FC Bayern Munich: For the Sake of the Game
That volley was absolutely perfect; stunning some would say.
When Toni Kroos found the ball on his left foot in Dublin on Friday, he instinctively reacted. He hit a stylish volley into the back of the net. The goal didn’t get the celebration it required as the score at that stage was already 0-4. However, that volley was immaculate.
He hit a second long-range shot with his right foot as the end of the match neared. The trajectory of that shot was different from the first one. However, if finesse could be measured, the value of the second one would be equal to that of the first. And once again, that goal deserved a better celebration.
Toni Kroos’ goals tend to stay in one’s memory (and it is not because he doesn’t score too many of them!). Each and every one of his goals is beautiful. His best one so far this season has come against Stuttgart from distance. Kroos’ passes reflect the finesse that he is known to possess. In the Champions League last season, many different crowds were treated to the finesse he brought to the pitch.
Kroos is a product of the famed youth academy of Bayern. Bayern can play, as we all know, with plenty of finesse. Bayern’s game has been all about possession and patience in the past four seasons. They played eye-catching football en-route to two Champions League finals in the past three seasons.
Here in comes the argument that attractive football does not win games. Despite the wonderful displays on the pitch last season, no silver cups were present in the Allianz Arena at the end. (The biggest European trophy was there for a long while- except, by the end of the season, it was on a plane to London.)
The flaws in Bayern’s game are apparent. There is no organization in the box during set-pieces. Bayern rarely ever scores off set-pieces. So far, out of 21 goals in the Bundesliga, only one has resulted from a set-piece and that too because of an unfortunate deflection off of an opponent. It is extremely rare to see Manuel Neuer come forward and hit a long ball in the hope of finding Mario Mandzukic in the opposition penalty area.
When Neuer does so, it occasionally works as England found out when Miro Klose crept in for Germany in the World Cup in 2010.
Bayern played exhibition football in the Champions League final last season only to be dealt a cruel blow at the end. Bayern could have played the way Chelsea did- defend for the majority of the game, break as fast as possible and win headers. However they didn’t because they simply won’t.
One argument is of-course that Bayern cannot do so. However, in two games over the course of four seasons, Bayern has taken this approach. In 2010, against Schalke, they were winning 2-1 but had a man sent off. They defended for an entire half and did not concede. They took the same approach against Dortmund for an entire half and conceded just once en-route to another 2-1 victory. Hence, we can come to the conclusion that they can sit back and absorb pressure.
Considering the height of the players and the number of players in the side who can occasionally hit great crosses ranging from the young Thomas Müller to the veteran Franck Ribery, Bayern can decide to fix the set-piece problem rather easily by focusing on it more and more. However, nobody seems to do so.
Bayern continues to play pretty passes and possession based football with added pressing. Mind you, this is not always nice to watch. Due to pitch problems, complacency and a long list of other issues, this approach did not work against BATE. Bayern was poor as multiple passes went astray in that match.
However, sometimes, I find myself wondering whether I would like to see a different approach. Bayern of-course plays to win as every team does. To me it seems nonetheless that Bayern’s first priority is the football rather than winning. Many of you might think that you have to play well to win but that is not the case all the time.
United has beaten many a team with rather poor displays of football while Chelsea last season went past Benfica, Barcelona and eventually Bayern without playing actual football.
By the way, don’t think I am being utterly negative towards defensive football. Defending is an art and the Chelsea players are better suited to defending than many sides. The only way they could beat Barca and Bayern perhaps was by defending as a team. Chelsea can actually play good football themselves. And going back to defensive football, the Italian national side used it for a long while with plenty of success.
Indeed, I would be very happy if Bayern could defend resolutely when the offence is having a bad day.
However, I must confess that I am delighted by the fact that Bayern’s first priority (knowingly or unknowingly) is seemingly the game itself. They do justice to the game by playing the way they do. The goals are not the only memories I keep from their games. They play countless memorable passes.
The aforementioned Kroos himself played dozens of memorable passes in last season’s Champions League to Mario Gomez and Franck Ribery. They didn’t always lead to goals by they really made me enjoy the game more.
For the sake of the game, I am happy with the way in which Bayern plays. As I mentioned before, there is room for improvement. I would never want Bayern to change their style, to play ‘anti-football’ as some call the defensive game, for the sake of winning.
I am treated every week to a display of brilliant football. At the end of the day, the reason why we love football is because of the beauty of the game, not because of the number of trophies a particular team wins.
Arsenal is ridiculed for their failure to win a trophy for seven long seasons. Some of the football they have played in those seven seasons has been jaw-dropping. They have beaten the current masters of the game, Barcelona and they have beaten Chelsea as well.
Atletico Madrid, the double Europa League winners, is another side that comes into mind. They have been mightily inconsistent down the years but the fans perhaps don’t mind too much. As a neutral, when Atletico is on fire, they are an absolute joy to watch.
Going back to Bayern, the fans of the club obviously want them to land the trophies. If they fix those minor issues at the back, the trophies will come in abundance. After all, an improvement on last season can only come if they win the treble. And the goal of every season is to improve on the last unless the club is transitioning from one era to another.
However, those trophies need not necessarily come at the expense of the football. Bayern has played some dazzling stuff over recent seasons; may the attractive football last!
At the end of the day, the beauty is what the game is all about, isn’t it?
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