In the run-up to Tuesday’s Champions League encounter between Bayern Munich and Juventus, Jupp Heynckes revealed the pleasure he has taken in Bayern’s success so far this season and cited his many squad options as one of the reasons for it.
“We are having an outstanding season,” he told reporters. “My team is playing a really committed style of football regardless of who is on the pitch.” (Uefa.com)
Heynckes, the Bayern manager, got an opportunity to showcase his depth of options shortly after the quarter-hour mark of his side’s quarterfinal first leg against Juventus when Toni Kroos limped off with an injury. By that time Bayern were already 1-0 up thanks to an early goal from David Alaba, and Kroos, with a career-high nine goals already this season, had been operating in a rather different role—assigned to contain Bianconeri midfielder Andrea Pirlo.
Typically the central playmaker between Franck Ribery and Thomas Muller and operating just off striker Mario Mandzukic, Kroos was replaced by Arjen Robben, who deployed himself on the right flank while Muller moved into the middle. Bayern didn’t miss a beat.
In fact, with Robben playing as if he had something to prove, Bayern looked even more dangerous than they had before he came on. He and Muller exchanged positions from time to time as the Bavarian giants searched for a second goal, and just to shake things up he occasionally swapped flanks with Ribery as well.
Credit the Juventus backline, who were under the cosh much of the night, for denying Bayern a second, third or even fourth goal in the first half, but with Muller, Robben and Ribery buzzing about, and Mandzukic holding up play expertly, the Scudetto holders went back down the tunnel without having once tested Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.
Heynkes, meanwhile, must always have trusted his side to score another after the restart. Five of his starters against Juventus had been rested against Hamburg at the weekend (a 9-2 win), so fatigue was never going to be an issue. And sure enough, shortly after the hour-mark Luiz Gustavo’s shot was only partially stopped by Gianluigi Buffon—the rebound landing right at the feet of Mandzukic, who squared the ball to Muller for a tap-in.
A one-two connection between a pair of forwards who had been on the bench at the opening whistle against Hamburg. Options.
Muller, it must be said, was especially impactful against Juventus, particularly given the freedom offered by the position conceded by Kroos. He worked the channels expertly, instinctively, so it was no surprise that he was johnny-on-the-spot with a gaping net ahead of him in the 63rd minute.
Also deserving of mention is midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, who might be the only player of Heynckes’ Bayern who is irreplaceable.
Against Arsenal in the second leg of the Round of 16, Bayern were overrun in the centre of the park—the tandem of Luiz Gustavo and Javi Martinez passed through like a knife in butter in Schweinsteiger’s absence. It was an uncomfortable case of déjà vu for the hosts, who had been forced to operate without the Germany international for long stretches last season.
With Schweinsteiger at the levers, Bayern were a completely different machine against Juventus, just as they have been a far more organized, unbreakable side during a dominant domestic campaign. The 28-year-old is to Bayern what Andrea Pirlo is to Juventus and Xavi to Barcelona—perhaps more so—and his present form is, in itself, an argument for Bayern being the clear favourite to win the Champions League next month.
It’s a title they’ll likely have to contest without Kroos, who following Tuesday’s match was revealed to have suffered a double muscle tear. In other words, Heynckes will be considering his options ahead of the return leg in Turin next week.
He’ll likely be just fine with that.