BERLIN, Germany, Feb 27 – Bayern Munich’s iron-grip on the Bundesliga shows no signs of weakening, but in Germany there is fear the lack of strong domestic rivals is hurting their Champions League chances.
Despite Saturday’s goalless draw at home to Hertha Berlin, Bayern finished the weekend 20 points clear.
Bayern are steaming towards a sixth straight title, but recent European success has eluded them.
“Until April, Bayern won’t have any challenges,” bemoaned German magazine Kicker.
“How can they keep up pressure in the squad?
“It won’t be easy given a sixth successive title is practically in the bag and there isn’t a single week in March, other than the return trip to Istanbul, with two matches.”
Their 5-0 hammering of 10-man Besiktas in last week’s last-16 first leg, leaves Bayern on the verge of a Champions League quarter-final berth, unless disaster strikes in the return leg on March 14.
Bayern last won the competition in 2013, but in each of the four seasons since they have lost in the Champions League knock-out stage to Spanish clubs.
Pep Guardiola’s team bowed out of the semi-finals to Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid in consecutive seasons.
Last season, under Carlo Ancelotti, Bayern lost in the quarter-finals to Real.
Critics say a dearth of strong domestic rivals means Bayern are rarely tested and struggle when under pressure.
Bundesliga teams tend to defend conservatively against Bayern.
“The attitude is often that opponents don’t want to lose heavily,” said ex-Bayern midfielder Michael Ballack.
“There is often too much respect.”
Former West Germany striker Dieter Hoeness, brother of Bayern president Uli, says Bayern’s huge lead does them no favours.
“When you have such a big lead, you lack a bit of bite,” he told Sky.
“This huge gap is a problem for the Bundesliga, but also for Bayern.”
Bayern are Germany’s sole remaining Champions League side — compared to England’s five teams — in the last 16.
Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig both failed to make it past the group stage.
In order for Bayern to continue competing on the European stage, they need genuine domestic rivals.
“It would be good if alongside Dortmund and Bayern, a third team constantly reached the Champions League,” said Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski.
To do so, German clubs would need increased spending power.
In a bid to boost foreign investment, the German Football League (DFL) is considering ditching its ’50+1′ rule, which ensures clubs are majority owned by their own membership rather than external investors.
A change could see cash from overseas filling Bundesliga clubs’ coffers in the future.
– German talent magnet –
Too often, though, the rest of the Bundesliga is dwarfed by Bayern’s financial might and prestige.
For years, they have lured Germany’s best young talent from rivals to Munich, such as Serge Gnabry, Sebastian Rudy, Niklas Suele, Sandro Wagner and Leon Goretzka.
But the last player to come through the club’s academy and make the grade was Austria defender David Alaba — back in 2010.
While Bayern tend to keep their top players, their domestic rivals often lose theirs — either to Munich or big-spending foreign clubs.
Dortmund lost two stars in the space of six months.
Ousmane Dembele joined Barcelona for 105 million euros ($129.2m), before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was sold to Arsenal for £56 million ($78 million).
In contrast, Bayern paid a Bundesliga record 47.5 million euros for French midfielder Corentin Tolisso last year.
Excluding the Tolisso deal, the Bundesliga’s biggest transfer this season is the 25 million euros Dortmund paid Dynamo Kiev for Andriy Yarmolenko — a paltry sum compared to what Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona and Real Madrid are prepared to spend.
In return, Bundesliga clubs are getting young players from England looking for experience.
Former Germany coach Bertie Vogts says the Bundesliga is in danger of becoming a feeder to the English Premier League rather than a rival.
“It must be a warning signal that English clubs send their young players to the Bundesliga just for them to play, because they do not have places in the Premier League,” said Vogts.
This season, Jadon Sancho joined Dortmund because he felt he had limited opportunities at Manchester City.
Fellow England prospect Reece Oxford is on loan at Borussia Moenchengladbach from West Ham and Everton’s Ademola Lookman opted for a stint at RB Leipzig.