Heading into a New Year, Bayern Munich Is Still The Team to Beat
Despite replacing their treble-winning manager and letting go of a potent striker without replacing him, Bayern Munich go into 2014 arguably stronger than ever.
When the Bavarians decided on January 16 that Pep Guardiola would take over for Jupp Heynckes in the summer, speculation traveled that maybe the release of the news so early would disrupt the team’s journey to a potential magical season. Instead, the squad rallied around, giving Heynckes the farewell he deserved as well as entering the history books. In the 50th year of the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich won the league, and 23rd overall, the earliest it’s ever been won, on April 6, by defeating Eintracht Frankfurt 1-0 in round 28. Bayern ended their Bundesliga season breaking over 20 league records including winning 91 out of a possible 102 points. The next step to the treble was the most important while being against a heated rival.
On May 25 in London, Bayern Munich faced Borussia Dortmund at Wembley Stadium. After being locked at 1-1, Arjen Robben scored in the 89th minute off a Franck Ribéry pass for the match-winner and to give Bayern their fifth overall European Cup. The last step in the treble was the DFB-Pokal Cup against VfB Stuttgart. Mario Gómez scored a brace against his former club to lead Bayern to a 3-2 victory and completing the historic continental treble. Bayern became the seventh European side to accomplish the achievement joining 1966-67 Celtic, 1971-72 Ajax, 1987-88 PSV Eindhoven, 1998-99 Manchester United, 2008-09 FC Barcelona, managed by Guardiola, and 2009-10 Inter Milan. With Heynckes completing the mission, it was now up to Guardiola to take the reins and try to repeat the feat.
After announcing on April 23 that Borussia Dortmund midfielder/winger/false nine Mario Götze completed his move to Bayern, July 1 was the day the transfer became official. Jürgen Klopp, Dortmund’s manager, stated at a press conference when the news first broke “Mario has not taken this decision to spite his teammates in the slightest. He has not decided to spite the club – he has too much to thank them for. He is the player Pep Guardiola really wanted. He didn’t want to pass up on the chance to work together with this extraordinary coach.” Guardiola also decided to let Gómez go to Italy to join Fiorentina while bringing in Thiago from FC Barcelona to reunite with his former manager. Guardiola saw how Heynckes used the 4-2-3-1 to dominate the pitch but the Catalan native had his own tactics that he wanted to utilize with the squad. Even though the 4-3-3 brought him immense success in the past, he knew he had a different type of unique talent to work with. The 42-year-old settled on using the 4-1-4-1 to take advantage of the side’s deep midfield while still encouraging possession and pressing. Injuries to Götze and Javi Martínez hindered the progress of the team figuring out the new strategy with all its best players but it gave Guardiola a chance to see how versatile the players on his team could be.
After losing to Dortmund 4-2 in the DFL-Supercup, the two-time UEFA Champions League winning manager decided to use captain and right-back Philipp Lahm as a defensive and central midfielder. The plan worked and the team began to hit a stride of getting comfortable with the new formation and understanding their roles. Following the Bavarians 2-2 (5-4 in penalties) victory over Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup Guardiola said in a press conference “Philipp Lahm is perhaps the most intelligent player I have ever trained in my career. He is at another level.” Since then, the squad has gotten healthier and they’ve begun to dominate like the previous season by winning their group in Champions League and currently being undefeated in the Bundesliga. On December 21, Bayern defeated Moroccan side Raja Casablanca 2-0 to win the FIFA Club World Cup for the first time.
Next year gives the squad new opportunities to break records again and to etch their name in history as one of the greatest teams in the history of the beautiful game. Repeating last season’s accomplishments could also improve Guardiola’s standing among managers in the sport’s deep and rich past. No team in the modern inception of the Champions League has ever repeated titles but Bayern has a great chance of completing the treble again.