Bayern Munich vs. Barcelona: Bayern Show Off Depth in Friendly Victory
Ahead of this weekend's German DFL Super Cup between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, the Bavarian side welcomed Barcelona to their home in an exercise to improve fitness and match sharpness that ultimately ended as a Bayern PR stunt.
For within this Barcelona side, the stars that had just torn through Europe not too long ago were still far from match fitness or any level of competitive nature as they traveled to Munich for their first preseason friendly over the new campaign.
Yet what we saw from Bayern was incredible.
The finesse of Thiago Alcantara, the power of Dante and even the trickery of Franck Ribery were all worthy sideshows, but the true event was the sheer magnitude of the squad that Pep Guardiola and Bayern Munich have amassed for this coming season.
The team kicked off the game in a basic 4-3-3 formation with a back line that offered no real surprises. Alaba was at left-back; Dante and Boateng were the chosen centre-back pairing for the day; and Rafinha, the Brazilian full-back who'd once seemed on the verge of a move out of the club, was once again in the coveted right-back role.
What truly entertained critic and fan alike was Pep's introduction of Philipp Lahm in the central-midfield position alongside Toni Kroos and Thiago Alcantara to complete the trio of holding, playmaking and box-to-box midfielders in the middle of Bayern's side.
At what first may seem like no more than an entertaining gag for the Bayern captain, in the absence of the side's two most renowned central midfielders—Javi Martinez and Bastian Schweinsteiger—Pep can't be dismissed for opting to move the single player with more assists than any aside from Franck Ribery last season further up the pitch.
And of course, as we witnessed that evening, Lahm was incredibly instrumental in the manner in which he charged into the Barcelona box time after time, just as he has done down the right-hand side for years, with the ultimate prize of a headed goal as his reward.
Alongside Lahm in the centre of midfield were two further examples of Bayern’s exuberant depth in the manner of Kroos and Thiago. These two players have the world of football at their fingertips yet will have to consistently watch over their shoulders with the likes of Mario Gotze desperate for a starting spot.
The most fascinating aspect of the aforementioned duo is that they played the exact role that was previous preoccupied by Martinez and Schweinsteiger last season.
Unless Guardiola is hoping for riots on the streets of Munich, they’ll both likely make way for the old guard once they’ve fully recovered their fitness.
Which then leads us further up the pitch. We’re likely to see Kroos, Thiago and Gotze venture once the established midfield returns, where Ribery, Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller began Wednesday’s friendly in a front three.
As if the sheer number of players on offer wasn’t enough for the Catalonian coach, Pep’s ability to shuffle the entire side into other positions is a truly tantalising prospect for any limited squad, as Robben—the often-criticised "limited winger"—played much of the first half as the lone forward, with Muller and Ribery continuously floating throughout the final third with equal effect.
Then, as if bored of any sense of predictability, Guardiola chose to bring on the more traditional forms of attack in the style of Mario Mandzukic, who played as the lone forward, and then Xheridan Shaqiri and Claudio Pizarro, two players at opposite ends of their careers with an identical intention of forcing a way into this side.
The game had long been won for the Germans, yet as Barca replaced their jaded stars with fresh youngsters, in a pattern accustomed to any side throughout the world in a preseason friendly, Guardiola chose to alter his starting XI with an entirely new one full of just as many stars.
An ocean of depth that reaches far beyond that of any of their rivals, this squad may well be Bayern and Guardiola's single source of criticism this season.
But it's just as likely to be their key to success.
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