Tinker ends, Bayern have twinkle in eyes

German giants face Ajax looking for fourth win in a row as coach Kovac ends rotation

BERLIN • Resurgent Bayern Munich head to Ajax Amsterdam for today's Champions League Group E clash, with clear winners and losers in their squad after Niko Kovac's decision to end his rotation policy.

The six-time defending German champions have 13 points, two ahead of their rivals, and need just a point at the Johan Cruyff Arena to top the group.

While both teams have already qualified for the last 16, Bayern's Leon Goretzka is keen to extend their winning streak of three in all competitions.

"We want to keep going," said the midfielder, who has established himself as a starter alongside Joshua Kimmich.

"Now we travel to Amsterdam and we want to finish first. That's important for us."

The Bavarian giants also appear to be gaining some semblance of stability after a poor run at the start of the season saw them drop to as low as sixth in the German Bundesliga at the end of October, fanning the sack rumours surrounding coach Kovac.

However, they have since clawed their way back up to third in the league after he ditched tinkering with his line-up.

 
 
 

While the Croat is risking ruffled egos by benching several big names, including Mats Hummels, Javi Martinez and Renato Sanches, he has made it clear that reputation will no longer be enough for a spot in his starting XI.

"The rhythm is there, the boys are in the flow, that's why we don't want to change anything," he said, before revealing that Goretzka and Kimmich are now his first-choice pairing in the middle of the park.

"Both have a very good understanding of football and read the game well. They get on well off the pitch and are in the (Germany) national team together.

"It's an axis that's really fun now, not only for them, but also the whole team in the last three games."

However, Hummels, who has lost his place to Niklas Sule, looked like he was having anything but fun, wearing a scowl as he brushed off reporters without saying a word following Bayern's 3-0 league win over Nuremberg on Saturday.

But Kovac's hardline stance, dropping his more established players when they underperform, has been backed by Bayern's sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic.

He said: "We rotated (at first) as Niko tried to find the right team.

"Perhaps it was too much and some players didn't know where they fit in. In the last few games, he hasn't done that and the team looks good."

One player who would normally be regarded as a regular but will not be facing Ajax is Arjen Robben. The Dutchman will miss out after failing to recover from a knee injury suffered last month.

The 34-year-old confirmed on Monday he would be leaving Bayern when his contract expires in the summer and did not rule out the possibility of retirement.

The injured midfield duo of Corentin Tolisso and James Rodriguez will also miss out.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2018, with the headline 'Tinker ends, Bayern have twinkle in eyes'. Print Edition | Subscribe