Champions League and Bundesliga Wins Suggest the Old Bayern Are Back...for Now

Ian Holyman@@ian_holymanFeatured ColumnistOctober 24, 2016

Douglas Costa (centre) and Rafinha (right) gave Bayern added zest against Gladbach.
Douglas Costa (centre) and Rafinha (right) gave Bayern added zest against Gladbach.Associated Press

It takes a lot to rile Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. The former Bayern Munich striker-turned-club chairman is usually only seen smiling as he insists unconvincingly his team will face "a tough test/big challenge in an even/tight group" ahead of what is inevitably a procession through the UEFA Champions League group stage.

No one is fooled, but the dapper, erudite Bayern bigwig is no one's fool. That means he had thought through his reasons for stepping into the—for him—relatively uncharted territory of publicly criticising the team's display so familiar to his former team-mate and fellow Bayern legend Franz Beckenbauer after the German champions' recent 2-2 draw against 10-man Eintracht Frankfurt.

"That wasn’t worthy of Bayern Munich," ranted Rummenigge, whose focus in his suit and tie is as sharp as his finishing was while wearing an FCB shirt, after seeing Bayern fail to win for a third successive game, per Bild.

"We haven't experienced that very often," he continued. "We should be happy we got a point even after playing like that. You have to go out on to the pitch with a different attitude."

And he was not the only one thinking that way.

Mea culpas and "must do betters" rained down from the Bayern squad. "That wasn't Bayern Munich what we showed out there today," said Arjen Robben. "Lots of things weren't right, not only the attitude. Everyone has to ask themselves whether they performed. That wasn't the case today."

Philipp Lahm stated bluntly: "We need to improve our performance."

The question was, could coach Carlo Ancelotti bring about the change in attitude Rummenigge craved?

Watching Bayern's UEFA Champions League game against PSV Eindhoven on Wednesday, the answer was an emphatic "Ja!" But only for the first 30 minutes.

Appropriately enough for a team whose green strip merged seamlessly with the flawless Allianz Arena pitch, PSV appeared not to have turned up, as Bayern confiscated the ball with the sheer bloody-minded selfishness of a schoolyard bully while also threatening to not only not give it back but to do irreparable damage to their significantly junior opponents too.

Helped by defending that not only bordered on the comical but often hilariously trampled right over that frontier, Bayern could have been four ahead inside 30 minutes and then switched to pipe-and-slippers mode for the rest of the game.

Instead, they scored just twice before metaphorically drawing on their post-banquet cigars, and while snoozily digesting their own brilliance, they were rudely shaken awake by Luciano Narsingh spectacularly reducing the deficit to a single goal. Yes, further goals followed for Bayern after the break, but few would argue that the 4-1 scoreline reflected the closeness of the last hour of the contest.

It was a step in the right direction, however, and further strides were made against Borussia Monchengladbach on Saturday, which suggests the players have taken stock of their situation rather than merely responded positively to Ancelotti's diktat that—in a break with custom—they had to spend the night before the home game with PSV together in a hotel.

The fact Ancelotti could make four changes to his midweek lineup undoubtedly helped, particularly given the far more limited resources at counterpart Andre Schubert's disposal meant Gladbach could switch just one player from their Champions League outing, and the visitors did look leaden-legged.

Bayern also had the added motivation of not having beaten the Foals in four games and could be safe in the knowledge a whole country outside of Bavaria (and even some of those in it) were praying for them to lose following Borussia Dortmund's dramatic draw along the road in Ingolstadt earlier in the day. No one, bar Rummenigge undoubtedly, likes a one-horse title race.

But those factors did not overshadow what was a far more complete, determined display from Bayern, the sort of "one-way street football," as Kicker described it, that Rummenigge and Co. had become accustomed too under Pep Guardiola.

That was in no small part down to Arturo Vidal, a man whose numerous tattoos testify as much to his willingness to push himself through the pain barrier as his tireless performances. Not coincidentally, he was an injury-enforced absentee in Frankfurt.

The way the Chile international midfielder bustled in front of the ball-watching Gladbach back four to bullet home a header for the opening goal set the tone for a higher-octane, keep-'em-on-the-ropes Bayern display. And with Rafinha and Douglas Costa—who replaced Lahm and Thomas Muller respectively—also in sizzling form, Bayern were a side transformed.

The Brazilian full-back provided much more forward impetus and threat than Lahm had done against PSV, and with Germany's most recent FIFA World Cup-winning captain not even in the matchday squad, we may well see more of Rafinha in the starting XI. On the basis of this performance, which also included him racing back to deftly snuff out a rare Gladbach counter-attack, that would be no bad thing.

The fact the former Schalke 04 man was able to stand out so much was also undoubtedly due to the introduction of Costa who, along with Arjen Robben, provided Bayern with width and a far more coherent shape than they had against PSV in the 4-3-3 Ancelotti seems loath to tinker with.

With Costa and Robben's natural games to be hugging the touchlines before either cutting in dangerously or going beyond their man on the outside, Rafinha and David Alaba had more room to manoeuvre, with Gladbach's full-backs pinned back, fully aware of the threat Bayern's wingers posed.

It also meant Vidal and fellow midfielder Thiago Alcantara had more space in which to operate through the middle of pitch, something the narrower setup against PSV had not allowed the Spain international and Joshua Kimmich, who frequently trod on the toes of the players ahead of them.

After the PSV win, Ancelotti had asked his players for "90 minutes at higher intensity, better control of the game, give away fewer chances and decide matches quicker," per Kicker. To a large extent, he got that against Gladbach, even if Andre Hahn came close to dirtying Manuel Neuer's clean sheet when Bayern dropped their tempo a touch in the second half.

Even then, though, there was a different feel to when they had eased off the gas against PSV and looked in danger of allowing the Dutch visitors back into the match.

"We played brilliantly in the first half and were in total control in the second," was how Rummenigge summed up 90 minutes of football that had left him smiling and moved him to give the team a standing ovation, per the team's official site. "It was perhaps our best performance this season."

So the old Bayern appear to be back. Yet the jury should perhaps remain out a little longer before settling on a definitive verdict.

Two matches—the first of which was far from perfect—do not make a season, and the upcoming double-header with FC Augsburg, hardly the sort of opponent to get the Bayern squad champing at the bit, may well provide more of an insight into whether Ancelotti and his players have found a permanent solution.


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