Munich: Bayern Munich are struggling to fill the creative hole left by Thiago Alcantara's injury as they host AEK in the Champions League on Wednesday trying to secure a last 16 berth with trouble brewing for head coach Niko Kovac.
Bayern can reach the knockout stages if they beat the Greek champions AEK at Munich's Allianz Arena and Benfica lose at Ajax in the other Group E match. However, Bayern have been struggling for creativity since Thiago tore ankle ligaments ten days ago and Joshua Kimmich, usually a right-back, has struggled to replace him in the central midfield role.
Kimmich lost 14 of his 16 challenges for the ball and several passes went astray in Saturday's lethargic 1-1 draw against Freiburg, which left Bayern third in the league table, four points behind leaders Borussia Dortmund.
Kovac has other central midfield options to replace Thiago against AEK in James Rodriguez, Renato Sanches or Leon Goretzka. Additionally, bigger problems are brewing off the pitch with pundits warning Kovac is in danger of losing his dressing room.
"The coach is measured by results and not everyone is behind Niko Kovac," ex-Bayern and Germany midfielder Lothar Matthaeus told Sky, adding, "that is dangerous."
German magazine Kicker on Monday claimed that senior players Thomas Mueller, Mats Hummels, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben are all unhappy with Kovac's coaching style. The main problem seems to be rotating Bayern's star-studded squad, leaving Mueller and Hummels discontent with their amount of playing time.
Robben was left fuming after being taken off in Saturday's draw against Freiburg, the eighth time he has been taken off in 13 matches this season. Bayern's attack is failing to fire and Kovac seems to be at a loss for words how to fix the problem.
"We lack the power to punch forward. We can't break through at the moment as defences are closing us down," he lamented.
"Things also seem difficult in the middle. It's clear to me that from a playing perspective, this is not what we expected. Everything is now being questioned (by the media) " which I can understand," he added.
League defeats to Hertha Berlin and Borussia Monchengladbach have seen Bayern take just 20 points from the first 10 league games " their worst haul since the 2010/11 season, when Dortmund won the title.
Kovac is clearly not the only senior figure feeling the heat. "Don't ask me such stupid questions," fumed director of sport Hasan Salihamidzic, who then stormed off when reporters asked if Kovac's job will be safe if Bayern lose at Dortmund on Saturday.
A win over AEK, with the bonus of a place in the last 16 would ease the pressure on Kovac before heading to Dortmund for Saturday's showdown.