When the Champions League draw was made in August by none other than Paul Breitner, Bayern fans, players and club officials alike were slightly apprehensive, to say the least. While being quietly confident about their progress, nobody expected Bayern to make such light work of the group.
Villarreal, the depleted Spanish giants, Manchester City, the talk of England, and Napoli, the giant of Italian football who finally awoke last season, all came to the Allianz Arena and left with nothing.
The game against Villarreal was absolutely brilliant. But the lineup Jupp Heynckes fielded raised a few eyebrows before the match.
He left Thomas Mueller and Luiz Gustavo on the bench. The pairing of Augsburg, Anatoliy Tymoshchuk and David Alaba returned to defensive midfield. Toni Kroos returned to the hole behind main striker Mario Gomez. The first goal came three minutes into the match as Kroos set up Ribery. Tymo's shot set Gomez up for the rebound for the second.
Unfortunately, Bayern went into rest mode afterwords. Thankfully for everyone, Villarreal scored through Jonathan de Guzman. That was the second goal that Bayern had conceded from open play this season.
It took a few minutes for Bayern to find the pace and fire away but when they shifted up a gear, they were brilliant. Again, Kroos showed his brilliance by setting up Ribery with a perfect pass for the third. Added to all this, Manuel Neuer made a few brilliant saves when called upon. UEFA had a tough decision to make afterwards—the Man of the Match award was on the line. In the end they chose Kroos.
Bayern finished with 13 out of a possible 15 points from five games and qualified as group winners as Napoli beat Manchester City in Italy. Who would have thought that FCB would win this group with a game to spare when the draw was made?
Kroos has been phenomenal in the CL. He got Bayern underway with an early goal against Villarreal in Spain. The Spaniards were stuck defending for most of the match, and Bayern eventually won 0-2. The victory was thoroughly deserved.
Only Napoli managed to be a thorn in Bayern's side; the 1-1 draw in Italy is so far the only stain.
After last season's horror show in some matches, Bayern has made great strides in all competitions. Whilst there are still calls for improvements in defence, one has to admit that the Bavarian defence is markedly different from last season's porous one.
Only nine goals have been conceded in 22 matches in all competitions. Four of those have been conceded in the Champions League in seven matches. Only two of those nine goals have come from open play (the De Guzman strike and the Mario Gotze strike).
What is the most important thing Arjen Robben failed to do in the group stage until last night? Doing without a player who made Bayern's matches almost feel like a "one-man show." It speaks volumes about the team.
Now, all eyes will be on the Round of 16 draw in Nyon on the 16th of December. There are opponents against whom Bayern has poor records (cough, AC Milan. sigh). With the kind of form that they have showed in the group stages however, they will have very little to fear in the latter stages.