After losing in two Champions League finals over the last three seasons, it looks like Bayern Munich are finally reaching the final stage of the season as the best team in Europe, and the one everyone should be afraid of, partially because they’re no longer a side reliant on the individual abilities of selfish players like Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben.
They’re still here, but a lot more tamed, if not benched, giving the front stage the more all-around efforts and abilities of Mario Mandzukic, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Javi Martinez.
Subtle Changes, a World of Difference
It’s frustrating for a team like Bayern to miss out on the league title two years in a row, not to mention losing in two Champions League finals over the last three years. But a team’s management doesn’t have overhaul the entire team in order to make things work. Bayern do spend money, but did it wisely over the past few years, upgrading, tweaking and moving pieces around until they got the formula right. Mario Mandzukic isn’t the goalscorer Mario Gomez is, but he doesn’t need to be – he is a better player. Javi Martinez wasn’t always noticed with Bilbao, but everyone is noticing one of the best midfielders in the world, playing behind Bastian Schweinsteiger. Adding pieces without losing meaningful ones was the key to Bayern’s form this season.
Bayern Munich have conceded only 14 goals all season in the Bundesliga. Their goal differential, +75, is better than the amount of goals the second best scoring team in Germany, Dortmund, have with a total number of 74. They’ve lost only once in the league all season and have won all but one of their away matches. They didn’t concede once against Juventus in the quarterfinals with two 2-0 wins and it seems home and away doesn’t really matter to them, bringing their best performances usually to their visits outside the Allianz Arena. Their last meaningful loss this season came in October.
Any team that has Arjen Robben playing for them is dangerous, but Bayern realized that relying on the Dutchman to carry them again and again won’t get them anywhere. They moved Toni Kroos to the attacking midfield while bringing in Martinez from Spain, allowing Thomas Muller to return and play on his favorite right wing. That did force Robben to spend a lot of time on the bench, when he wasn’t injured, but no team in the world has the privilege of bringing on such a game changer onto the pitch, with the time out of the lineup sometimes seeming like it did him some good in terms of reducing his selfish attributes. Having a proven goalscorer like Mario Gomez as a substitute never hurt as well, probably the best non-starting striker in Europe.
At Their Best
Three players that have been with Bayern all through the success and failures of the past six seasons are Franck Ribery, Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger. It seems that they’re all playing their best football this season, and it’s hard to ignore the influence it has had over the team. Lahm is the best full back in the world, which is enjoying playing as a right back after most of his career on the left, proving to be the perfect balance between attack and defense on the wing. Ribery is a little different from the “team” feeling Bayern makes you sense, but not having to compete with Robben for touches is bringing out the best in the Frenchman, not having to worry about grabbing too much attention and focus because the talent is well-spread in this team. In the middle of it is Schweinsteiger, who finally has a good enough partner playing next to him, giving him a lot more freedom to spend his time worrying about the attack instead of chasing after quicker players.