After enduring two trophy less seasons at the Allianz Arena, Bayern’s management dug deep into their pockets last summer to splash out cash in bringing more talent into the side for the 2012-2013 season. This wasn’t to compensate for the lack of quality or brilliance in the squad but too increase the depth in quality or ‘bench strength’ of Bayern that has been considerably weak over the last two seasons. This was most evident last season which saw Bayern having to be content with the ‘bridesmaid role’ after finishing second in three competitions primarily due to the lack of quality replacements. So in came the likes of Javi Martinez, Mario Mandzukic ,Xherdan Shaqiri and Dante to name a few in the place of departing Ivica Olic, Danijel Pranjic, Breno and Petersen.
With the exception of 40 million man Martinez, many expected to see the rest warming the bench with getting run-ins either as substitutes or against smaller clubs. But pre-season causalities in David Alaba and Mario Gomez and niggling injuries to the mercurial pair of Robben and Ribery gave first team opportunities to the new boys and them having settled in quite well at Munich is the least you can say about their performances. Mario Mandzukic against expectation has done quite well in the absence of his namesake and is expected to give the number 33 a run for his money for the starting position. Dante despite lacking the experience has been a beast at the back for Bayern so far and is largely responsible for their excellent defensive record. Shaqiri’s super-sub displays have added another dimension to Bayern’s attack and Martinez after a difficult start has settled in quite well at the holding midfield role shielding the back four well and unsettling oppositions with his darting runs up the field.
Thus far, Bayern have been on a roll, claiming the winter champions title in the league, having qualified for the knock-out phases in the Champions League with a game in hand and looking formidable in the DFB Pokal. The depth in squad has provided Jupp Heynckes with ‘match fit and ready’ players for every game and considering Bayern’s current position, Die Roten’s think-tank can pat themselves on the back. But disappointments of last season still linger around the Allianz Arena and another season without silverware can seriously damage morale and confidence in the Bayern camp. With the winter transfer window coming close, the question on everyone’s mind associated with Bayern will be – Is the current rooster good enough win us trophies this season?
The back line
The arrival of Dante from Bundesliga rivals Borussia Mönchengladbach was looked upon with cynicism by many as the Brazilian lacked the exposure and experience at the big stage. Reckoned to play second fiddle to center back duo Badstuber and Boateng , Dante took his opportunities ‘by the horn’ when Alaba and Contento’s injury forced Bayern to field Badstuber at left back. In the absence of Daniel Van Buyten, Dante took over the senior role at the back, marshaling the defense and commanding respect from opposition forwards. In Dante, Boateng and Badstuber, the Bavarians finally seem to have a strong center back trio they could rely on for a whole season.
Holger Badstuber’s horrid injury against Dortmund over the weekend does come as a big blow for Bayern with the young defender tearing the cruciate ligament in his right knee thus ruling him out for rest of the campaign. With UEFA having changed the suspension rules in the Champions league and Bayern competing for two titles domestically, a bit of uneasiness will creep into Jupp Heynckes’s mind having only the aging Van Buyten in his ranks as a recognized back-up Dante and Boateng.
Buying a defender will prove tough with a dearth of quality center backs in recent transfer markets and loaning in one from a big club can come with the tag of him being cup-tied in Europe. Heynckes’s other options are of course using auxiliary center backs in midfielders Martinez, Gustavo and Tymoshchuk. Tymoshchuk and Gustavo are no strangers to playing defense with the former playing at center back in last season’s Champions league final in the absence of suspended Badstuber. Martinez though brought into add steel to the midfield made his name last season playing at center-back for Bilbao.
With good options available as back-ups at center back and considering the Dante-Boateng has been quite fruitful so far, Bayern need not plunge into the market in search of a center back. A new center back nonetheless will not hurt Bayern’s chances. Bayern though will be quite at ease when it comes to full-backs spots with Rafinha and Contento proving able standbys for Lahm and Alaba.
Easily Die Roten’s best department in their rooster, Bayern’s enterprising midfield has been widely considered to be one of the best in today’s world. Franck Ribery has been devastating on the left and young Thomas Mueller has been discovering his form and touch playing on the right wing this season. Dutch winger Robben hasn’t been at his best over the last two seasons but is still a force to reckon when fit and Shaqiri’s off the bench displays has been overwhelming considering this is his first season for a big club.
Bastian Schweinsteiger’s return from injury has certainly played its role in Bayern’s form this season. The midfield maestro has been at his lethal best in dictating play and he has been well complemented by the development and exploits of young Toni Kroos and in his defensive partners in Martinez, Gustavo and Tymoshchuk. Control of midfield and dictating play are key aspects to Bayern’s game and the Bavarians have enough in their armory to mount challenges on three fronts.
An injury last season to ‘Super Mario’ Gomez would have seen Bayern in a spot of bother with no good back-ups in the squad. This season, the arrivals of Mario Mandzukic and old boy Claudio Pizarro in the summer have added the necessary depth and firepower up front for Bayern Munich. With Jupp Heynckes preferring the lone striker up front, Bayern do have the options of rotating both the Mario’s with Pizarro as a standby. No tinkering needed here.
Bayern’s current squad has the depth and talent to sustain three grueling campaigns this season and having at least two quality players for every position on the pitch is a luxury very few top clubs have at the moment. Die Roten should be all set to continue their push for silverware post-Christmas and really don’t have the need to dig into their pockets.