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Bayern Munich’s Domestic Stranglehold is the Only Factor Preventing European Domination

AS ROMA - BAYERN MUNICH

Just over 13 months ago, Bayern Munich produced the kind of performance that makes soccer supporters revere in awe at what they’re witnessing.

The Bavarians dismantled Manchester City 3-1 at the Etihad Stadium, taking the English outfit apart with a display that was bristling with supreme quality. It seemed that Pep Guardiola, just a few months into his reign with the then European champions, had pushed Jupp Heynckes’ treble-winning team on even further, as they passed and pressed with a ferocious purpose and intensity.

Such was the calibre of that masterclass against City, there were few backing against Bayern becoming the first side to retain the European Cup in its current format. Here’s a glimpse at why performance was so very impressive:

At the time, they were streaking clear in the Bundesliga too, and while Guardiola’s team went on to topple myriad domestic landmarks—most notably, winning the title in record time—the lack of competitive games in the German top flight nullified Bayern and they were ultimately found out by Real Madrid in the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League.

Fast forward to two weeks ago and Bayern put in their best performance since the imperious showing in the north-west of England, as they pulled apart AS Roma at the Stadio Olimpico. Guardiola’s men scored five unanswered goals in a devastatingly incisive opening 36 minutes and they eventually ran out 7-1 winners.

A few months into the current campaign, the German champions look like a side that are primed towards marching to the very pinnacle of European football once again. The Guardiola mantras are now more forcibly engrained and although he’s a manager that has typically had a favoured system and well known principles, they’ve shown a staggering level of adaptability this season.

So much so that in the aftermath of that demolition of the Giallorossi, Bayern were compared by to the great Dutch teams of the 1970s by the Italian press. And truth be told there were something very totaalvoetbal about the way in which they played against Roma.

The system was so fluid, with players happy to roam about the pitch unshackled when they had the ball, and when they lost it, they were happy to slot into a defensive position with distinction. After al, Bayern have midfielders who can play as defenders and vice-versa, forwards who can drop deep or float wide and a goalkeeper that acts essentially as a deep-lying playmaker/sweeper hybrid.

Gianluca Vialli said in the aftermath of the “Sack of Rome” that “Guardiola’s Bayern are a hybrid between eclecticism of the Dutch, the force of the Germans, and are technical like the Spanish”.

In the summer the former Barcelona boss strengthened the squad in every area, drafting in Pepe Reina, Mehdi Benatia, Juan Bernat, Xabi Alonso and Robert Lewandowski. Class oozes from every pore of this group and in Guardiola, they have a manager who has the tactical acumen to facilitate these kinds wonderful performances and—as his two European Cup wins as a manager will attest—knows how to win the very biggest games.

At this juncture, Bayern have the most balanced squad in the European game and up to now, just as they did at this point last season, they’re more force of nature than football team. But after the way they faltered in the latter stages last season, the big challenge is arguably to come. That is preserving this form for the campaign in its entirety.

The Bavarians will win the Bundesliga this season which is of course an achievement in itself. But with Borussia Dortmund—the second strongest squad in the division—in joint last after a turbulent start to the campaign, potential challengers are in scarce supply, just as they were last season.

Last season they won the title in March with a staggering seven games remaining, and although Wolfsburg only trail Bayern by four points at the time of writing, such is the disparity between their squad and the rest of the division, it’s a mark that they’ll feel as if they can match this campaign.

On the face of things, that should be a good thing for the German champions when it comes to their Champions League aspirations, for it’s a buffer that should allow Guardiola to rest key men ahead of vital European ties.

But there’s no denying that Bayern lost an edge after they’d won the title last season, and even in the weeks preceding their official coronation as champions. They were given a scare in the quarter-finals of the Champions League by Manchester United, lost 3-0 at home to Dortmund in April and were embarrassed by Real Madrid in the semi-finals of the European Cup, losing 5-0 on aggregate.

In those matches they were not a patch on the side that engrossed onlookers with that display against City, and while you could potentially put that down to the rigors of a long season under new stewardship, it’s difficult to preserve a competitive edge week-by-week on the domestic front when there’s nothing to play for, something that will inevitably be carried over to their European matches.

While Guardiola has impinged his age-old principles and then some onto this Bayern side, conquering that last phase of the season when the title is wrapped up could be the biggest challenge that he has to overcome at the Allianz Arena. If he finds a way of doing so and do so consistently, this squad has all the requisite qualities to dominate the European scene for a long time.

Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball

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