Bayern Munich hope Harry Kane German Cup gamble pays off in Klassiker


Harry Kane of FC Bayern München celebrates after scoring his teams fifth goal during the Bundesliga match between FC Bayern München and SV Darmstadt 98 at Allianz Arena on October 28, 2023 in Munich, Germany. 

It would be tempting, in the aftermath of Bayern Munich’s chastening 2-1 defeat by third-division Saarbrucken in the German Cup, to wonder how seriously Bayern take what they, perhaps, regard as minor silverware.

Big trophies come regularly to Bavaria – the club are pursuing a 12th league title on the trot – and the pattern since they scooped up six pieces of silverware in a historic 2020 suggests that when it comes to the local knockouts they unconsciously ease off.

Certainly Saarbrucken seemed to have the greater reserves of concentration and purpose at the end of both halves of Wednesday’s shock upset.

Having fallen behind to an early Thomas Muller goal, the underdogs bit back just before the interval. Their goalkeeper Tim Schreiber made outstanding saves.

Saarbrucken’s Marcel Gaus will never forget his night. Twelve months ago, he was an unemployed, 33-year-old journeyman winger. Six minutes into second-half injury time, his firm strike made him the slayer of Germany’s most famous sporting institution.

An “embarrassment” the newspaper Bild-Zeitung called it. Thomas Tuchel, the Bayern manager, had hardly been scornful of the cup in selecting his line-up and is fully aware of Bayern’s poor recent run in the competition.

Second-tier Holstein Kiel dumped them out via penalties in 2020/21; Bayern started as favourites when they were eliminated 5-0 by Borussia Monchengladbach the next season and, in last year’s quarter-final under Tuchel, when Freiburg beat them.

At Saarbrucken, he had Manuel Neuer in goal, Kim Min-jae and, until he pulled up with injury, Matthijs De Ligt at centre-back. Joshua Kimmich anchored midfield, with Muller ahead of him. Alphonso Davies and Leroy Sane gave the starting XI its high-class pace.

Absent entirely, even as Kingsley Coman, Serge Gnabry and Jamal Musiala were introduced to try to win the tie in the second half, was Harry Kane.

Bayern’s leading goalscorer of the campaign, their €100 million summer recruit from Tottenham Hotspur, had been left on the bench, the better to preserve him for Saturday's trip to Borussia Dortmund. Tuchel chose not to use Kane at all at Saarbrucken.

It was a calculated gamble, he admitted afterwards. Tuchel had made four substitutions by the hour mark. Kane was to be his fifth, his anticipated game-changer if the arduous evening spilt into extra-time and provided Tuchel had established that players in more defensive roles were all fit enough to manage another half-hour. “There was one last change possible,” explained the coach, “I wanted to wait.”

The frustration in defeat, one he was helpless to prevent, was felt as keenly by Kane as anybody. If there is any member of Bayern immunised against easing up in the so-called lesser competitions, it is the captain of England. He yearns for a team trophy, however big or small.

Kane, 30, had been with Spurs all his professional life until August, set individual records, been the most popular man at what is arguably the finest club venue in Europe, the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium.

He left all that because the one thing Spurs never quite provided was silverware. His yields from 435 games and 280 goals with the North London club? Three runners-up medals, one in the Premier League, another two in the League Cup.

Yet Kane looks at the English table this morning and sees Spurs top. So much for the side Pep Guardiola, the Manchester City manager, once referred to as ‘The Harry Kane Team’ so defined were Tottenham by the icon and star they supposedly depended on.

Rival coaches in the Bundesliga would be forgiven for dubbing Bayern ‘The Harry Kane Team’. He’s scored 14 goals in 13 appearances. He’s supplied seven direct assists. Without Kane’s contributions Bayern, second in the Bundesliga, might have lost their league contests with leaders Bayer Leverkusen and a competitive RB Leipzig.

Without Kane in the starting XI, Bayern have waved goodbye to two of the trophies he might have started his overdue collection with. He had barely signed his Bayern contract, let alone mastered fresh training drills, when the German Super Cup against Leipzig kicked off at the Allianz Arena. Tuchel brought Kane on for his debut in the 64th minute with Leipzig 2-0 ahead. It was too late to salvage that trophy. It finished 3-0.

Against Saarbrucken Kane had no role at all. So his domestic impact is suddenly focused solely on this season’s Bundesliga. Bayern only won that title on goal difference ahead of Dortmund last May because thier Klassiker rivals failed to win on the last matchday.

Kane is the recruit designed to stretch that narrow gap. But defeat for The Harry Kane Team at the raucous Westfalenstadion would put Dortmund above Bayern. These are early days, but for Bayern’s centre-forward, the stakes look high. Trophies have a nasty habit of slipping away from Kane’s grasp, however brilliantly he fulfils his own tasks.

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