For Bayern Munich, a quasi-promising season of 2011-2012 ended in the bitterness of coming second best in all the races. This makes it two consecutive seasons without a single trophy in the cabinet. 13 players from Bayern Munich took part in the recently concluded UEFA Euro 2012, the highest participation from any particular club, but none of them succeeded in the most coveted continental competition. Germany, the much touted favorites of the competition, could not even get past the round of last four.
With the Black-Yellows looking formidable to launch a third straight league victory bid under the apt tutelage of Jürgen Klopp, Bayern were again put under the pressure of finding missing pieces of the riddle of domestic dominance. They entered the transfer market with a plan and acquired the services of a few good men. But are the set of choices good enough to make the fans go waku-doki? Is it the personnel or the strategy that is failing to deliver?
The signing of Tom Starke and Mitchell Weiser were cheeky. Starke had a good season with Hoffenheim, and with the retirement of Hans-Jörg Butt, Bayern wanted an experienced campaigner to deputize Manuel Neuer. Failure of their last two academy products to rise to the occasion, Kraft and Rensing, could have forced them to go for Starke. Signing of Weiser is for the future. Weiser was one of the finds of Germany’s U-17 team that won the third place in the FIFA U-17 tournament. The signing of the other stars will tell us more about the intent and ambition of Bayern.
The signing of Claudio Pizarro is, perhaps, the shrewdest deal Bayern have done for the upcoming season. Their penchant for unearthing obscure talents to world stage has often resulted in disasters (unless it is from their own youth academy) and last season witnessed quite a few of it – Petersen and Usami struggled to make the cut whereas Jennings and Vastic are still plying their trade with the II side to get accustomed to the style of Bundesliga.
Pizarro has spent six fruitful seasons with the Bundesliga giants and has scored exactly 100 goals in all competitions. After a barren excursion with Chelsea in the Premier League in which he could only manage two goals in 32 appearances, Pizarro rekindled his form with Werder Bremen in the next four seasons, scoring 89 goals in all competitions. Most importantly, the veteran has scored 18 times in 29 appearances in the last season, which means his goal-thirst is yet to be quenched.
Last season Bayern missed an experienced campaigner to stand up in the absence of Mario Gomez. Olic was out injured for a significant part of the season and Petersen failed to make the grade. Pizarro could prove to be the vital cog to play second fiddle to Gomez and bring in all his experience to make it count during the former’s absence.
Pizarro is not getting any younger and knowing his shortcomings, he has improved on his hold-up play and creativity near the attacking third. So, even in a quiescent day, Pizarro could create nuisance with his vision to set up teammates to break opponent’s defense.
Bayern’s Achilles heel has been their defense, for some time now. No need to delve beyond the starting line-up of the back four. With the exception of Lahm and Neuer, none of them are experienced enough to be in the starting line-up, week-in and week-out. The left fullback duty was entrusted to David Alaba, who he is not a natural defender, and to Diego Contento who, at times, struggled to even find a bench role.
Daniel van Buyten is not going to get younger and Bayern seemed to have found a more stable center-half pairing in Stubsi and Boateng. Now, no matter how much synchronization they have between them, Boateng is a natural fullback and has the tendency to drift away from his position more often than not. Badstuber, on the other hand, was entrusted to play the ball-playing defender’s role, which he did to perfection, but was often found out of position as he failed to track back.
At this juncture, Bayern needed a signing or two, to repair either the center-half conundrum or the left-back cacophony, or maybe both. And they came up with the signing of Bonfim Costa Santos Dante aka Dante. Much of Gladbach’s defensive solidarity can be attributed to the combination of Dante and ter Stegen.
This signing could solve Bayern’s center-half problem and actually hints that maybe from next season onwards, Lahm will play on the left flank, while Boateng, relieved from his center-half’s duty, will be positioned down the right flank. Apparently, this signing solves both problems at the back in the outset, but does it instil intimidation in the opposition attackers? Not perhaps.
The signing of Xherdan Shaqiri was the most talked about one, as it involved one of the hottest properties in the world of football. Failing to lure Marco Reus to Allianz Arena, Bayern wanted to make a statement and the end result was this signing. The two-time Swiss Super League Player of the Year is regarded as a long-term replacement plan for Bayern talisman, Arjen Robben. In a way, Takashi Usami’s failure to live up to the hype aggravated this move.
Shaqiri, a self-proclaimed polyvalent, can play as a right-winger and as a right-wingback as well – making him the right-sided version of David Alaba. The diminutive attacker’s ubiquity on the right flank, coupled with his blistering pace and exemplary vision has earned him the nickname of Kraftwürfel aka power cube. The Swiss whizkid exhibited his swingeing when he orchestrated both the goals in the downfall of Manchester United. He played his cameo in FC Basel’s first leg victory against Bayern in last season’s Champions League’s round of sixteen game as well.
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From the outset it may appear that Shaqiri is well-equipped than Usami to handle Robben’s mantle in coming years. This is his first season outside the Swiss Super League, which in itself does not boast of telling defensive talents. The temperamental starlet will be in a novitiate stage for the early part of the season and if his adaptability remains as slow as that of Usami’s, chances are high that he might end up like the Japanese sensation.
Only time will tell whether this signing will quench the thirst of the fans or not, but in all probabilities, it looks more like a retort to Dortmund’s snatch of Reus than an actual statement of intent. Why? Bayern already have Thomas Müller, who can play down the right flank. There is no need to find a replacement for Robben as yet.
For a winger who has scored 19 times in 36 appearances in the last season, he has still a lot to offer. In fact, this signing could unsettle the Flying Dutchman, who returns to the Allianz Arena at the back of a humiliating campaign with his national team in the Euro 2012. Moreover, even Weiser has been signed for the academy to replace Robben in the long run.
Bayern are still rumored to be interested to sign a deep-lying play-maker. Though, they have denied linking with Pirlo, they are very much interested in signing Athletic Bilbao starlet Javi Martiez. The price tag of €40m could put off the deal but a more important question is exactly where is he going to fit in?
It is unlikely that Heynckes would proselytize the present tactics. More so, he already has Kroos and Schweinsteiger to play their role to perfection. Then why is the need to sign Martinez? To bench Kroos, who has built a creditable rapport with Gomez? Or is it to cover up Schweinsteiger, who may leave the club?
Bayern started playing possession-based football with a slow tempo under the tutelage of Louis Van Gaal. Jupp Heynckes did not bother to change that version of football, but used the slalom runs of his gifted wide players (namely Ribéry and Robben) in an attempt to make the monotonous tempo with sudden bursts.
Deep-lying play-maker Schweinsteiger and modern-day number ten Kroos played the part of the synchromesh to keep the ball ticking in their inveterate tempo. This ploy made the build-ups slow, giving the oppositions enough time to organize their defense. In the end, one could see a lot of play in the form of passing, short-passing, back-passing, off-the-ball moves in the opposition third only resulting in dry orgasms.
Though the slow tempo gives the impression of being counter-proof defensively, but Bayern’s possession-based football needs its fullbacks to go the overlap ever so often, leaving holes which can be exploited if planned properly. Dortmund managed to denude the fact that Bayern’s ploy can be impregnated with counter-attacking tactics and aggressive pressing.
Dortmund’s scrumptious counters resulting from minimal touches helped them defeat Bayern five times in five meetings in the last couple of years. Similar moves ruptured Germany in the game against Greece and Italy as well, when most of their players, including their fullbacks and surprisingly their center-halves, were found grazing the opposition territory.
If Bayern is in the lookout for a solution to Dortmund’s maze, they must and must plan a ruse instead of changing the personnel. The tempo has to be accelerated ever so often to eliminate predictability in the build-up play. Kroos and Schweinsteiger will have to give away their sybarite passing to play lot more direct.
Bayern will have to develop the art of hitting on the counter, and to use it profusely through their capable wide players next season. Apart from this, the center-halves must be told that when the fullbacks are going for overlaps, they must sit deep or at least hover around their marksmen, instead of wandering in no man’s land.
Replacing Heynckes with Guardiola is not preposterous, but unlikely. For now, Bayern must brush-off the air of predictability in build-up and in closing down, in order to put an end to those acquiescent defeats to Dortmund. And as of now, no matter what Klopp thinks, it is advantage Borussia Dortmund!