Why Bayern Munich Will Be Europe's Team to Beat Next Season

Alex RichardsContributor IApril 23, 2013

TURIN, ITALY - APRIL 10:  Players of FC Bayern Muenchen celebrate victory at the end of the UEFA Champions League quarter-final second leg match between Juventus and FC Bayern Muenchen at Juventus Arena on April 10, 2013 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

This season's Champions League is boiling nicely, with the four remaining sides —Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund —looking to secure their place at Wembley for the final on May 25.

Nonetheless, with league titles in a number of Europe's major leagues already all but secured by sides currently sitting atop their respective tables, wandering eyes have already begun to look ahead to next season's competition.

With that in mind, questions are being asked concerning the identity of who will be the team to beat come the 2014 final at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon?

Unquestionably, Barcelona have been the team to beat across the continent over the course of the last six years, as six successive Champions League semi-finals will atest. And with the likes of Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi still in their primes, they still very much belong at Europe's top table.

However, with key personnel and genuine dressing room leaders such as Xavi Hernandez and Carles Puyol heading into the twilight of their careers, as well as having seen their iconic coach Pep Guardiola already depart, the general consensus with regards Los Cules is that their European dominance is coming to an end.

Thus the question becomes who exactly head the queue to supersede the pride of Catalunya as Europe's number one side?

Almost certainly the answer is their opponents in this season's semi-final; Bayern Munich.

The Bavarian giants have been formidable throughout the current campaign, winning the Bundesliga title in record-breaking time, playing some tremendous football and scoring 89 league goals in the process. Their concession of a meagre three goals in away matches in the league borders on the ludicrous.

Additionally, they still have their eyes on an unprecedented (German) treble, with Stuttgart their opponents in the DFB Pokal final.

Throw into the mix their clinical decimation of an extremely good Juventus side at the last eight stage of Europe's premier club competition —So good, they're 11 points clear in the Italian Championship  —and you get the idea of exactly how talented Die Roten are.

Make no mistake, the potential is scary.

Bayern's current ascension, with two finals in the past three seasons (potentially a third in four) says much in itself. That the likes of Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, David Alaba, Xherdan Shaqiri and Javi Martinez are only scratching the surface of their capabilities, whilst Bastian Schweinsteiger, Phillip Lahm, Manuel Neuer and Dante are very much in their prime, bodes frighteningly well also.

However, off-the-field, it is a club seemingly set up for domination and not merely on a national level.

The club's financial infrastructure continues to be the envy of footballing boardrooms across the globe. Bayern are the ultimate blue-chip club, having made a profit over each of the last 20 years. With a vast number of sponsors and commercial partners, the likes of Audi and Adidas to name just two, Bayern currently rank as the richest club in terms of commercial revenue according to Deloitte, with an annual income of €177.7 million (£151.2 million).

Contextually, that's some €60 million (£51.1 million) more than England's market leader Manchester United. It's such figures which allow Bayern to compete for some of Europe, and in particular Germany's, most talented players. Mario Gotze, the Borussia Dortmund wunderkind, the latest to decide his future lies at the Allianz Arena, having agreed to move to Bayern in June.

The club's motto according to President Uli Hoeness, "sporting success and financial prosperity," has never appeared more fitting.

The youth set-up at the club continues to churn out players of considerable talent; Emre Can and Mitchell Weiser are two on the first team fringes who can point to exceedingly bright futures. Bayern have been one of the academies who have thrived since the national team debacle at Euro 2000, which led to the German FA tearing up the rulebook and starting from scratch with regards its youth production.

Der FCB continue to invest heavily in themselves and the developmental philosophy won't have gone unnoticed by their future manager.

The present, and indeed the future, are exceptionally bright.

But of course, they aren't perfect nor indefatigable, as a boardroom of former stars are quick to point out whenever they feel necessary. There remains room for improvement.

The 23-time German champions have been executing the pressing-passing style that is now very much en vogue in an exceptional manner, perhaps better than anyone this season.

But it is still Barcelona, who on their day, are the greatest advocates of such a style, and Bayern can still learn to dominate matches, possession-wise, like the Catalans. Bayern average 57 percent this season; Barcelona average 68 percent.

In that respect, the Champions League semi-final will make interesting viewing and will indicate whether Bayern are ready to go toe-to-toe with Europe's most recent greatest; Or conversely, will they yield and in turn show what will be perceived as their own inferiority?

Moreover, the question continues as to whether this current crop of German players - many of course ply their trade with Bayern - have the mental aptitude for winning the big matches. The youth football revolution has done a lot of good, but teaching players to win at senior continental/international level is yet to prove one of them. Germany's defeats in the final and semi-finals at the last two European Championships as well as the 2010 World Cup, in addition to Bayern's two Champions League final losses, has seen Germany's stars closely scrutinised in that regard.


Nonetheless, such notions may be put to bed before the season is out. If not, then Guardiola will arrive in Bavaria this June, when he takes over the reigns from Jupp Heynckes, with something to sink his teeth into. If anyone can come up with a solution, it must surely be him, the man who guided the second greatest cultural overhaul in Barcelona's history.

The hierarchy of Bayern enticed and impressed upon the 42-year-old just how similar their off-field infrastructure and youth set-up aligned with the Barcelona model. Guardiola could well find himself arriving at the club just in time to lead them to the top of the mountain, where they could well set up base camp for a considerable period of extended domination.