Bayern Munich is considered one of the best teams in the world at the moment - and there is no denying that they are.
They won the treble last year and did it playing an explosive style of football which focused on ball-playing midfielders, lightning wingers who primarily cut inside, overlapping full-backs and a strong striker. This all came together in Jupp Heynckes' 4-2-3-1 formation.
The mainstays of this team were Neuer in goal, Lahm at right-back, Schweinsteiger and Martinez in the holding midfield roles, Robben and Ribery on the flanks and Mandzukic up front. It was the perfect mixture of pace, power and sublime skill.
This worked so well that many wondered whether Pep Guardiola was going to revert to a Barcelona-type possession football or stick to the old - and certainly proven - style. However, with the start of the season it became immediately obvious in which direction "Pep" was going to go.
With summer-signing Thiago Alcantara, Guardiola already hinted that possession and passing was going to be the mainstay of Bayern's gameplan. The irony behind Thiago's signing was that Gotze had already been added to a star-studded midfield and it was without a doubt that this was not a signing that was desperately needed. Even the departures showed what was to be expected. Big German striker Mario Gomez was sold to Fiorentina - more proof that big targetmen were not a priority.
At the start of the season Bayern had, without a doubt, the best midfield in Germany - if not Europe. Schweinsteiger, Martinez, Kroos, Muller, Thiago, Gotze, Shaqiri, Robben and Ribery are all world-class players and competition for places would be intense.
For this reason, Guardiola's most recent piece of management is so inexplicable. Bayern and Germany captain Philipp Lahm has been one of the best full-backs in the world for the last decade. A consistent performer who loves to get forward and support the attack, who is rarely injured and who has proven ever-reliable. Guardiola has turned him into a holding midfielder, which had football fans in Germany wondering.
Early season injuries to the likes of Martinez, Thiago and Gotze as well as niggling injuries to Schweinsteiger and Kroos throughout the season meant that, unbelievably, Bayern were short on central midfielders. Guardiola has reverted to a 4-1-4-1 formation with one holding midfielder, two midfielders who build up play and a lone striker. Lahm has been utilised as a holding midfielder and he has been unsurprisingly excellent. His tackling has been good and his ball skills allow him to break quickly and set up attacks.
In this sense it has been a Pep-masterstroke, however, one major problem remains: as strong as Bayern are in attack, they are prone to letting in goals too. Last year it was their strength in defence which secured the treble. Neuer set a record for least goals conceded in the league and Bayern went a two-legged semi-final against Barcelona without conceding.
Their defence was strong and well protected by the midfield. By moving Lahm into midfield Guardiola has taken his best defender out of the equation, thereby leaving Rafinha to man the boundaries. Rafinha can be a good player on his day but he can certainly not fill a defensive void left by Lahm.
Bayern have been leaking goals regularly this season and have fallen behind to Mainz, Hertha Berlin and Hoffenheim in their last three league games. Their attacking prowess has left holes in the back - a situation not too dissimilar to Barcelona.
To win the Champions League, you need to score goals and keep clean sheets. Simply trying to outscore your opponents won't always work. For Bayern to replicate last seasons magic, they need their captain back in defence. This isn't to say Bayern won't win anything this year or that they are a bad side, but surely this isn't progress.
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