Three competitions. Three second-place finishes. The goal of each season is to improve upon the last—Bayern will have to win each competition if they are to banish the memories of a ‘Neverkusen’ season.
FC Bayern won the double in 2009-10 and missed out on the treble due to some poor finishing and poor defending in Madrid. They utilized almost the same squad with a few exceptions in 2011-12 and came away with a treble of seconds. Despite the quality of both those squads, the squad for the 2012-13 season is the best one that Bayern has had for a decade.
Of this current squad, the midfield is perhaps the best in the world. Each and every name on the list is a brilliant midfielder—starting from the tricky Franck Ribery and ending in the ‘jack of all trades’ Bastian Schweinsteiger. The midfield has been bolstered by the additions of Xherdan Shaqiri, one of the brightest prospects in Europe, Mitchell Weiser, the new wunderkind of Köln and the promotion of Emre Can from Bayern II.
The striking department has been brought up a notch by the addition of the ‘modern’ striker in Mario Mandzukic. While Mario Gomez was always a traditional striker, Mandzukic is the kind who can help out the midfield to no end as shown by his display against Borussia Dortmund and Regensburg. Claudio Pizarro, who needs no introduction due to his status as a former scorer for the club, has returned for one last spell in Bavaria.
The defence remains of concern despite the addition of Dante. Injuries to David Alaba, Diego Contento and Rafinha have led to the absence of a proper full-back aside from Philipp Lahm. Jerome Boateng has continued to display his lack of focus by making the most ‘ignorant’ (for the lack of a better word) errors. He is an intelligent centre-back but nobody quite knows the reason behind his lack of focus.
Daniel van Buyten has returned from injury. He is an intelligent centre-back but his speed remains a liability. His comedy of errors alongside Martin Demichelis in the 2010 Champions League final is still remembered. As far as the keepers are concerned, the best in the world plays for Bayern in Manuel Neuer. The backup is a reliable head, not unlike Hans-Jörg Butt, Tom Starke. The third choice is Lukas Raeder from Schalke.
The most impressive quality of this squad is the versatility of the players. Nobody is limited to a single position—even Neuer can play in defence if required. The defence remains questionable but the quality of players in midfield should be enough to cover for the issues in defence. The problem, though, is we thought exactly that in 2010 and 2012; two CL finals instead yielded no silver cup.
The Problems and Improvements:
Not much different from last season, the problem remains in defending set-pieces and fast counter-attacks. Dante is very useful in those situations but Boateng is more trustworthy in last-minute tackles. Preseason also displayed that Bayern is still failing to use their own set-pieces, especially corners. Chelsea laughed away as Bayern squandered 20 corners—a lesson has to be learnt from that.
However, what has improved for Bayern is the pace of transition from defence to attack. Last season, controlling possession was seemingly the most important aim. Horizontal passes were innumerous. Once in a while, Toni Kroos or Schweinsteiger provided a brilliant pass, but mostly the build-up play was slow and rather useless.
With the addition of Mandzukic, Bayern has found a striker who is intelligent and can assist in build-up play. Pizarro has added that dimension to his game as well and can now do more than he could in his previous spell at the club. He was Bremen’s saviour last season with a tally of 18 goals.
Bundesliga: Over 34 match-days, Bayern will play 17 different opponents of which at least 14 will try to park the bus and hit them on the counter and on set pieces. We all know Bayern struggles against opposition which parks the bus. Bayern will have to learn how to hold on to single-goal leads. Their early season fixtures are not too difficult. A match against Dortmund will not be on the menu till December.
Philipp Lahm, Uli Hoeness and company have already announced that the Bundesliga remains the aim. This trophy is a must—no matter what. The ugly salad bowl must be added to the Bayern ‘Museum’ displaying another 21 of those, of course, at the end of the season.
The Pokal: A Bundesliga win is important and the cup is the least important of the three. However, from 2005 onwards, Bayern has never won just one of the domestic trophies—they have always won the double. Thus, if Bayern powers their way through the Bundesliga (and with that beast of a squad, there is no excuse for finishing second again), expect the trophy with the green jewels to be added too.
The Champions League: Every year, we hear that the club will be satisfied with a berth in the round of 16 or quarterfinals. In truth, perhaps inside their offices, the hierarchy has decided to aim for it. Two finals in three seasons show that this team is capable of landing it after a twelve-year hiatus. They had won the 2012 Final three times over but in the end, they gift wrapped it with blue wrapping paper.
If Bayern does not aim for this trophy, it will be rather idiotic really. In the past three seasons, they have beaten the likes of Manchester United, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Napoli and Juventus. In 2012, their progression to the final was smooth up to the semis where Real gave them a fight.
Final Thoughts and Predictions:
The goal remains the elusive treble. Unfortunately, this is a post-Euro season and the German internationals will be weary. Whether Schweinsteiger will be able to regain his form remains to be seen. If the Javi Martinez deal comes through, dressing room unrest could be a problem. Ribery is awaiting a trial due to a scandal dating back to 2010 involving a minor.
Mario Gomez, despite missing plenty of chances, does score tonnes of goals. His injury has ruled him out until mid-September. David Alaba and Diego Contento, both highly-talented young full-backs, are injured, leaving Emre Can to deputize there. Can, as good as he is, is in his first season with the seniors and will make errors.
The pairing of Toni Kroos and Luiz Gustavo in midfield was enough to earn the medals last season but not the trophies. In theory, they make a perfect combination—the destroyer and the visionary. Unfortunately, Kroos is defensively suspect while Gustavo is prone to giving away free-kicks close to goal.
While the players for a 4-4-2 are available, whether Jupp Heynckes will change formations remains questionable. He is the mastermind behind fixing a defence which under Louis Van Gaal was in shambles. The defence was the second-best in Europe, behind Juventus and ahead of the Spanish, English and of course the German champions.
However, Heynckes is stubborn; there is no doubt about it. He will stick to what he feels best regardless of the opinions of everybody else. How many minutes Shaqiri will get remains a doubt. Will Heynckes bench Arjen Robben if the midfielder’s form dips? Will he play Thomas Mueller or Toni Kroos in attacking midfield in the event that Martinez is purchased?
Considering everything, a Bayern win in the Bundesliga despite the encouraging win over Dortmund in the Supercup does not look probable. Taking into consideration the effects of major tournaments, Bayern will perhaps finish the season in third with the Ruhr sides battling it out for the title.
As usual, let me hear your thoughts on the upcoming season. Let me hear your predictions for Bayern (if you follow the Bundesliga that is).
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