Bayern Munich: Europe's finest

Bayern Munich are fast becoming the dominant force in Europe, so how does the machine tick?

Virendra Karunakar
Published 04/25/2013 16:34 by Virendra Karunakar, read by 2,717 people.

Jupp Heynckes, the 67-year-old manager of Bayern Munich had this to say after his team's decimation of Barcelona on Tuesday night: 

"We've been playing extraordinary football all season. It was not a really big surprise to me that we scored four goals. We have played to a high level all season."

The Match

The beating that Barcelona received at the hands of Heynckes' team was a first; it was the first time any team had suffered a 4-0 defeat in the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League. 

For a lot of Barcelona fans as well as other football aficionados not entirely attuned to the exploits of Bayern Munich this season, the result was a shocker. But, as Heynckes so gleefully pointed out, they have been playing "extraordinary football" all season and this result was if anything, a strong reinforcement of that very fact.

“They were physically very strong,’’ said Xavi to reporters. “In fact they were superior. We didn't create chances. It’s a dreadful result. No excuses. 

“They have been the better team and we congratulate them.” 

This is an uncharacteristic line towed by Barcelona and Xavi, where upon previous exits to Chelsea and Inter Milan, the Spanish midfielder had not taken the moral high ground saying the opposition did not play football the right way.

Tuesday's beating was different. There was a sense amongst almost all Barcelona players that they had just been taken to the cleaners by a far superior footballing unit. 

Lionel Messi too agreed: “Bayern were the better team, in everything,’’ said Barcelona’s No 10, who had clearly not recovered from a recent hamstring problem. “They’re stronger, scored twice from set-pieces, every second ball was for them.’’

Gerard Pique, never one to shy away from giving his thoughts was candid said in a post-match press conference: “They thrashed us, the referee didn't have an influence. It is almost impossible for us, but we have to show some face in the return-leg. They were quicker, stronger and better.”

The Bayern Machine

Bayern were runners-Up to Chelsea in last year's edition of the Champions League. In all fairness, it was a game that they dominated, but somehow contrived to lose in front of their home supporters. 

That disappointment has only added to their desire to conquer all and sundry that appears before them this term. In making the semi-finals this year, Barcelona had achieved a rare distinction of making six consecutive semi-final appearances. It is in a way a fair reflection of the dominance that the team from Catalonia has exerted on this competition.

The German club have not been far behind; Heynckes has led Bayern to two of the last three finals, and a third in four years, looks inevitable after Tuesday's demolition job. 

The sourness from their inability to cross the final hurdle on a couple of occasions still lingers and Heynckes pointed it out after the game: "Falling short of success in the past two years has only made them hungrier to win this year. 

“The tactical awareness of this team is top notch as well, just like their willingness to run and fight for one another. Today's (Tuesday's) game was a perfect example of that."

This is a team that has been built carefully by Heynckes, who will be stepping down at the end of the year. After being outgunned to the Bundesliga title the last two years by Borussia Dortmund, Bayern addressed key areas of the squad in the summer. 

In central defence, Jerome Boateng and Holger Badstuber, were being exposed against more physical teams and pacy forwards. Dante, the tall bushy-haired Brazilian defender, was bought from Borussia Monchengladbach for about €4 million to help solve matters. 

The second piece of the puzzle was securing the services of Javi Martinez from Athletic Bilbao for a record transfer fee of €40 million. Mario Mandzukic after his stellar season last year for Wolfsburg, was poached for €13 million and the Swiss international Xherdan Shaqiri was purchased from FC Basel for €9 million to beef up the attack.

The addition of these players has helped address some of the shortcomings from previous seasons. Bayern have conceded only 14 goals in 30 Bundesliga games, an average of 0.46 goals per game, the best out of any leading side in the respective leagues - Barcelona have conceded 33 from 32 games (1.03), PSG 20 from 33 (0.60), Juventus 20 from 33 (0.60), Manchester United 35 from 34 (1.03), Ajax 31 from 31 (1.00).

They are also pressing the ball a lot better thereby allowing teams very little time on the ball. Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi constantly found themselves shackled and harassed by a player in a red shirt and the various channels that Barcelona constantly use were expertly cut out. ”You have got to analyse how an opponent plays, where they run, how they attack. Then find something you can hold against that. And I did that, I had a PowerPoint presentation, you could see all the runs they do. Defensively we were very strong, we worked very hard. Barcelona couldn't really do anything, they had one and a half chances,“ added Heynckes complimenting his team on their superlative effort.

The Bavarian giants have lost just three games all season, one in the league and two in the Champions League. Bayer Leverkusen are the only ones who have managed to upstage the Red Army of Munich domestically, while BATE Borisov and Arsenal registered unexpected convincing wins over them in Europe. 

Those results were merely an aberration in a season where the word 'thumping' has followed quite a few of Bayern's footballing encounters. Tuesday night was the 14th instance where Bayern had scored four or more goals in a match in all competitions. Over the weekend, they destroyed Hannover 6-1, even after the title had been well wrapped up and with several first-team regulars not playing. (Just to add, Hannover are 11th in the German league and not a bottom club). In 8 of those games, they've hit 5 or more - Stuttgart (6-1), Fortuna Dusseldorf (5-0), Hannover (5-0, 6-1), Werder Bremen (6-1), Hamburg (9-2), Wolfsburg (6-1), Lille (6-1) have all been at the receiving end of those maulings.

One striking feature of their play this season has been the spread of goals as well as the areas of attack. Of all their forward forays, 35% have come through the left flank, 39% through the right flank and 26% through the middle. In the Bundesliga, Mario Mandzukic is their top scorer with 15 goals while Thomas Muller has chipped in with 12 and the remainder of their 89 goals in total have come from others. Last year most of the goals were shared by Mario Gomez, who had 26 himself, and Ribery/Robben.

In the assist category, Franck Ribery, Thomas Muller and Philip Lahm are the joint top assisters in the Bundesliga with 10 each. Muller who bagged a double against Barca is their leading man in the Champions League with seven and Bayern before Tuesday boasted one of the best attacks in this year's edition with 22 goals, second only to Real Madrid with 23.

The big picture hence shows a team that holds no dependence on any one player and hence Barcelona had an uphill task from the very first minute as they were going up against a superior team with strength and depth in all areas of the pitch and a team that has meticulously stuck to a system all year.

The Young Guns

Bayern's superb squad has been assembled with an excellent blend of marquee signings and young players who have come through from the Youth team. In fact, one of the features of Heynckes' current tenure has been his blooding of youngsters such as David Alaba, Thomas Muller and Toni Kroos who have made the transition from the youth team to being seasoned internationals amongst the best in the world.

The core of Bayern's team is made up of their own, players promoted through their academy. Both captain and vice-captain, Philip Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger, are Bayern through and through, having joined the club as teenagers. 

Defenders David Alaba, who has been a revelation the last two seasons, along with Holger Badstuber also made the progression up from junior ranks. So have midfielders Thomas Muller and Toni Kroos. 

This composition has helped in the excellent team chemistry that these players share much like Barcelona do with their core having played with each other so often. And all these players are first-teamers occupying key positions for the Bundesliga giants.

The Brains

The contribution of Jupp Heynckes to the Bayern project should not be undermined. The former Monchengladbach striker is a master tactician when it comes to coaching and is one of the most decorated German coaches of all time. As evidenced from the transcripts above, his preparation for games is meticulous and is as animated as they come on the touchlines. 

Nicknamed 'Osram', for the way that his face tends to redden when under pressure or when agitated during a game, Heynckes in 34 years of management has authored many a success story in Germany as well as Spain. 

In his first stint with Bayern Munich (1987-1991), he won two back-to-back Bundesliga titles. He moved on to Athletic Bilbao in 1992 and in his second season there led the Basques to a UEFA Cup (erstwhile Europa League) spot by finishing fifth in the league. 

He returned to Spain with Tenerife in 1995 and led them to a UEFA Cup spot in the very first season. Following his success with Tenerife, Spanish giants Real Madrid came calling in June 1997 and that would be where he would celebrate his greatest triumph till date.

In the 1997-98 season,  he delivered the Champions League trophy to the 'Los Blancos'. That win in Amsterdam, where they beat Juventus by a solitary goal, broke a 32 year barren run without Europe's premier trophy for Real. 

However, as has come to be with fickle owners, the German's contract was terminated at the end of the season due to Madrid finishing fouth in La Liga, 11 points behind champions Barcelona. 

After not so successful short stints at a host of clubs, 'Osram' returned to the Allianz for a third stint (had a brief spell as caretaker manager after Juergen Klinsmann's sacking in April 2009) with the Bavarian club, which has so far been a successful run. 

A 22nd Bundesliga title has been wrapped up, reclaimed from Dortmund, in record time even; the title has never been won this early ever. 

Heynckes' teams are well known for their discipline and commitment to team ethic. They are very well drilled and are very efficient in picking teams apart with ruthless efficiency. 

To an extent, the wily German coach has been a little disappointed at the way Guardiola was appointed to succeed him even before the end of the season and he has expressed his willingness to leave with his head held high having delivered a historic treble to the club. 

The Cycle Continues

Bayern before the game announced the addition of Dortmund's talented attacking midfielder Mario Gotze to their ranks from next season, and there are rumours rife that his teammate and prolific striker Robert Lewandowski is poised to join him. 

Bayern's ambitions stretch far beyond any amount of success that comes their way this term; they are building for domination of the European club scene in years to come.

That spells bad news for Bayern's opponents, as not only are they going up against a very, very talented team with the wherewithal to bully opponents into submission, as Barcelona found out, but also a group of players smarting from the heartbreaks of recent seasons, and an incumbent manager determined to leave with a bar set at a near stratospheric level for his successor to match.

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