless he can quickly breathe more confidence into his lifeless side, the inevitable shake-up of the summer will not be limited to the squad.
(Top photo: Stefan Matzke – Sampix/Corbis via Getty Images)