It is difficult to imagine how any treble-winning team can possibly get better. Looking at Bayern Munich under Pep Guardiola this season, however, one can easily imagine not just an unprecedented Champions League repeat but an improvement on what was already arguably the greatest single season in the history of German football.
Record after record
Last season Bayern broke over 30 league records as they swept every competition to win the first treble in German football history. They set a new points record in the league with the biggest-ever lead over second place, had the best-ever goal difference and the best defensive record in league history to name just a few.
This season, Bayern continue to add to their trophy haul and are setting even more records along the way. Earlier this season they beat Chelsea to win the UEFA Super Cup, and in December they added the FIFA World Club Cup, a first for a German club. In the Champions League they broke Barcelona's long-held record, going unbeaten in 10 consecutive games.
Meanwhile, Guardiola's side broke Hamburg's 30-year-old record of 36 unbeaten games in the league and have a commanding 13-point lead over second-placed Bayer Leverkusen. With their 5-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt on Sunday they also beat Arsenal's 2001 record of scoring in 55 consecutive league matches. At this rate it is difficult to imagine Bayern not winning the domestic double at the very least and are one of the favourites, if the not the favourite, to win the Champions League.
Guardiola instilled drive for perfection
But it is not just about the trophies or the record books. Guardiola has come in and put his stamp on the Bavarian giants. He has given them a clear identity and football philosophy that took Jupp Heynckes' successful formula and found ways to improve it.
Last season, Bayern dominated their competition, but Guardiola demands absolute perfection on the pitch, and so far that has translated into some of the team's best performances in recent memory. In their 3-1 win against Manchester City in the Champions League group stage the team strung together a remarkable 50-pass sequence reminiscent of Barcelona at their peak under Guardiola.
Bayern do not just try to outplay their opponents but thoroughly dominate them. Guardiola has emphasized and improved Bayern's pressing and possession game to an even greater degree. In games, up to nine Bayern players push up into the opponent's half to try and choke them out of the match. They have already scored 88 goals in all competitions. Their 51 goals in the Bundesliga are already more than Bayern had at this stage last season.
The increased pressure is also meant to translate into added defensive security, with Bayern already having kept 18 clean sheets in all competitions (also more than they had last season under Heynckes at this point in the season).
Squad depth and quality only improved
Finally, to compliment Guardiola's comprehensive and all-encompassing style of play is perhaps the deepest squad in world football today. Bayern's quality in depth was a big reason they went on to win the treble last season. This season that squad has gotten even deeper and even better.
With such a talented squad Bayern did not need to get Thiago and Mario Gotze in the summer, but both players fit Guardiola's vision for the team and give them more variety. Both missed the beginning of the season due to injury but since coming back the duo have been directly involved in 22 goals in all competitions.
Gotze provides Guardiola with the ideal candidate for his famed "false nine" role while Thiago's versatility and technical ability has been the perfect compliment for Bayern's two key players, Franck Ribery and Philipp Lahm in midfield.
Keeping in mind that Bayern have been this dominant without Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez, both of whom have been out with injury for large parts of the season. Schweinsteiger and Martinez were crucial in the team's treble last season but the team's ability to compensate for their loss and still maintain such dominant, if not finer, form demonstrates not only the quality in depth but the degree to which the team has been refined by Guardiola this season.
The sky is the limit
To sum up, there is little in this Bayern team that could be improved on paper. Guardiola remains critical in his quest for perfection, but as far as the numbers and performances go, very few teams come close.
Heynckes laid the foundation last season but Guardiola has taken it, refined it and evolved it. Bayern play an even more dominant style of football and one that is baring results. If any side has the chance to be the first team to successfully defend the Champions League title in the modern era, it is Bayern under Guardiola.
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