No team has won the UEFA Champions League trophy for two consecutive years since 1990, but there has never been a squad that looked more equipped to do so than the current holders, Bayern Munich. It can certainly be said that Bayern are perfectly placed to re-establish itself as a European powerhouse such as the club did from 1974-1976 when it won three consecutive European Cups.
Since the rebranding of the Champions League 22 years ago, there has not been a single team to successfully defend soccer’s most prestigious club trophy. Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan was the last team to win it back-to-back in 1989-90.
Olympique de Marseille were unsuccessful in trying to defend their 1993 title following the Valenciennes bribery scandal, Porto lost their advantage after selling many of its 2004 heroes, while Borussia Dortmund 1997, Inter 2010, AC Milan 2007 and Chelsea 2012 were all handicapped by aging squads that required rebuilding after the clubs won their respective titles.
The teams best placed to retain the Champions League, in terms of pedigree, were Louis van Gaal’s Ajax in 1996, Marcello Lippi’s Juventus a year later, the following season’s Milan led by Carlo Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona in 2010. Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United and Fabio Capello’s Milan of 1995 could also be added to this potential list by virtue of the fact that they were eventual finalists.
However, when all factors and circumstances are considered, none of these clubs have been better positioned than Bayern Munich this season to defend their respective trophy. Not only have the statistics of their unbeaten runs and dominant displays have been mind blowing, but individually, collectively, technically, tactically, physically and mentally Bayern look a complete team. Every department comprises star quality players, and all of them are on top form. The stellar names includes goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, defenders David Alaba and Dante, midfielders Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thiago and Toni Kroos, offensive talents like Thomas Muller, Arjen Robben and Ballon D’or finalist Frank Ribery. And that is without mentioning coach Pep Guardiola, who boasts an enviable Champions League record – two titles and two semi-finals from his four seasons at Barcelona.
Bayern may not be the best team of the Champions League era, but never before has a holder been so far ahead in the competition. In the mid nineties, Ajax had a magnificent Juventus side to compete with – a group who would reach three finals on the bounce. The following campaigns challenging the Italians were by a Dortmund squad full of Germany icons and a blossoming Manchester United side.
The Madrid Galacticos of Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, David Beckham, Raul and Ronaldo were unlucky to participate in one of the strongest-ever Champions League editions in 2002-03. Inter and Valencia were exceptional outfits, while Milan and Juventus were exceptional sides. When Carlo Ancelotti’s Milan failed the following term, many of these sides were still around — as were Roman Abramovich’s nouveau-riche Chelsea and the royal Arsenal invincibles.
Pep’s class of 2010, with their beautiful tiki-taka and superstars such as Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi, looked odds on to end the jinx, but it is often forgotten how formidable their semi-final conquerors Inter were. Jose Mourinho’s treble-winners erected perhaps the last great European back line. Lucio and Walter Samuel marshaled a virtually impenetrable wall. That seemed the power of Mourinho magic. He even celebrated eliminating Barcelona at Camp Nou in 2010 due to which he was then appointed as the Real Madrid Coach for their dream objective – The La Decima.
Barcelona is currently in decline despite their fine away win against Manchester City in mid-February. Atletico Madrid lack numbers. Manchester United are at their weakest for a quarter of a century, an exhausted Arsenal need a miracle to progress to the last eight who tasted recent defeat at Emirates by the reigning Champions, while Manchester City are all but eliminated and are way out of reach of the European elite. Real Madrid, Paris-Saint-Germain and an improving Chelsea cannot certainly be ruled out, but Bayern looks to be in another stratosphere.
Their strength in depth of talent is unparalleled. Despite missing Bastian Schweinsteiger, Javi Martinez, Frank Ribery, Arjen Robben and long-time absentee Holger Badtsuber for long terms this season, Bayern are breaking record after record. Guardiola even looked safe enough recently to think of exiling Mario Mandzukic and contract rebel Toni Kroos- who displayed a top class performance in Bayern’s victory over Arsenal in the last-16.
Guardiola can continue to rotate his side and ensure there is plenty of fuel left for the business end of the Champions League season, as Bayern are 16 points clear — as of the time of writing — at the top of the Bundesliga.
On the other hand, the La Liga and Premier League title races look as intense as ever as multiple teams are battling it out to reach the top. And Bayern are not only looking fresh, but also hungry. With a new coach under Guardiola, a new formation and no one assured of a first team place, there is no chance of complacency.
This brilliant Bayern side may just create history. If they don’t, then one may as well accept that the Champions League curse of no one winning back-to-back trophies is to be continued.
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Pep Guardiola was speaking to promote adidas Gamedayplus, bringing together the best of the UEFA Champions League in one place. To find out more visit adidas.com/gamedayplus or join the twitter conversation @adidasfootball