Why Bayern Munich Will Be the Next Bundesliga Side to Win the Champions League
It's been 12 years since a Bundesliga team last won the Champions League. Indeed, in spite of all the praise the league has garnered in recent years, and the great improvements in the quality of its teams and players, the German top flight remains in the midst of its longest title drought since that which spanned from 1983 to 1997.
Since Bayern Munich lifted the title in 2001, the German record champions have twice reached the final. In May of 2010, they lost 2-0 to Inter, and last May they were defeated by Chelsea in the cruelest of ways, only succumbing after penalty shootout.
Bayern are not the only German club to impress in the Champions League this season, but they will be the next Bundesliga representatives to lift club football's most coveted trophy. Of all German teams they've come the closest in recent years, and and their squad depth and experience are invaluable in a long campaign.
Dortmund were arguably the best team in Europe during the Champions League group stage this season, but they face an immensely steep climb if they are to win the trophy anytime soon. Their best chance may be this season, but their lack of proper substitutes in the fullback positions and limited opportunity to rotate within their rather small squad makes them only outside contenders.
Dortmund have proven that on their day they can beat any team in Europe. The trouble is, it takes just one bad game for everything to fall apart. And with seven matches standing between them and European glory, odds are that BVB's squad will be depleted by injury or suspension at some point, that fatigue will set in, or they will not manage to hit their form at some point between now and the final.
Looking forward, BVB face enormous uncertainty as Robert Lewandowski's future remains undecided. Sky reported last week that the striker has already agreed to personal terms of a move to Bayern, and if he does go, the Bundesliga title holders will lose an irreplaceable star of their team.
With Juergen Klopp having pledged not to break his team's salary structure for any player, it will be especially difficult for BVB to find an immediate replacement Lewandowski.
Elsewhere in Germany, there is no other club with the quality, financial resources and consistency to contend for Champions League glory. Schalke reached the semifinals two seasons ago, but were found well out of their depth as they lost 6-1 on aggregate to Manchester United. They missed out on the Champions League last year, and despite playing well in some parts of this season, are in free-fall.
Schalke will be fortunate to finish in the Bundesliga's top four this season, and/or to avoid elimination by Galatasaray in the Round of 16. That they sold star playmaker Lewis Holtby in midseason speaks of a club that, in spite of its world-class youth academy, is little more than a stepping stone.
Like Schalke, Leverkusen have many quality youngsters in their squad, but are woefully inconsistent. They took part in the Champions League last season and in all likelihood will again in 2013-14, but did not qualify for the tournament in the current season. And if history is an indicator, it's likely that they will only play on Europe's greatest stage once every other year.
Leverkusen lack the fan culture of teams like Dortmund, Schalke and Bayern, and the BayArena, with a capacity of just 30,210, ranks 14th in the Bundesliga in terms of capacity. A limited fanbase and small arena size greatly diminishes Leverkusen's financial ability, making the "Vizekusen" (or "Neverkusen," as is often said in English) curse more of a permanent fate than a temporary nickname.
Bayern, on the other hand, boast the Bundesliga's greatest revenue, and at €368.4 million, the fourth-highest turnover in Europe. With two of Franck Ribery, Toni Kroos, Thomas Mueller, Arjen Robben and Xherdan Shaqiri forced to settle for time on the bench, and with Luiz Gustavo, Mario Gomez (or Mandzukic) and either Jerome Boateng, Holger Badstuber or Dante all bench-warmers, there is a tremendous depth in their star-studded squad.
There are hurdles Bayern wil have to overcome, the greatest of which will be their apparent nerves and anxiety heading into finals. The squad has remained rather consistent in recent years, and so most players still bear the mental scars of losing to Inter and Chelsea, while some also can recall near-misses on the international level as Germany, France and the Netherlands have come close to glory since 2006 without winning a World Cup or European Championship.
In addition, Bayern will have to make transitions in the coming years. If they don't win the Champions League this May, next season could also pose difficulty as they adjust to life under incoming trainer Pep Guardiola. It's still uncertain how the ex-Barcelona coach intends to mould his Bayern team tactically, and there may be changes not only in terms of tactics, but personnel, especially if Lewandowski joins.
Further down the road, there will be key players to replace. Franck Ribery and Philipp Lahm turn 30 this year, and will soon be past the natural physical peak. Bastian Schweinsteiger is only a year younger than both, and by the physically demanding nature of his position may find himself in decline sooner than some of his teammates.
Guardiola will have to find the right balance in the coming years to keep his key players fresh while also grooming the next generation. He may be the right man for the job, but the task is not an easy one.
While Bayern still have much to prove in finals, they seem to be on the right track and the brightest future among German clubs. At the very least, their future is the most certain of the Bundesliga teams. They've held the standard high in Germany since the 1970s; they always have been and perhaps always will be favorites among Bundesliga teams to claim Champions League glory.
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