Three competitions, three second place finishes.
FC Bayern München’s history books wrote down a chapter which everyone hopes will never be written again. In Germany, such a season is only associated with Bayer Leverkusen. Bayer 04 was dubbed "Neverkusen" in 2002. Had Bayern been given such a cruel nickname, they would have no reason to complain.
Using a grading system which takes account of all the games they played in this part of the season in each competition, let’s take a look back to last season.
The grade can be lowered due to individual errors such as defensive lapses and poor finishing. Also, some players are specially recognized below. The difference between the best player and the most influential player is that the best player’s efforts show up in stats while the most influential player’s efforts don’t. The most influential player is the one whom the team cannot function without.
Second Half 2011-12
The poor form from January through March prevents Bayern from getting an A grade. They played very well between March and May, barring a poor performance against Borussia Dortmund and another against Bayer Leverkusen. Bayern’s performances away from home were rather poor by Bayern standards between January and March.
Bayern’s rise in March though must be appreciated. After battering Hoffenheim and Hertha Berlin 7-1 and 1-6 respectively, they persevered against Nürnberg and won 1-0. Despite losing to Borussia Dortmund and drawing 0-0 against Mainz on the day in which BVB secured yet another title, Bayern went on to win their remaining games.
Keeping in mind that their points tally on another season would have won them the Bundesliga, one can only congratulate Borussia Dortmund on a monumental achievement.
DFB Pokal: B
The only reason Bayern does not get a C grade is because of their good performances in the quarterfinal and semifinal. They clinically took care of Stuttgart in the quarterfinal round, 0-2. Stuttgart never really challenged them seriously; nonetheless they were the only side which was not beaten by Borussia Dortmund last season. In the semifinal, they faced a team they had lost to twice already that season, Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Gladbach proved to be stiff opposition again. However, Bayern refused to wilt this time. They had the better chances and should have put the tie to bed before extra time. They had brilliant opportunities to do exactly that in extra time but failed to do so because of their wastefulness.
Nonetheless, their poise in the shootout, which saw the true maturity of David Alaba, along with the brilliance of Manuel Neuer, saw them through to the final.
It is in the final in which Bayern was embarrassed. Their worst ever defeat since a cruel defeat to Felix Magath’s Wolfsburg, 5-1, saw them lose the final.
For the majority of the first half, Bayern was the better side. They went down to an early goal but equalized. Incredibly poor defending at the back saw them go down 3-1. Wastefulness and further errors from Luiz Gustavo, Holger Badstuber, Jerome Boateng and Neuer saw them lose 5-2.
The severity of the embarrassment wasn’t felt as much as it would have been on another season only because of the impending Champions League finale.
UEFA Champions League: A
A win would have seen them receive an A+. In terms of performance, Bayern played brilliantly against Basel to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 7-1 aggregate victory. The performances against Marseille were surprisingly efficient ones which saw Ivica Olic score two goals in a competition in which he excelled in the 2009-10 campaign.
The two performances against Real Madrid, despite the wastefulness of Mario Gomez and Co., showed the power and poise in Bayern’s midfield. They won the midfield battle in both the games and controlled both of them. They didn’t put the tie to bed in the first leg and almost paid the price in the second when they conceded two goals due to really poor defensive work.
They weren’t brilliant in the shootout, but Sergio Ramos’ miss and Bastian Schweinsteiger’s cool penalty saw them through to a final. The win in the semifinal should have been much more emphatic than it was, but nonetheless, making the final was a huge achievement in itself.
The final was decided by Bayern’s poor finishing, but Bayern has to be complemented on just how well they played.
The final was one of the most one-sided in history as Bayern fired off 40 shots and had 20 corners. Everybody, including Thomas Müller who notched the goal, Mario Gomez and Arjen Robben were guilty of poor finishing. Robben lost his nerve in the biggest stage of all and that too on the very ground in which his career has been revitalized.
Bayern did not win the finale which led many to question their mentality. Despite the fact that they lost, Bayern was brilliant and on another day, with better finishing, would have won by three or four goals. Mistakes are meant to show the way forward and this season, Bayern has made the most of their chances in most matches. They have not reached perfection yet, but they are not far from it.
An attack containing brilliant individuals should not be held to one goal in any match. They should definitely not be held scoreless. Bayern was guilty of wastefulness in some matches. In some other matches, their attack lacked bite. Hence, despite scoring multiple goals in many matches, Bayern’s attack only gets a B+.
The midfield dominated most matches Bayern featured in. Only Dortmund and Mönchengladbach managed to contain the midfield and prevent them from taking control of the match. Bayern controlled the matches which they lost, the matches which they drew and the matches which they won.
The Bayern midfield does not get a higher grade because of the lack of creativity in some matches, especially in the ones away from home between January and March.
The Bayern defence massively improved and conceded very few goals. Only on four occasions did they concede multiple goals. Despite this improvement, the Bayern defence conceded some horrible goals, especially against Gladbach and Dortmund.
Despite hardly having had anything to deal with, they conceded in the Champions League final. The blame for that defeat goes down to the offence, but Jerome Boateng and Co. knows that they should have done better in one particular situation.
Jupp Heynckes: A
In his first season in charge of the Bavarians following a stint as interim coach in 2009, he really did wonders to the defence. He helped Kroos realize his potential to a certain extent. Dressing room fights were extremely rare.
The one fault of his was that he didn’t make the right substitutions at times, but that was more down to the lack of subs that Heynckes’ judgment. Overall, Heynckes seemed at all times to be the right man for the job.
Unsung Heroes: Toni Kroos and Luiz Gustavo
Kroos played in two different positions in midfield throughout the second half of 2011-12 season. He was brilliant in attacking midfield and quite stable in defensive midfield alongside Luiz Gustavo. His vision propelled the team to two finals, and had he been fielded in attacking midfield in the Champions League finale, things might have turned out differently.
Gustavo, meanwhile, helped the team forward with little tackles here and there which broke up the opposition’s play. He was solid throughout the season. His suspension for the Champions League finale was a shame. He is one player who deserved to play in that finale as his performances merited exactly that.
Best Player: Franck Ribery
There are no doubts about it. Bayern was a different side without the Frenchman last season. He was brilliant without a shadow of a doubt and hassled opposition defences endlessly. Ribery is content at the club, and the club is incredibly lucky to have him.
His future seems to lie with Bayern. Considering how much he invests in every performance, there is no doubt that he clearly regards Bayern as his club.
Most Influential Player: Bastian Schweinsteiger
After his collarbone injury, he never recovered his form. When he was at his best, Bayern was at their best. He played 117 minutes in the Champions League final with a calf injury. He scored the penalty which helped Bayern into the Champions League final. Without him, Bayern suffered endlessly.
First Half 2012-13
Twenty victories in 26 matches with only two losses are difficult to achieve for any team.
Bayern can be best compared to a rampaging bull this season. They have been looking to bounce back from the disappointments of last season. The pains of last season are yet to heal, but they seem to spur this team on. A few performances have been poor especially due to complacency, but largely, Bayern has improved on last season’s problems.
They have scored more goals from set pieces for a start. They have not been held scoreless in any match. Their away form has been impeccable.
The defence has given away only two poor goals and overall has only conceded seven in the league. In the Champions League, they have conceded seven goals.
Barring one night in Minsk, the European campaign has gone according to plan. They have also qualified for the DFB Pokal quarterfinals.
Forty-two points out of a possible 51 is simply brilliant. If Bayern doubles that, they will break the record for the highest number of points in a Bundesliga season.
They have won 13 Bundesliga matches. They were incredibly unlucky to lose to second-placed Bayer Leverkusen. They played very well against Dortmund this season and opened the scoring too. Roman Weidenfeller’s saves arguably prevented a win for Bayern.
Against Borussia Mönchengladbach, they dominated and should have picked up all three points. The performance was good; it was a far cry from last season’s toothless performances against this opponent. Despite the fact that Gladbach has been significantly weakened this season, the fact that Bayern was able to come back from a deficit says that they have improved on last season.
The away record is brilliant. They have conceded just one goal in eight away matches. They won all away matches convincingly, barring one meeting with Nürnberg which finished in a 1-1 draw. The home record is a bit patchy nonetheless. They picked up six wins, two draws and one loss and conceded six goals in those nine matches. Nonetheless, that is still a good record.
DFB Pokal: A+
Two brilliant performances against Jahn Regensburg and Kaiserslautern saw them into the Round of 16 where they took on Augsburg. Bayern did not seem to be in the mood to play that day, but the sending off of Franck Ribery saw the team rise to the occasion.
Manuel Neuer woke up and started making brilliant saves. On the other end, Xherdan Shaqiri scored to add to Mario Gomez’s first-half goal and to see Bayern through to the quarterfinals.
UEFA Champions League: B+
They did qualify at the top and beat the second placed side, Valencia. However, the group stage saw four different faces of Bayern. The first match day demonstrated the old wasteful side. They controlled the match against Valencia and led 2-0 but managed to concede a late goal. Mario Mandzukic’s penalty miss saw Bayern fail to increase the lead. The performance was good nonetheless.
The game in Minsk against BATE saw the complacent side of Bayern. Bayern underestimated their opponents and were torn apart on the counterattack. Despite controlling about 60 percent of possession, they were incredibly poor. Their performance never warranted a win.
The third match which took place against Lille in France saw the dogged and determined side of Bayern. Despite being rather poor on the night, they took the lead in the 20th minute and did not let go. They hung on for the win.
Match-day Four saw the return of vintage Bayern. Lille was thrashed before they knew what hit them. Bayern was 5-0 up in 33 minutes with Claudio Pizarro bagging a hat-trick. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos and Arjen Robben added three more to the Peruvian’s three strikes as Bayern ran out 6-1 winners.
Match day five saw the return of complacent Bayern. They played in Spain against Valencia. They dominated and looked likely to take the lead until Valencia had a man sent off. Bayern then lazily passed the ball around and Valencia gained confidence. They scored the first goal, but Bayern then sprung into action and replied through Thomas Müller.
Match day six saw a much-changed Bayern side take BATE apart 4-1 at the Allianz Arena.
Bayern topped their group last year with a match day to spare. That group was perhaps more difficult than this one.
The first match day of this season in the Champions League was a momentous occasion for everyone in Bayern’s colours as that match represented the first return to the Allianz Arena since that traumatic defeat in May. They have overall done well this season, but there is room for improvement away from home.
With 69 goals in all competitions in 26 games, there is not much to complain about the attack of the Bavarians. The goals are more evenly spread throughout the team this season than they were in the previous one. They have registered at least once in every single match.
Even on their worst days, they can score a goal. However, they are still a tad wasteful. Better efficiency will propel them to an A+.
The poise, grace and athleticism spread throughout Bayern’s midfield can rarely be found at other clubs. They have performed well in almost every match. The current crop of midfielders is a special group. It is undoubtedly the best group in Bayern colours not to have won the Champions League.
The defensive midfielders are still slightly susceptible to counterattacks. Because of two poor days in Minsk and Lille, the midfield does not get an A+.
The defence has improved as well especially due to Dante Bonfim. They have given away a few too many goals at home in the league (six in nine games) and in the Champions League (seven in six games) but have given away only one away goal in the Bundesliga. The game against BATE in Minsk prevents the defence from an A+.
Jupp Heyneckes: A+
Heynckes has managed to make minor changes to the strategy whilst keeping the main game plan the same. He has added pressing the opposition into losing the ball to the strategy. Pressing has paid off for Bayern mainly in the Bundesliga.
He has helped the team improve on set piece situations as well. He has made brilliant game changing substitutions in a few games this season. Also, he has managed to keep everybody in the side happy by rotating the side. The only one whom Heynckes hasn’t perhaps given a chance to is Mitchell Weiser.
Also, he has gelled well with his “sporting director,” Matthias Sammer. Sammer’s respect for Heynckes is evident. They celebrate almost every goal together. They don’t seem to get into each other’s way.
Heynckes so far has done an excellent job. If Bayern progresses far into the Champions League, the board might just hand him a new contract rather than allow him to step down and finally retire.
Unsung Heroes: Dante, Javier Martinez and Mario Mandzukic
Dante has been excellent at the back for Bayern this season. He was supposed to be a substitute to the pairing of Holger Badstuber and Jerome Boateng, but he has made a first-team spot his own. He has bailed Bayern out on multiple occasions this season.
Dante has had perhaps one poor game in all competitions this season. He has definitely been the signing of the season so far.
Martinez’s start was sketchy. However, he soon grew into the role of the defensive midfielder next to Bastian Schweinsteiger. He outshone the German in the game against Dortmund. He does seem to be the piece of the puzzle which the Bayern management was searching for following last season’s disappointments.
Mandzukic has been the striker whom the fans wanted Mario Gomez to be. He creates space for the midfielders to score. He wins plenty of headers in midfield to help the team move forward.
He doesn’t score as many goals as Gomez but still causes oppositions plenty of headaches with his movement and his intelligence. Overall, Mandzukic has lived up to his billing so far.
Best Players: Thomas Müller and Toni Kroos
The young German duo have really come to the fore this season. Kroos has realized much of his potential while Müller has improved massively upon a rather average season and is matching his standards of the 2009-10 season. Both have scored plenty of goals this season.
Müller has notched 12 in all competitions while Kroos has eight to his name. The two seem to have formed a good understanding between each other as well. They have been Bayern’s best players so far this season.
Most Influential Player: Franck Ribery
Without Ribery, Bayern does not seem to be the same. Ribery has not scored as many goals as he can this season. However, his mazy runs and his determination have torn oppositions apart. He is the key man for Bayern this season.
He was one of Bayern’s best players in almost every match. Ribery is perhaps having his best-ever season at the ripe old age of 30 for FC Bayern München.
Overall, 2012 has had many highs and lows. It has been a good year to be part of Bayern despite some of the heartbreaks. Bayern has grown more compared to last year, and the current hope is that their growth continues. The team’s mentality seems to have improved too.
Let me hear your thoughts on Bayern’s 2012.