Season Preview: Bayern Munich
At the conclusion of the 2014-15 Bundesliga season, Bayern Munich found themselves as champions. Again. For many persons though, FC Bayern had the title in the bag from the very day the league kicked off. The Bayern squad was unmatched in quality and, paired with arguably the best manager in football, made light work of the Bundesliga. They didn’t fare so well in other competitions, finishing runner-up in the DFL-Supercup and being semi-finalists in both the DFB-Pokal and the UEFA Champions League.
Despite the ease with which they strolled to the Bundesliga title, Pep Guardiola’s team often seemed to lack not only an alternative option to Robben and Ribery on the flanks, but an all-action driving force in midfield. They too often seemed lackadaisical and incapable of executing tactical adjustments. While some were quick to blindly accuse the players of not having the ability to do this, we can’t forget the injury issues that plagued Bayern all season, as well as the fact that the core of their squad isn’t getting any younger.
Of course, those in charge at the club moved quickly this transfer window to reinforce the squad in order to prevent a repeat of last season. The addition of Douglas Costa brings a much-needed injection of pace, creativity and direct dribbling to the flanks (albeit not of the same quality as displayed by Robben and Ribery when fit). While Costa is a downgrade from Xherdan Shaqiri, he has enough quality to fill in and perform reasonably well when Ribery or Robben inevitably get injured.
In defense, an area which seemed to shut off at the most inexplicable moments for Bayern last season, the return of Jan Kirchhoff from loan to Schalke plus the eventual full rehabilitation of Holger Badstuber and Javi Martinez greatly reinforces Bayern’s backline by not only reducing the pressure on Jerome Boateng to perform, but covering the shaky performances of an unsure Mehdi Benatia (who should improve) and an ageing Dante Bonfim.
In central midfield, the impact of the departure of club legend Bastian Schweinsteiger should be stemmed by the addition of a certain Arturo Vidal, the Chilean all-action midfielder who for the last few summers has been linked with big money moves away from Juventus. While he is not as talented a playmaker as the Fußballgott who has since joined Manchester United, Vidal brings a new welcome range of new aspects of midfield play to Bayern—an all-action, high intensity style focused on aggressive box to box running, tackling and pressing. His addition should fill the painfully obvious gap in Bayern’s midfield last season that at times left them sluggish and incapable of dominating the opposition the way they truly should have.
Despite the loss of Schweinsteiger, Guardiola shouldn’t be too worried about the source of creativity in this central midfield. The return of young Spanish maestro, Thiago Alcantara, to full fitness plus the return of Pierre-Emile Højbjerg from loan to Augsburg to complement the presence of Xabi Alonso should present Guardiola with more than enough creative talent to field tactically and technically dominant midfield combinations in domestic and continental competitions.
Closer to goal, Bayern fans can expect an improved season from Robert Lewandowski, who at time seemed to struggle with adjusting to Pep Guardiola’s tactics. Nevertheless, he still managed to hit 25 goals in all competitions. Football isn’t played on paper, but we can expect him to increase that tally. It’s also a big season for World Cup winner Mario Götze. The time has come for him to truly prove why Bayern paid close to €40 million for him in the summer of 2013. An increase in consistency and productive playmaking on his part should see his preferred role in the team as a central playmaker cemented and his importance in the plans of the manager continue to rise.
If this is indeed Pep Guardiola’s last season with Bayern Munich, he’ll be looking to go out with a bang. There is no better way to do this than to be dominant in domestic and European competitions. Failure to win a treble will (probably unfairly) raise quite a few questions and result in attention-grabbing headlines being published regarding his tenure at Bayern and if even really is, as many believe him to be, the best manager in the world. Regardless of if he signs a contract extension, it’s now or never for Pep Guardiola at Bayern. He simply must repeat and exceed the successes of Jupp Heynckes.