10 Things to Watch in Bayern Munich's Pre-Season
The World Cup is barely a thing of the past, but preparations for the 2014-15 club-football season are already underway. Bayern Munich enter the new campaign the undisputed champions of German football, but also have a point to prove on the international stage.
The Bavarians have made several changes to their squad thus far this summer, with Toni Kroos, Mario Mandzukic and Daniel van Buyten having left and Robert Lewandowski, Juan Bernat and Sebastian Rode joined the club.
Bayern are in somewhat of a transition phase as they adapt to life without some of the biggest stars of yesteryear and make room for the newcomers. The preseason should therefore be an interesting one, with many narratives to watch. Click "Begin Slideshow" for a run-down of what to look for in the weeks leading into the season proper.
Bayern have tremendous confidence in the potential of Danish starlet Pierre Hojbjerg. CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge ruled out a loan for the youngster in May (via FCBayern.de), insisting that the 18-year-old had a role to play in the coming season.
Now the 2014-15 season is upon us, and Hojbjerg is closing in on his 19th birthday. The midfielder has enormous competition for playing time in central midfield, with Mario Gotze, Thomas Muller, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thiago Alcantara, Javi Martinez, Sebastian Rode, Philipp Lahm and David Alaba all capable of playing in the areas where the Dane is most capable.
However, Hojbjerg can expect to have some chances in the immediate future. Bayern's Germany internationals are still on extended vacation following the World Cup and Thiago is injured. If he makes a good impression of himself early on, Hojbjerg may be able to assert himself in the Bayern midfield.
Robert Lewandowski is Bayern's prestige signing of the summer of 2014. The prolific striker, scorer of over 30 goals in each of his last three seasons, moved to Munich on a free transfer in July.
Given his incredible prolificacy while at Dortmund (he scored 94 goals in his last three seasons at the Signal-Iduna Park), expectations on Lewandowski will be sky-high. But although the Poland international has no real competition for his role as main striker, Pep Guardiola (champion of the "false nine" at Barcelona and Bayern alike) could opt to go without a natural center-forward. After all, he forced out fan favorite Mario Mandzukic.
Accordingly, Lewandowski will have to make a strong impression during preseason. He didn't play at the World Cup, though, and will be fresher and available sooner than many of his teammates.
Juan Bernat's Role
Juan Bernat is an interesting signing for Bayern in that he's a strong enough attacking player to be used in midfield but simultaneously is a qualified left-back. The Bavarians have David Alaba as a more-than-capable starter on the left of defense and Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and Mario Gotze as strong left-sided midfield options. So there is no clear place where Bernat can expect to find himself competing for playing time.
It therefore will be interesting to see how Bernat is used in preseason and how it affects the rest of the team. For example, in his first friendly match, he played at left-back with Alaba in midfield. Bernat may be fielded primarily in one position or another, or he may be a utility man. We'll have to see what Pep Guardiola decides to do.
Sebastian Rode: Success Story or the Next Kirchhoff?
When Sebastian Rode's signing for Bayern was first announced by Frankfurt CEO Heribert Bruchhagen in April of 2013 (via Bild, h/t Goal.com), it appeared that the central midfielder was a frivolous buy for the German giants. Bayern already had Bastian Schweinsteiger, Javi Martinez, Toni Kroos and Thiago Alcantara as established holding-midfield options, with Pierre Hojbjerg and Emre Can as rising talents to earn more and more minutes as they matured. Much like Jan Kirchhoff before, it was hard to see how Rode could fit into the Bayern team.
Since then, Emre and Kroos have both left. But still, Rode has a mountain to climb in his first season at Bayern. Nearing the age of 24, he may be talented but has yet to impose himself at a high level. But like Hojbjerg, Rode did not compete at the World Cup and will have limited competition for much of the preseason. We'll soon learn whether he has what it takes to succeed in Munich.
Exactly how Pep Guardiola intends to line up his midfield next season is unclear, but he will in all likelihood continue with two more conservative players and one with fewer defensive duties and more of a responsibility in linking play from midfield to attack. The individauls who will feature in this system are, however, uncertain following the departure of Toni Kroos to Real Madrid.
According to SportBild, (h/t @Lupin5), Guardiola has two possible systems to try while Thiago and Franck Ribery recover from injuries. Both systems use Rafinha and Juan Bernat as full-backs and Philipp Lahm and David Alaba in midfield. The return of Thiago could see any of four natural full-backs dropped, or one of the attacking midfielders or Lewandowski fall out of the starting lineup.
Guardiola opted for a 3-5-2 formation in Bayern's first friendly of the season, but with such an abbreviated team available, it's hard to take much from his decisions. More will be clearer in the coming weeks.
Holger Badstuber played his last competitive match for Bayern on the first of December, 2012. It's been just under 20 months since he last kicked the ball in the Bundesliga; since then he's twice torn his right anterior cruciate ligament. But at long last, he's back.
The 25-year-old Badstuber returned to training for Bayern during the preseason and played in his first match last week, captaining the club for 58 minutes before being substituted.
Although Bayern did not concede during his time on the pitch, Badstuber's recovery is a long one and it will be quite some time before it will even be apparent whether or not he'll ever reach his previous heights. For now, though, he'll have to try to prove that he's still a worthy Bayern player and that he has a role to play in the team in 2014-15. His performance in the friendlies to come will be a good measure of just how ready he is.
Whether New Signings Are Necessary
Bayern are an ambitious club with sky-high goals. They have undergone some changes since last season, and there remain many questions that are yet to be answered. The fitness of Badstuber and the World Cup stars, the preparedness of some of the youngsters and the adaptability of some players are all issues that need to be monitored carefully.
If there are some weaknesses, one or more reinforcements may be needed. Bayern have thus far opted not to sign a replacement for Toni Kroos, for example, and his position may need a more established alternative if the German giants are to be competitive on all three fronts. Additional depth may also be needed. We'll have a better idea based on how the preseason goes.
Fitness of Fatigued World Cup Stars
Fatigue was a problem for some Bayern stars (most notably Bastian Schweinsteiger) following the 2010 World Cup, and it could again be a major concern following the 2014 edition in Brazil. No team sent more players to the tournament than Bayern, 14 of whom competed.
Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Jerome Boateng, Manuel Neuer, Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller, Mario Gotze and Dante were all involved in the tournament until the very end, their teams having competed in the maximum seven games. The German giants will therefore have to be wary of the threat of exhaustion and of overuse-induced injuries.
Speaking to Bild (h/t Goal.com), Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge admitted physical fatigue may hinder his club and criticized other Bundesliga teams for not pushing for the league's start to be moved until later in August. As it stands, the new season will kick off on Friday, August 22.
The Telekom Cup
Bayern don't have any "prestige" friendlies lined up for the preseason, so their biggest tests will be in the Telekom Cup. They will first play Monchengladbach on July 26, then will take on either Hamburg or Wolfsburg (depending on results) the following day.
Since the introduction of the Bundesliga's four-team, two-day preseason tournament in 2009, Bayern have not fared notably well: The German giants finished third on three occasions, second once and won the tournament for the first time last summer. Suffice to say, the tests they can expect to face this weekend will be substantial.
The only thing the Telekom Cup lacks is a test of fitness; games are only an hour long. But in two days and 120 minutes, there can be plenty learned.
Friendly vs. MLS All-Stars
After those in the Telekom Cup, Bayern's other substantial test match will come against the MLS All-Stars in early August. They visit Portland on August 6 at 6:30 PM local (Pacific) time.
Although the match itself may not be against players who are all up to Bundesliga standard, Bayern will be playing in the heartland of American soccer. Fans of the Portland Timbers are legendary for their support and turnout, and the match should draw a huge and boisterous crowd.
Bayern vs. the MLS All-Stars will be the German giants' last test match before their meeting with Dortmund in the DFB-Superpokal on August 13. Guardiola's side lost their first competitive game under the Spanish trainer last season and will be keen to avenge their defeat. Thus, they'll want to enter it on a run of confidence following a good showing against the MLS' best.