Finalists in 2010 and 2012, quarter finalists in 2005, 2007 and 2009, and round of 16 exits in 2004, 2006 and 2011, Bayern Munich have been one of the big competitors for Europe’s most prized club football trophy yet have never capitalized on this and gone the distance. Last season’s loss to Chelsea in the final was probably the most demoralizing of the lot but it has proven to be the push that the club needed. Heavy spending in the summer of 2012 has seen Bayern go from a top club to probably the most feared club in Europe.
The entire suspension debacle of last season’s final is almost surely not going to be an issue for Bayern this time around; the reason being Bayern’s incredible strengthening of squad depth. Jupp Heynckes now has almost two top quality players for every single position, thereby ensuring that his side cannot suffer at the hands of UEFA’s suspension rules once again.
Bayern’s inability to mix things up has also been addressed by their transfer escapades; the one dimensional striker issue being the primary problem that has been rectified. Mario Mandzukic’s arrival has given Bayern’s attack a whole new perspective, also enabling them to play a far more fluid game. Unlike in the latter stages of the previous campaign, Bayern may not have the headache of Mario Gomez running dry.
Their other summer acquisition, the most expensive and talked off, Javi Martinez has been a revelation in midfield. The Spaniard has been a massive improvement on their previous first choice midfielder, Luis Gustavo. Possessing far greater passing ability and equal, if not better, defensive prowess, Martinez has taken Bayern’s midfield to a whole new level. His arrival at the Allianz Arena also means that Bayern now have Gustavo as a second choice, completely eliminating the need to play Toni Kroos in this deep position, a key factor in their loss to Chelsea.
Dante, their defensive reinforcement, has been their most important summer signing up until now. He has shored up an otherwise unpredictable Bayern defense and also seems to have had a great influence on Jerome Boateng. Up until May of last year, Bayern’s options in center defense weren’t the most eye-catching. Daniel van Buyten and, at times, Anatoliy Tymoschuk were forced to play alongside either Badstuber or Boateng, and this proved to be disastrous on numerous occasions.
Dante’s arrival has drastically changed things. Even with Badstuber out for the entire season, Bayern’s defense has looked airtight all season long. The Brazilian has reorganized the defense to perfection and this is undoubtedly the biggest leap taken forward by Bayern in their bid to attain European success.
With everything pointing in favor of a Bayern triumph in Wembley this June, why is there talk of a Bayern slip up going around? Their attack could well be put on par with that of Barcelona or Real Madrid, their defense just as good as Juventus’, Martinez and Schweinsteiger form arguably the best midfield duos in Europe and Manuel Neuer is among the top three goalkeepers in the world. This whisper of a Bayern failure seems most ridiculous.
But in all honesty, it is completely justified. Bayern’s last few performances have shown that the side is suddenly shrouded in an air of complacency, efforts dropping and results coming very sluggishly. The most obvious example of the Bavarians’ sudden drop in efficiency is their disastrous second leg performance against Arsenal in the second leg of the round of 16 of the Champions League. Leading 3-1 after the first leg, Bayern almost let the tie slip away from them with a 2-0 loss at home.
Jupp Heynckes’ men weren’t expected to trounce Arsenal for a second game running but a certain level of professionalism was expected from the side, especially with the second leg being played at the Allianz Arena. Even falling back on the age old excuse of fielding a second string side wasn’t available to save face since Heynckes sent out a more than formidable eleven. Other than Franck Ribery, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Jerome Boateng, this was a regular full strength Bayern eleven, and they still came within inches of botching the result.
Their Bundesliga performances haven’t been too great over the past month either and fans will be most keen to see this period behind them. First Hoffenheim, then Fortuna Düsseldorf and finally Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich have struggled to demolish sides in the same manner that they did in the earlier months of this season.
There seems to be a growing lack of ideas in the Bayern camp ever since that difficult 1-0 victory away at Hoffenheim. Madzukic’s goals have dried up, the midfield duo of Martinez and Schweinsteiger isn’t used as frequently as earlier, and both Müller and Kroos haven’t been at their hinrunde best. But this is where Bayern are very different from last season. Variety wasn’t available to Heynckes around this stage last season and results were hard to come by. Things have changed now with Bayern’s bench strength helping them grind out results, in a manner very similar to that of their next Champions League opponents Juventus.
Ample rest is being given to Schweinsteiger, Ribbery, Robben and the likes. With the Champions League quarter finals just a week away, Bayern should be physically ready. But questions regarding their mental state will always linger. A repeat of the Arsenal debacle is completely unacceptable at this stage of the tournament and will only result in the club not achieving the European success that they so desperately crave for.
Complacency has to be erased from the Bayern mindset at all costs. It is the only way this immensely talented team can reach the heights that everyone expects them to. Juventus will be one of the hardest tests that Bayern will face on the way but opponents’ capabilities should cease to matter from here on for a side of Bayern’s stature and past. Lethality and decisiveness are the paths to success for Die Roten.