By Oliver Trust
BERLIN, Feb. 22 (Xinhua) -- The return of midfielder Leon Goretzka has given Bayern Munich greater hope of surviving the crunch time stage of the 2020-2021 season.
Ahead of the Champions League last 16 encounter against Lazio this Tuesday, head coach Hansi Flick is pinning his hopes on the 26-year-old to regain midfield control.
Having to replace stalwarts like Goretzka, Thomas Mueller, and Benjamin Pavard has caused a significant disbalance.
Bayern has not only paid the price for all the travel involved in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also suffered from the most positive tests in German football, namely Pavard, Goretzka, Mueller, Niklas Suele, Javi Martinez, and Serge Gnabry.
Ahead of the match against the Italian side, the club announced it will be increasing its hygiene efforts following victory at the FIFA Club World Cup. Shopping for players is no longer allowed and they may only commute between their homes and the training center.
Media activities have been stopped entirely after health authorities threatened to stop Bayern's trip to Rome.
The crisis revealed a certain quality problem in the squad apart from the difficulties of integrating new arrivals such as Leroy Sane. Regular training sessions have often not been possible so that new and second-choice players haven't had the chance to fit in properly.
Inconsistency came to light with the side having conceded 31 goals in the national league, the worst in 29 years. Lately, Bayern has thrown away five points in the league with a 3-3 draw with Bielefeld and a 2-1 defeat to Frankfurt, and was also beaten by second division Holstein Kiel in the Cup.
While winger Gnabry and the German inspirational Mueller will miss the trip to the Italian capital, Goretzka's return improves options for coach Flick.
The match in Frankfurt showed that Bayern is struggling without key figures in midfield.
Joshua Kimmich has recently missed his partner in the center leading to Bayern losing its stability, allowing too many gaps with their high pressing system getting falling of balance.
While the lead in the Bundesliga has melted to only two points ahead of rivals RB Leipzig, the Champions League's knockout stage is increasing pressure on the 2020 treble winner.
Flick demanded full concentration on football in the coming weeks and neglect of personal interests such as players' futures.
Chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge announced players' salary will have to be cut in new contracts as the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the club's income.
German international Suele is the most recent example of the new policy. Rummenigge said the defender's contract would only be extended beyond 2022 if the club's reduced offer is accepted.
Suele is said to be of interest to Premier League side Chelsea.
Flick is said to tighten measures not only in Suele's case but also the former City star Sane. Both have fallen short of expectations and have come under pressure.
The Bayern coach's critics include spearhead Robert Lewandowski (26 league goals) as the Pole too has dropped back to midfield too often in an effort to propel the team forward. Strict tactical discipline will decide just how successful Bayern will be at the end of the season, Flick added. Enditem