Sven Ulreich looked like a broken man late in the evening of September 27. Bayern Munich's 3-0 thrashing at the feet of Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc de Princes was one of the serial Bundesliga champions' worst performances in recent years, and one of those who bore the brunt of the blame was their 30-year-old goalkeeper. It was apparent for anyone who watched that match that his confidence was at rock bottom.
"There will be consequences," Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge promised after that game.
There were. Just hours after that embarrassing defeat, the hammer came down on head coach Carlo Ancelotti's tenure at Bayern. After a short intermezzo under former Bayern defender Willy Sagnol, a certain Jupp Heynckes was lured back out of retirement.
Ulreich's performance on Tuesday night showed the difference that the right coaching change can make. Ulreich epitomizes the transformation that Bayern have gone through in such a short period of time. He looked confident as he commanded his area, pulling off a few amazing saves. He even took a page out of Manuel Neuer's book, venturing beyond his area to head the ball away from Edinson Cavani, denying the Uruguayan a goal-scoring opportunity.
Ulreich is just one of the players who has appeared reborn under the guidance of Heynckes. Franck Ribery seemed reinvigorated as the team's captain on the evening, fighting for every ball and coming to the aid of left back David Alaba when the likes of Neymar and Kevin Mbappe threatened to take him on. Kingsley Coman came up with a man-of-the-match performance, providing two assists and dribbling past defenders for fun; Even James Rodriguez, the man brought in to please Ancelotti, looked effective on the attack, and was rewarded for his good work with an assist.
This collective resurgence is no accident. Coach Heynckes looked on from the sidelines, cheering his lads on, while shouting occasional reminders. Ribery's efforts to get back to help out on defense, Ulreich's renewed confidence and Coman's dribbling skills were all rewarded with cheers from the Bayern bench. Heynckes is the sort of coach who makes sure that his players know that their good work is appreciated. And this isn't lost on the players.
"The coach puts his trust in me and I'm pleased to repay him with good performances," Ulreich said after the game.
The coach confirmed the positive vibes in the post-match press conference. Heynckes was careful to mention the contributions of almost every single player. Ulreich's performance, the coach said, was "top class," while Coman was "incredibly good on the ball." Alaba, Tolisso and James also earned favorable mentions.
Passive vs. active
What a contrast in style on the sidelines! On that chilly evening in Paris in late September, Ancelotti spent the entire 90-plus minutes on the bench, stoically looking on as the home side made his players look like just any other Ligue 1 side rather than one of Europe's biggest clubs.
Heynckes, on the other hand, spent this freezing-cold evening in early December, perched on the edge of the technical area, spurring his players on, communicating with them via an occasional look or clap. The difference on the sidelines was clearly reflected on both the pitch and the scoreboard.
'It's all good'
This 3-1 win over PSG had the feel of what Bayern really are, particularly in a big game. It was a result that first and foremost reflected the level of confidence Bayern's squad have gained over the past eight or so weeks. The boost in self-belief that comes with beating a team like PSG will do Bayern good. It has put the rest of Europe on notice that they are a force to be reckoned with in the Champions League.
For his part, Ulreich will almost certainly be back on the bench when Neuer, the German No. 1 returns from his injury next year, but as the former Stuttgart goalkeeper put it late on Tuesday evening: "It's all good."
There are no better words to describe the current mood around Bayern Munich.Felix Tamsut