Bayern Munich came into the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 under a mount of expectation and anticipation, with a golden opportunity in front of them.
The Bundesliga leaders had been in scintillating form through the 2012-13 season—both in terms of their attack and their defense. Their trip to the Emirates Stadium to take on Arsenal provided them with the chance to continue that success and put one foot in the door of the Champions League quarterfinals.
What unfolded, however, was much more than we expected.
Not only did Bayern Munich establish their dominance at both ends of the pitch, but they netted three huge goals to clinch a huge victory over Arsenal here. Not only did they set themselves up in a good position to win the return fixture in Germany—they all but guaranteed their progression to the final eight in the competition.
And as a result, Jupp Heynckes' side showed that they are the current favorites for the 2013 UEFA Champions League title.
They are the team to beat heading into the final high-stakes knockout rounds of competition, for it is they who possess the most complete football team.
No other team can match their defensive strengths and their potency on the counterattack, nor can they boast the squad depth that Heynckes' team can.
Had goalkeeper Manuel Neuer not made an error to leave his line and gift Lukas Podolski an easy header on goal, Bayern would have kept up one of the most impressive defensive records in world football. Truth be told, the corner should have never been awarded in the first place, with the ball clearly hitting Podolski on the way out—even still, it took an error from Neuer for the goal to occur.
Up until that point, the German giants had not conceded a goal in their last 664 minutes of competitive matches (per Opta). For those that can't be bothered doing the math on that themselves, that's over seven matches in a row without conceding a goal.
The numbers become even more dramatic when Bayern's entire season is considered—starting with their 22 Bundesliga matches this season.
Those 22 matches have yielded just one loss and only seven goals against. That's a remarkable average of just 0.32 goals against per game.
Away from home, Bayern have allowed just one goal in 11 matches (0.09 goals against per game). They have not conceded in their last five domestically, and they haven't lost in the German competition since their last-minute defeat to Leverkusen back in October, 2012.
What other team in the Champions League can attest to that defensive dominance? There is not one. Nobody else can match Bayern's defense.
Manchester United have conceded 31 goals for the domestic season. Real Madrid have allowed 22, whilst Barcelona's late slip-ups have taken them to 27. While all of these are strong defensive records that their respective managers will no doubt be thrilled with, they are simply light years away from the seven goals that Bayern Munich have conceded domestically.
There is no other team even close to Bayern when it comes to defense.
Yet for all their defensive strength, you wouldn't say that the Germans are a defensively-minded team. In fact, many would suggest the exact opposite.
According to WhoScored.com, Bayern have scored the second most goals in the Champions League so far, and they have more goals from set pieces than any other team in the competition. Only Real Madrid can attest to scoring more goals than the Germans, and only Barcelona can claim to spend a longer percentage of time in their opponents' half (35 percent compared to Bayern's 33 percent).
On average, Bayern Munich have scored more goals domestically than both Madrid and United—averaging a staggering 2.59 goals for per game.
Barcelona are a clear winner in this category and deserve the claim of having the best attack in world football—which the numbers confirm—but when coupled with their defensive strength, it is clear that the German giants are out in front, on their own.
Their squad depth is simply phenomenal, with their substituted bench packed with talented players who simply can't make the starting team.
Arjen Robben—a Premier League, FA Cup, Bundesliga, Eredivisie and La Liga champion, plus a two-time runner-up in the Champions League—came on as a substitute against Arsenal. Mario Gomez—one of the more dynamic attackers in world football—did the same.
As Opta highlights below, their goal-scoring depth is phenomenal:
And simply put, no other team can match that in the Champions League.
There is not another team who can claim to have the same defensive dominance whilst maintaining such a high level of skill and goal-scoring prowess.
There are few teams who can claim the depth and squad talent that Bayern have at their disposal. None of them can match their success, however.
And as a result, no other team is better equipped than Bayern Munich to call themselves favorites for the 2013 UEFA Champions League title.
The tournament still has a long way to run, and there are no doubt plenty more chapters to be written in this book, but as it stands, Bayern are out in front.
And it's exactly where they deserve to be.
Do Bayern Munich deserve to be called Champions League favorites?
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