A Half-Term Report on Bayern Munich

Stefan Bienkowski@@SbienkowskiFeatured ColumnistDecember 28, 2013

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - AUGUST 29:  Pep Guardiola the FC Bayern Munchen coach during a training session prior to the UEFA Super Cup match between FC Bayern Munchen and Chelsea at Stadion Eden on August 29, 2013 in Prague, Czech Republic.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Half way there and the job is all but done. Such a comment is all that really needs to be said about Bayern Munich's season thus far.

Bayern is at the top of the Bundesliga by seven clear points as their rivals struggle to keep up and in form.  They are on course for a strong challenge of this season's Champions League—a trophy most would consider Bayern favourites to retain. 

Of course things weren't always this cosy for Pep Guardiola. When he arrived in the summer, his plane in to Munich airport wasn't accompanied by a marching band or hoards of chanting fans.

For Bayern and their fans, the success of just a few months prior in May was the peak of this current side, and whatever this new coach may be able to do, it would never equate to that wonderful treble win. 

Guardiola's first task at the club should have been a simple case of cementing that spirit and edge that made Jupp Heynckes' side so formidable the season before, yet the young coach opted instead to bring in a raft of new players and go back to the drawing board as he searched for a style of his own. 

The most notable of these signings was of course the smash-and-grab effort of signing young Thiago Alcantara from the grasp of Manchester United, for a formidable fee of around €25 million. This struck most as no more than a novelty signing in which Pep had simply signed one of his old friends from Barcelona; for the Bavarian side already had the best midfielder in the world.

In Bastian Schweinsteiger, the true heart of last season's team, and another Spaniard in Javi Martinez, who cost a similar amount last year, Guardiola already had a bulletproof plan in the centre of midfield for the foreseeable future. 

Yet the formidable duo isn't what Guardiola wanted. In fact the entire squad was far from what Guardiola wanted. And as quickly as the new coach walked in the front doors at the Allianz Arena, a new squad was being forged in the shadows. 

Out went the 4-2-3-1 formation that had been so favourable throughout the continent last season, a tactic that Bayern had mastered over all else on the way to their Champions League victory, and in came a more modest 4-1-4-1 set-up.

What's more, in came none other than Thiago Alcantara to sit in that holding role just behind the midfield while Schweinsteiger pushed forward to accompany Toni Kroos in the midfielder four. There was no room for Martinez, while fan favourite Schweinsteiger made way for another playmaker. A brave move for Guardiola.

To add to that, an opening day defeat to Borussia Dortmund in the German Super Cup was accompanied by lacklustre victories over Gladbach and Eintracht Frankfurt, before none other than lowly Freiburg held the Bavarians to a 1-1 draw. Three days later, Bayern stumbled over Chelsea in the European Super Cup in a game that saw Jose Mourinho's side land a few blows before the German champions could finally end the tie.

Bayern Munich may have ended August top of the league with another trophy in the bag, but the pressure was on Guardiola to fix things quick. 

Fortunately, the Catalonian coach did exactly that and since that final against Chelsea this new Bayern side have only lost just one game from 20. With formidable wins over Dortmund in the league and Manchester City in Europe, Bayern again regained that edge of superiority that some feared had left the club with the arrival of the new coach. 

Where the new tactic once looked flat and prohibiting to so many of Bayern's stars, it now facilitates the wonders of Mario Gotze, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben while Philipp Lahm's unforeseen move to that holding position now looks like a strike of genius from the new coach. Bayern don't look as they did last season, but that's not to say they're not as good.

In the Bundesliga, there are quite simply no teams that can get anywhere near touching distance to their brilliance. Although Bayer held the Bavarians to a draw earlier in the season and it was a much weakened Dortmund side that eventually succumbed to Guardiola's will not too long ago, the sheer strength in depth is what allows this Munich juggernaut its unmatched stamina in a title race that seems all but over. 

As Dortmund and Leverkusen cash in their domestic chips early and turn to Europe for some last-gasp glory this season, Guardiola's side will also hope for success further afield. With Arsenal posing a difficult task for the current European Champions in the last 16, one can't help but feel that a Bayern win over the current English league leaders is all but inevitable, as it would be over any opponent that gets in the way of Lahm & co's goal. 

From reminiscent tales of past success and hopes that the new coach could at least shine a light to last season's feat, the whispers of another treble win are now far from quashed throughout the city of Munich. Bayern are once again great under Guardiola.

As such we find ourselves hailing the Bundesliga's new overlords with a reminiscent sense of awe and wonder as Bayern Munich approach the new year with a healthy seven point lead. Yet, however, great this may be, they are not the same team that won trophy after trophy and heart after heart under Jupp Heynckes last season.

This is Bayern Munich with a new coach, new players and a new system, yet with all the same success. 


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