Having won the unprecedented treble last season, Bayern Munich seemed immortal under Jupp Heynckes as they steam rolled their way past challenge-after-challenges.
They had a moment of scare against Arsenal but after a poor display, Heynckes transformed Bayern into a well oiled winning machine set-up to destroy their opponents.
Last season Bayern Munich had a solid defence with a midfield of steel, craft and imagination combined with world class wing play and lethal finishing from their strikers. Heynckes formed his team on the rock of a Dante/ Jerome Boateng defensive partnership and the steady yet sparkling midfield duo of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez. These two areas allowed the wingers, play-makers and strikers to express themselves to devastating effect and paved the way for success on all fronts.
The news of Pep Guardiola replacing Heynckes excited the German society as one of the best coaches in the world was moving to take over the backbone statue in the history of German Football. The success of last season’s team was certainly sumptuous but the expectation of this season is even higher after the addition of Mario Gotze from Borussia Dortmund as well as the expected arrival of Robert Lewandowski.
However the Polish striker never arrived and there were more controversy to follow. Pep Guardiola made it clear Thiago Alcantara was a player he needed which forced out Luiz Gustavo, who moved to Wolfsburg. Guardiola sees Javi Martinez as a central defender since his days at Barcelona and this was the basis upon which he convinced Thiago that he has a place in midfield for him. With Gustavo leaving and Martinez likely to feature in defence, there are no recognised ‘ball winner’ in the middle of the pitch.
This frailty was exposed by Borussia Dortmund in the German Super Cup as they ran midfield with Ilkay Gundogan dictating play and ripping apart the European Champions’ midfield. The weakness was exploited by ten-men Chelsea in the European Super Cup as they took the lead before Martinez came off the bench to stabilise Bayern’s midfield and also score the equalising goal to send the match to penalties where the Germans won.
So far this season, the Bundesliga and European Champions may be doing well but this is merely down to the firepower they have going forward. The balance is not right and with injuries to Schweinsteiger, Thiago and Martinez, Guardiola has been forced to use Philip Lahm in central midfield many times in the season so far. Many German experts particularly Raf Honigstein believes the signing of Thiago has totally unsettled the Bayern team as well as disrupting the balance.
If Martinez gets fully fit and is placed in defence, not only is there more competition in defence for places but the midfield is losing an imposing figure and a man that Schweinsteiger loves playing with. Also many believe that Thiago is not as talented as any of the players already at the club so he should not be in the team at their expense. The problem with that is if he doesn’t play, the Bayern fans will question the £22m spent on the young Spaniard and could put Guardiola under a lot of pressure.
However, for the most part, the European champions are getting the right results and so all seems well on the surface but a close inspection shows that except for their prowess going forward Bayern have weaknesses. They have given up six goals so far this season after 10 games compared to just three at this stage last season. However Bayern possesses the ball a lot more compared to last season but this was expected due to the style Guardiola demands from his teams.
It has been smooth sailing after that German Super Cup defeat to Dortmund which may have taken the heat off Guardiola. The Bavarians are still the team to beat in Europe but there are still some questions to be answered by Guardiola.
The media is surely waiting to pounce should Guardiola’s men go on a poor run of form or have a couple bad results especially in the Champions League. Guardiola may soon have a fully fit team to select from and at that stage questions may need to be answered but one thing is for sure and that is the German public wants to see the German internationals playing every week and this is something Pep Guardiola may find difficult to handle if he decides to play Thiago week-in week-out.
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