Bayern Munich: Champions League Favorites or Dynasty in Waiting?
For one club, it felt like the end of an era. For the other, it might just have been the clearest sign yet that a dynasty is being born.
Bayern Munich embarrassed Arsenal Tuesday night in the UEFA Champions League, outclassing the Gunners 3-1 at the Emirates Stadium in London. The defeat almost certainly doomed Arsene Wenger's team to an eighth consecutive season without a trophy, and with a top-four finish—and Champions League qualification for next season—far from certain, Arsenal are in real danger of falling out of Europe's elite for the first time in Wenger's reign.
For Bayern, though, Wednesday hardly could have dawned any brighter or more promising. Already leading the German Bundesliga by 15 points, the Bavarians are now being touted as Champions League favorites.
But that's not all. Taking both on-field performance and financial stability into consideration, it's not unreasonable to wonder whether Bayern Munich are on the verge of a modern footballing dynasty.
First, the on-field part. Bayern have lost only twice all season in all competitions, and Arsenal's goal Tuesday—which admittedly owed plenty to good fortune—was the first time the Germans had conceded in 664 minutes of on-field action (per Opta).
Beaten Champions League finalists in two of the last three seasons, Bayern now look both motivated and prepared to go one step further and win Europe's most prestigious cup competition. But unlike most elite European clubs, this squad is not packed with high-priced imports (though midfielder Javi Martinez certainly qualifies).
Instead, Bayern's roster is dominated by homegrown talents like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Toni Kroos—all products of the club's youth program. Among elite European clubs, only Barcelona can boast such a record.
But unlike Barcelona, Bayern already have a new stadium and a superior financial model. As Grant Wahl wrote in Sports Illustrated ahead of last May's Champions League final:
When UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules kick in, Bayern could be one of the big winners in Europe, not least because it isn't saddled with a large debt like so many other top European clubs. "Our 340 million euro stadium, Allianz Arena, is completely privately financed by our club," (Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz) Rummenigge says. "The big advance today of Bayern Munich is that our infrastructure is strong, not just our team. We invested 25 million euros here (in the team's training facility)."
Bayern lost that match to Chelsea on penalties, but compared to Roman Abramovich's Chelsea, Bayern look like a model of both financial responsibility and positive, winning football. And while Chelsea's run to the Champions League title felt like a fluke, Bayern's continued presence in the latter stages of the competition seems both assured and inevitable.
This season, if anything, Bayern have improved. As Gabriele Marcotti wrote for ESPN following Tuesday's win over Arsenal:
The development of David Alaba means that, together with Philipp Lahm, he forms arguably the best fullback pairing in the world. Javi Martinez has settled in nicely in midfield, vacuuming up loose balls and providing both steady passing and an imposing physical presence. Toni Kroos, no longer shuttled all over the park, is thriving playing in the hole where he can display his full range of passing and intuition. Franck Ribery is back to the levels of a few years ago. And the fact that Bayern can afford to keep Arjen Robben and Mario Gomez—who, between them, scored 60 goals in all competitions last year—on the bench tells its own story about just how stacked this team is.
Marcotti also correctly pointed out a weakness in central defense, but as B/R's Sam Tighe wrote after Tuesday’s match, the double-pivot midfield pairing of Schweinsteiger and Martinez serves as a highly effective and disciplined shield for the back four. As they showed against Arsenal, those two will make it difficult for any opponents to score.
The proof is in the stats. Through 25 Bundesliga matches this season, Bayern have allowed only seven goals. In 10 away matches, Jupp Heynckes' men have conceded just once.
This Bayern team is stacked with talent, and the best players won't be leaving anytime soon. In addition to the emergence of Alaba, Thomas Müller has matured this season and become a regular starter at Arjen Robben's expense. Finding and exploiting Bayern's weaknesses is possible (as tiny BATE Borisov showed in the Champions League group stage this season) but extremely difficult.
If that's not scary enough, the future should be. Pep Guardiola, who won two European titles with Barcelona, is set to take over as Bayern's manager this summer. He'll inherit a supremely talented squad that has youth on its side. Müller, Alaba and Kroos are all 23 or younger; Schweinsteiger, Lahm and German international goalkeeper Manuel Neuer are all under 30.
With talent, youth, managerial expertise and financial stability working together in the years to come, Bayern Munich could—maybe should—become a dynasty in European football. As frightening as it sounds to Bayern's opponents, Tuesday night in London might have been only the start.
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