The 2012/13 season saw Jupp Heynckes’ Bayern Munich side win a historic treble, kicking off much speculation that we were about to see a Bayern side returning to the glory days of many years gone by.
Alongside a domestic double of the Bundesliga title and the DFB-Pokal, they also won the UEFA Champions League against Borussia Dortmund at Wembley, avenging the defeat in the final a year before against Chelsea on Bayern’s own ground, the Allianz Arena. With Heynckes having already announced his retirement earlier in the season, he couldn’t have asked for a better send-off than the one he received from his side in the end.
Winning a league title in any big league is a huge achievement, and Bayern deserve credit for securing the 23rd title in their history. However, they deserve special credit for the way in which they won it. After all 34 games had been played, Bayern finished on 91 points, 25 clear of nearest challengers Borussia Dortmund, in a remarkable season. FC Hollywood also scored 98 goals and conceded just 18 on their way to the title, a feat matched by few teams over the years.
There was also a number of emphatic results throughout the campaign, such as the 9-2 rout of Hamburg and 6-1 wins over Werder Bremen and Stuttgart. Now, these teams are understandably much weaker than Bayern, but not to the level shown by the scoreline, which just shows how good Bayern were domestically last season. These weren’t just one-offs either; Die Bayern scored 5 or more in league matches on six occasions throughout the campaign, and I think you’d have to go a fair way to find a better record in the same standard of league.
The highest point of Bayern’s season had to be their 7-0 drubbing of Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final over the two legs. When these two giants of world football, I expected Barcelona to emerge on top as the victors, as you do whenever Barcelona are playing, even against sides this good. I knew we’d be in for a great couple of games too, although I certainly wasn’t expecting this to happen.
A Thomas Muller double, alongside goals from Mario Gomez and Arjen Robben, gave Bayern a 4-0 lead after the first leg in Germany. The entire football world were in shock; since when do Barcelona crumble? However much criticism the Spaniards received in that game, you can’t take away from the Germans’ performance, as they played magnificently, deservedly romping to victory.
There was then much talk as to whether Barcelona would be able to pull off one of football’s greatest ever comebacks in the second leg at the Camp Nou, however the odds on that were huge. I did, however, expect Barca to put up a fight, and at least win this leg. What happened? Goals from Robben and Muller sandwiched a Pique own goal, sending the football world into bedlam again.
In a way, this was even more of a shock than the first leg. Barcelona, supposedly the greatest side to have ever lived, had been systematically dismantled home and away by Bayern Munich in a 7-0 triumph. People were in disbelief as to how it could happen, me included. However, I now believe it was just a sign that Bayern Munich are returning to the glory days of players such as Franz Beckenbauer.
With Heynckes set to retire, Bayern had to go about looking for his successor, and to my surprise, appointed one before their current one had even head out of the door. What was this new man’s name? Josep Guardiola of Spain, better known as Pep to his friends. The former Barcelona man, who was supposedly taking a year’s sabbatical from the game after resigning from Barcelona at the end of the 2011-12 season, had been appointed as the new man to take Bayern forward in a signing that shocked many.
The very fact that Guardiola has chosen to make the move to Germany shows the progress that Bayern are making as a club to return to those old heights. The 42-year-old is a manager of unimaginable pedigree, having won almost everything in offer in his stint at Barcelona, and it was a shock to many when he decided to resign from his club last year. However, with great ability comes huge expectations. The Bayern fans will be expecting a huge amount of success from their new coach, and I am predicting him to bring it with his traditional possession style of play that was so successful at the Camp Nou, tearing teams apart on many occasions.
As in any successful squad, there is always a core of players that are vital to the team, and are vital to any success that the team may have. I believe that there are five of these players at Bayern, running right through the spine of the team. Starting off with Manuel Neuer; the goalkeeper signed from Schalke in 2011 and has been an integral part of Bayern’s side since then, keeping 21 clean sheets in the league last season and showcasing why he is one of the top keepers in world football.
Next, we have Philipp Lahm, who has been ever-present in the Bayern side since starting with them in 2003. He has now made nearly 300 league appearances for the side, and is the captain and a popular figure among both players and fans. Bastain Schweinsteiger is another player who has spent the entirety of his senior career with Die Bayern, making 299 appearances in the league since 2002. He is now a key, creative part of a Bayern side full to the brim with world-class quality.
Frank Ribery is a player who is starting to reach his prime now, having been with the club since 2007 and making over 150 league appearances. He was crucial in Bayern’s treble win last year, and still has a couple of good seasons in him before he steps aside for a younger player to come through. Finally, we come to Thomas Muller, Bayern’s top scorer in all competitions last season, with 23 goals. Despite being just 23, he is an essential part of both Bayern’s side and the German national team’s, and will remain so for years to come, maybe even becoming one of the world’s best players.
Summer is always an exciting time, as the comings and goings can decide who comes out on top after a long and arduous league campaign. We saw it in the Premier League last year, with the signing of Robin Van Persie being the reason Manchester United won their 20th league title. Bayern have taken very little time in going about their business, signing two of Europe’s best young midfielders and becoming the front-runners for one of German football’s leading strikers to sign next summer.
Bayern Munich’s latest signing is Thiago Alcantara from Barcelona, Guardiola’s former club. He was confirmed to be joining after the new manager expressed a big interest in the youngster that Manchester United had been rumored to be chasing for some time. However, Guardiola persuaded the midfielder he had previously managed at the Camp Nou to move to the Allianz Arena instead of Old Trafford, once they paid his release clause. It is without a doubt a fantastic signing for Bayern and will allow Thiago to develop properly. Given that Guardiola came out to the press and stated his interest in the 22-year-old assures me that he will be given the chances in the Bayern team to prove his worth alongside the banks of quality Bayern also possess.
However, that isn’t the biggest signing that Bayern have made this summer. This other signing is none other then Mario Gotze (from Borussia Dortmund), who joined after Bayern paid his release clause a few weeks ago. He is one of Germany’s rising stars, and has been a key figure in the Dortmund side over the last couple of years. Dortmund are very disappointed to have lost one of their star players to a rival, and I think it signifies how far they have to go as a club to reach the size of their Bavarian rivals. For me, the allure of turning out in that red shirt is bigger than turning out in the yellow one of Dortmund.
Bayern also look set to sign another Dortmund player next summer, Polish striker Robert Lewandowski, who was a revelation last season for his club and has attracted the attentions of some of Europe’s biggest clubs, such as Manchester United and City as well as Chelsea. However, the 24-year-old favors a move to Bavaria, and looks set to sign on a free transfer when his current contract expires next summer. Dortmund boss Jurgen Klopp has even gone as far in recent times as to say he expects his star man upfront to sign with the treble winners next year. This will be a further blow to the club, but serves as a reinforcement that Dortmund are much smaller than Bayern, and it’ll take a long time to change that.
Pre-season matches are always focused upon in preparation for the new season and can provide a good view of things to come at times. However, they can often be unreliable, with results not reflecting competitive games, usually down to a lack of fitness. I am taking a good look at Bayern’s friendlies this year in order to ascertain what kind of tactics Guardiola will be employing with his new club. So far, he has faced six teams and scored a huge 50 goals throughout these six encounters. In fairness, they were all against much weaker sides, but it is still a good way to look at how Guardiola will have his charges playing, and it seems he wants them in a similar fashion as he did his players at Barcelona: playing possession football. We saw how well it worked in La Liga; now it’s time to see the effect it has in the Bundesliga.
If a side wants to dominate year after year, it has to have young talent in the ranks ready to come in and make an impact. Many of the top teams such as Manchester United and Barcelona possess this, and Bayern Munich are no exception. Players such as David Alaba are already big parts of the side, often starting ahead of older players in the same position. There are also players like the Swiss Xherdan Shaqiri and Emre Can, who are on the fringes of the first-team and are ready to take their rightful place in the side over the next couple of seasons. They are in the meantime benefiting from knowledge passed on to them from their more experienced teammates.
Most likely, both Thiago and Mario Gotze will come into the Bayern squad and play a big part in the first-team next season. Gotze seems set to lead the line up front, biding time until the arrival of Lewandowski next summer, and Thiago will fit into the central midfield role, playing an attacking game. This young talent collectively has a phenomenal level of potential, and will help Bayern stay on top for a long time to come.
Despite the strength in the Bayern ranks, I still believe there are a couple of areas that could be improved on. For example, I might look for possible successors to Philpp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger. As brilliant as these players are, they aren’t getting any younger, with both being in their late twenties now. This means they’ll only have a couple more years at the top of their game, before they have to hand the baton on to someone else.
In Schweinsteiger’s case, this won’t be that difficult, as Bayern possess a wealth of talent already in that area of the pitch; I think that Thiago, their newest signing, could be the one in line to be his replacement, although I feel he would want to start off as a first-choice player much sooner than that. For Lahm, it is a bit more difficult; there are very few good, young right-backs in the game at the moment, and even less who would be able to live up to the standards of Lahm in their careers. You cannot underestimate Lahm’s influence on that team, and it will take a very special player to take his place.
It’s not just the Barcelona results that caught my eye for Bayern Munich in the Champions League over the last couple of years. In this year’s competition alone, they beat Italian champions Juvetus and Arsenal alongside Barcelona on their way to winning the crown. In the 2011-12 edition, in which they also reached the final, they beat Manchester City and Real Madrid on the road to the final on their own turf.
No team can cause that many upsets and get into two consecutive Champions League finals without having some serious degree of quality about them, both as a team and as individual players. Thankfully, Bayern Munich haven’t fallen into the trap of selling off their best players, then not replacing them with players of the same quality. In fact, they have pretty much kept the same side, which is important, as stability provides a good platform to work from in order to achieve success over a long period of time.
So, are we now headed for a period of time when Bayern will dominate European and world football? I think so, yes. Not only do they possess one of the strongest sides in the world right now, but they are constantly attracting new, young talent such as Thiago and Gotze that will allow the good times to keep rolling long after the current generation have hung up their boots.
They may have a new man at the helm, but apart from that, they won’t change too much, and the signs so far have shown that Guardiola is the right man for the job. Over the last couple of years with Heynckes, they’ve shown they can easily beat the best sides both domestically and at the international level, which is what will decide the success Bayern has in the future.
The club also has some great fans in tow (attracted to the criminally low ticket prices, with the cheapest season ticket being less than £70 for all Bundesliga matches), that haven’t always had the best of times in the last three or four years. They came second to Borussia Dortmund in two of the last three league campaigns and lost two out of their last three Champions League finals (in 2010 and 2012). But now, Bayern Munich look to be entering a long period of continued success under one of the world’s best coaches of modern day football.