January can't come soon enough for Bayern

TIM KEEBLE, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 6:17 PM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- German soccer legend Franz Beckenbauer has never been what you would call a 'glass half full' kind of person.

During Germany's surprising run to the World Cup final in 2002 Beckenbauer was quoted as saying, "If you put all the players except for Oliver Kahn into a sack and beat it with a stick, you couldn't avoid hitting the right person."

This was in reference to the fact that Germany was only able to beat Paraguay, the United States and South Korea 1-0 on its way to the final against Brazil, and needed some standout performances from goalkeeper Kahn to get there.

He also did his best to pour water on Germany's chances ahead of the 2010 World Cup, after an injury to captain Michael Ballack prior to the start of the tournament, though Germany would end up finishing in third place.

So when Der Kaiser came out this past week and said that Bayern Munich's chances of defending their Bundesliga title had all but vanished, it could initially be written off as more sour grapes from the typically crabby Beckenbauer.

But upon further inspection, Beckenbauer, who is Bayern's honorary president, might not be too far off on this one.

The German giants no doubt entered the season as favorites to retain their league title, but just one year after the club won the domestic double and reached the final of the Champions League, they have looked like anything but one of Europe's elite teams.

Through the first seven games of the Bundesliga season Bayern sits in 12th place having earned just eight points from its first seven games, a total that could be even worse if not for late winning goals from Bastian Schweinsteiger and Daniel van Buyten which helped the team earn six points instead of just two against Wolfsburg and Hoffenheim.

Bayern has already fallen 13 points behind surprise leaders Mainz, and if history is any indication, Beckenbauer has good reason to be pessimistic.

Werder Bremen was able to win the title in 1992-93 after earning nine points from seven games, but no team has won with fewer at this point in the season, and with so many key players battling injuries, a quick turnaround is becoming less and less likely.

Part of Bayern's problem is that they have been a victim of their own success, with a deep run in the Champions League leaving little time before the World Cup.

And with 13 of Bayern's players taking part in the competition this past summer - and many playing deep into the final weekend - there is a lot of mileage on the legs of many of the team's key players.

Defender Philipp Lahm, for example, has already logged 4,230 minutes of playing time between club and country in 2010, and he could potentially add over 1,400 more minutes over the rest of the calendar year barring injury.

That is a staggering total for any position player, while other key players like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mark Van Bommel, Thomas Muller and Holger Badstuber have also seen plenty of time this year.

There is no denying that this is a very tired Bayern team, but there won't be a chance for the squad to really re-charge until after December 19, when the league shuts down for nearly a month until it resumes again in mid-January.

Manager Louis van Gaal has pointed out that the team has responded well in other competitions outside of the Bundesliga, with Bayern winning its first two Champions League matches, the Supercup and one game in the league cup.

However, Van Gaal feels that his team is lacking concentration when it comes to the league.

A better mental approach may be helpful, but so too would the presence of wingers Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben in the team's lineup.

Bayern has performed well defensively in the league, with the club conceding eight goals in seven games, but the offensive woes which have plagued the team this season must be fixed.

Van Gaal has seen his charges score just five goals in their first seven games, and the absences of Ribery and especially Robben have hurt tremendously.

Ribery has had injury issues since he arrived at Bayern prior to the 2007-08 season, and he is expected back in November, but the addition of Robben before last season is what really took the attack to the next level.

The Dutchman is well known for his diving exploits, but he has also established himself as the key man in the Bayern attack, which is being proven so far this season in his absence.

Robben scored a number of clutch goals last season in Bayern's run to the Champions League final, but he was injured while playing for the Netherlands in the World Cup, and is not expected to return to the lineup until January.

Until then, Bayern must find a way to generate offense with Muller, Miroslav Klose and Ribery - when he returns from injury - bearing much of the burden.

Goalkeeper Hans-Jorg Butt must be having flashbacks to 2002 when he was in a similar situation to this one with Bayer Leverkusen.

The club finished second in both the league and domestic cup and lost in the final of the Champions League. But following the 2002 World Cup, which saw many Leverkusen players take part, the team narrowly avoided relegation.

And while not even Beckenbauer would dare entertain thoughts of a relegation battle for Bayern this season, he has already turned his focus to finishing in the top three.

There is no doubt that when Bayern is at full strength they are the top team in Germany.

The problem is that there are a lot of games still to be played before Bayern is at full strength.

From now until January, Bayern will be left to tread water and wait for reinforcements to arrive.

Not even the most optimistic Bayern supporter can expect too much else.


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