"They played well in defence, with their players showing discipline by maintaining their shape. Forty-five games without losing... this must be a really strong squad - it won't be easy.”
These were words uttered by Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola during the pre-match press conference for Bayern’s Champions League Group F clash against Dinamo Zagreb at the Allianz Arena.
How glad Guardiola must’ve been to have been made to eat his own words in such resounding fashion by his team.
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Bayern, deployed in an aggressive 4-3-3 formation by Guardiola, mercilessly put Dinamo to the sword – racing into a 4-0 lead within the first 28 minutes – and making a complete mockery of the Croatian champions’ 45-match unbeaten run while they were at it.
The ease in which the Bavarians did so was staggering. Throughout the match, Guardiola’s men never looked like they even got out of third gear; at times, the game felt more like a closed-door training match than a Champions League fixture.
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The fact that they were able to produce such a performance even without the likes of the injured Arturo Vidal, Sebastian Rode, Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, defenders Medhi Benatia and Holger Badstuber, just underscores the immense strength that lies within this Bayern squad.
Dinamo, set up in a counterattacking 4-2-3-1 formation by coach Zoran Mamic, neither showed any real quality nor belief that they could get something out of the game.
The aggression and intensity which Dinamo showed at Stadion Maksimir against Arsenal on matchday one was lacking – revealing a fearful respect of Die Bayern; a fear that was ultimately proven to be justified at the end of 90 minutes.
LEWANDOWSKI ON FIRE
To say that the Warsaw-born striker has found himself in a bit of a purple patch of late would be a massive understatement. Lewandowski’s tally of 10 goals in three consecutive matches is certainly no mean feat.
The apparent ease in which he’s notched these goals is breathtaking, even considering his reputation as a world-class centre-forward.
These stats are also made more impressive given the fact that all his 10 goals have come from open play.
On current form he’s surely the best striker in European football, and will be rubbing his palms with anticipation at the prospect of facing Dortmund again.
Bayern supporters can be confident that ‘Lewy’ – as he’s affectionately known – won’t be harbouring any lingering affection for his former club; the telling statistic of his scoring in the last three competitive matches against Die Borussen attests to this.
IMPRESSIVE SUPPORTING CAST
With the beanpole Pole understandably being the flavour of the month, it is easy to forget that this Bayern team is also home to other mightily-talented stars.
Against Dinamo, three other players stood out – Thiago, Douglas Costa, and Kingsley Coman.
Thiago, a key midfielder for Barcelona during their trophy-laden Guardiola years, showed just why his boss brought him over to the Allianz Arena.
His masterful passing and feeding of the ball to Bayern’s front three from within his own half is reminiscent of his compatriot Xabi Alonso, while his darting, calculated runs into the opponent’s penalty area conjures up images of Paul Scholes in his prime.
It is astounding to realise that a player so rich with championship-winning experience and quality is still only 24.
Costa and Coman on the other hand marshalled Bayern’s flanks superbly.
While Lewandowski deservedly drew the bulk of plaudits against Dinamo, Costa was arguably the second brightest star on the night.
Starting the match on the left wing, Costa, with his aristocratic ball control and penetrative dribbling, gave Dinamo’s right back Alexandru Matel a torrid night; his deft turn towards the left to create space against the latter before driving home Bayern’s first goal at the 13 minute mark was just one example of the torment inflicted by the Brazilian.
Costa’s partner-in-crime on the opposite flank, Kingsley Coman, only got into his groove after Thomas Muller replaced the former on 58 minutes.
The Frenchman took over Costa’s mantle as dribbler-in-chief with consummate ease and was every bit as impressive in the match’s final 30 minutes as Costa was in the period preceding it.
Also of note is Mario Gotze. While Germany’s golden boy did get on the scoresheet with a well-worked goal, he by and large had a quiet game.
Guardiola will, however, take this as a good sign, and hope that the former Borussia Dortmund protégé catches fire against his former employers on Sunday.
TOUGH FOR TUCHEL & CO
Make no mistake – despite guiding Die Schwarzgelben to their best ever start to a new season by winning nine consecutive competitive matches, and recording a best-ever start to a Bundesliga campaign by any team – Thomas Tuchel’s men will have a game on their hands at the Allianz Arena in what will be the new season’s first Der Klassiker showdown.
Dortmund, to their credit, have been highly impressive for the most part this season. However, in their last two Bundesliga outings against Hoffenheim and Darmstadt 98, cracks have started to appear.
Conceding a last-minute goal against newly-promoted Darmstadt at the Signal Iduna Park, in particular, indicates a certain self-doubt or chink in confidence within Dortmund’s ranks.
It is an issue that Tuchel will need to address, as a Bayern side in its present rampant form will gladly devour any prey that projects any signs of weakness.
A draining trip to Greece to face Europa League opponents PAOK just 48 hours prior to the clash against their arch rivals is also hardly ideal for the Ruhr club, despite Tuchel making eight changes to the side that faced Darmstadt.
Dortmund though, can take encouragement from their performance in the 1-1 draw at the Toumba
Nevertheless, it is hard to envisage Bayern not scoring on the day – key players Patrick Aubameyang, Marco Reus, Henrik Mkhitaryan and Shinji Kagawa will all need to bring along their A game if Dortmund expect to leave with anything from the imposing Allianz Arena.
Tuchel has been a revelation ever since his appointment as Dortmund manager on April 19 this year, leading the club to a run of 14 competitive matches without defeat.
Still, this lovely record looks well ripe for picking by Bayern, especially with them playing on home turf.
Whatever transpires though, both sets of supporters and neutrals alike can be sure of a cracking encounter between two of Germany's largest clubs.
Guardiola’s troops look unstoppable at the moment, and with Arjen Robben in with a chance of returning from injury to face Dortmund, it would take a brave man to bet against Die Roten inflicting the season’s first competitive defeat for Tuchel and his Black and Yellows.