Thomas Tuchel has to wait for his New Year wishes to come true. For the coach, FC Bayern's start to an unusual preparation for the second half of the season with the planned attack in the Champions League and the hunt for leader Bayer Leverkusen should take place without the planned defensive reinforcements.
In Munich they know from experience: winter shopping is complicated, expensive and involves risks. "The winter transfer market is a little more complicated than that in the summer," said Tuchel before the start at the club's premises on Tuesday afternoon. The 50-year-old has had to improvise far too often in recent months, especially in defense and in defensive midfield. “We kept getting caught up in our positions,” he complained. “We know that we have a need. We were pretty much at the last stretch in terms of personnel,” said sports director Christoph Freund.
The defensive bottleneck became apparent again right at the beginning of the year. Central defender Minjae Kim, who was named South Korea's Footballer of the Year on Tuesday, will be active for his home country at the Asian Cup in Qatar until February 10th at the latest. Kim will miss up to six league games, including possibly the top game in Leverkusen. And on February 14th, the first leg of the round of 16 in the Champions League will take place against Lazio Rome. In addition, full-back Noussair Mazraoui was called up by the Moroccan national coach for the Africa Cup of Nations (January 13th to February 11th) despite his injury.
Buy or borrow? Specialists or all-rounders? These are the questions to which answers must be found. "Is it a specialist or can one player fill several positions? Then one can be enough," explained Tuchel. It is absolutely necessary for him to increase the squad - but please with quality players. But which club in Europe will let top talent leave in January? “It is very difficult to get players in the middle of the season that we are 100 percent convinced of,” even Tuchel admitted.
Review: Twelve months ago, Bayern also became active in the winter. The Swiss national goalkeeper Yann Sommer was released from Gladbach for eight million euros as a replacement for captain Manuel Neuer, who was out after his broken leg. Full-back João Cancelo arrived on loan from Manchester City. For this purpose, the defense veteran Daley Blind, who was without a club, was signed for free. All three are long gone.
“Winter is not so easy,” Freund remarked. Arnau Martínez (20/FC Girona) and Clément Lenglet (28), who is on loan from FC Barcelona to Aston Villa, are considered candidates. Ronald Araújo (24) was considered the preferred candidate. However, the Uruguayan is still tied to FC Barcelona in the long term and is no longer considered a hot lead. Tuchel's desire for a defensive-minded midfielder has, for the time being, slipped behind a defensive solution on the priority list.
In addition to the squad upgrade in winter, CEO Jan-Christian Dreesen, Freund and Tuchel will have to design the Bayern team of the future. With captain Neuer, Thomas Müller and substitute goalkeeper Sven Ulreich, the contract has already been extended until 2025. Then the contracts of regulars Joshua Kimmich (28), Alphonso Davies (23) and Leroy Sané (27), who can look back on the best six months of his time at Bayern, will end. The trio will have to make future decisions in the coming months.
The fact that Sané harmonizes perfectly with royal transfer Harry Kane on the offensive plays into the national player's hand when it comes to contract poker. Sané wants to continue providing goals and assists in 2024. “I also want to be there when the decisive phase in the Champions League and the championship begins in the spring at the latest,” he said.
In Tuchel, Sané has found the coach who encourages and challenges him. “Leroy has my highest appreciation for what he did in the first half of the season. He set the bar very high,” said Tuchel after the last win in 2023 in Wolfsburg.
Afterwards there was twelve days of Christmas vacation. In contrast to previous years, when they regularly went to training camp in Qatar at the beginning of January, this time the Munich team is preparing for the second half of the season at home. The Bundesliga continues against TSG Hoffenheim on January 12th. Before that there is a test match at FC Basel on Saturday. Only after the Hoffenheim game will we go to Portugal for a few days in the Algarve, where Tuchel wants to weld his star ensemble even closer together - preferably with one or two new additions.