Even if the opening formation was listed as a 4-1-4-1 everyone loves to criticize Pep Guardiola for, Bayern Munich looked a lot more like the conquering team from last season with two in the middle of the park, as Toni Kroos played next to Philip Lahm as the team produced its best match of the season so far.
Maybe beating CSKA Moscow 3-0 isn’t an excellent indicator to let us know if Guardiola’s plan is working or not, but you can’t argue with results. This still isn’t the incredibly intense Bayern Munich from last season, that simply ran teams off the pitch, but slow passing gets you results as well once the players get used to it.
The most important factor of the breezy Champions League win was Lahm not being stranded in the middle of the pitch, as Kroos forgot the fact that he’s an attacking midfielder and remained quite close to the middle, allowing Bayern complete dominance, unlike their unimpressive win over Hannover over the weekend.
Maybe the players did feel a bit more urgency due to the good cop, bad cop routine being played by Mathias Sammer and Pep Guardiola, but it’d be more encouraging to simply look at it as a team catching on to the changes made in the tactics, even if Guardiola is insisting that he’s not the revolutionary man the media claim he is.
Still, without Schweinsteiger, Javi Martinez or Mario Gotze, Bayern Munich looked good. Franck Ribery had no need to show why he is the European footballer of the year, and nothing felt forced about Bayern’s game. The goals did come (two of them at least) from free kicks, as David Alaba, maybe the best player on the pitch, opened the scoring, but if Mario Mandzukic was a bit more focused and luckier, he would have left the match with a hat trick and not just one goal.
Sterner tests will tell us if Bayern’s new possession-based football, which is a lot slower than what we saw from them under Heynckes and what we usually see from German teams these days, is setting them on a path that’s meant to end in glory, with an away match at Schalke being a much better indication to their ability, even if Guardiola is still waiting for the entire lineup to be healthy.
Thomas Muller still looks like a fraction of the player from last season. The slower pace seems to have affected him more than anyone, as he has less space to operate in, and his clever movement and positioning might be his best assets. Maybe it’s still a matter of adjusting, but Muller was arguably Bayern’s best player last season, and they need a lot more from him in terms of involvement and goal creating activity if they’re to be anywhere near as effective as last season.
But maybe living up to last season’s record breaking achievement is like chasing a White Whale. This is a new Bayern Munich team, going through changes, even if Guardiola is making it seem like his affect is minimal, that’s going to need more time before we feel like we’re seeing the “real” Bayern.