Bayern Munchin' onto a season of Silverware
1. FC Kaiserslautern and FSV Mainz 05 could never match Bayern Munich in the number of silverware won over time. The only record that they could share with their more illustrious counter-parts was that of the “Most number of consecutive victories since the start of the season” in the Bundesliga. The record stood at 7 consecutive victories since the start of the Bundesliga season, and was first achieved by Bayern Munich in the 1995/96 season and was equaled by 1. FC Kaiserslautern in the 2001/02 season and more recently by FSV Mainz 05 in the 2010/11 season. Bayern Munich, in this the 50th season since the inception of the Bundesliga, have gone on and won 8 consecutive games in the Bundesliga (and 11 in all competitions) and thereby shattering their own record and leaving Kaiserslautern and Mainz with a lot more to desire for. This feat has resulted in the Bavarian powerhouse getting off to their best start ever and thereby giving a clear indication as to how much they wanted to get back to being the Bundesliga Champions after 2 seasons of no silverware where they stuttered and allowed Borussia Dortmund to take over the Domestic (the League and the German Cup) reins; something that was visible in their 2-1 win over the current German champions in the German Super cup 2012/13.
After the first 16 games in all competitions (German Super Cup (1), Bundesliga(10), German DFB Pokal(2) and UCL(3)), Bayern have won an impressive 14 of those 16 games, the only two blemishes in an otherwise flawless start to the season have been the 1-2 loss at home to Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga and the surprising 3-1 loss to BATE Borisov in the Champions League. In the 10 Bundesliga games so far, Bayern have scored 30 goals, averaging a staggering 3 goals/per game and have conceded just 4. They are yet to concede away from home. So, it’s not a surprise that with having scored the most number of goals till now, a Bayern Munich player, Mandzukic is on top of the individual goal-scoring charts with 8 goals who has been ably supported by Muller (7), Schweinsteiger (4) and Kroos (4). In the 6 matches so far in other competitions, Bayern have scored a total of 14 goals conceding just 5. The record-breaking start to the season has allowed Bayern to open up a 7-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga table and usual order has been established in Germany.
So, clearly there has been a lot of work that has gone on between the end of the last season and the start of this one, to get the club back on track for more silverware this season. One of the main reasons for Bayern’s inconsistent last season was the lack in depth of the squad. Bastian Schweinsteiger missed a lot of the season out injured and injuries at important times of the season to Ribery, Olic and a few others, meant that the Champions League tunners-up lacked the creative options on the bench to make up for the absence of the likes of Ribery and Schweinsteiger; proving that a strong bench strength is as important as having stars in the starting XI, and is needed to successfully see out a long and gruelling domestic and European season. This shortcoming has been set right this season with the acquisition of players like Javi Martinez (for a reported fee of around 40 million euros over shadowing the approx. 35 million paid for Mario Gomez 3 years ago) from Athletic Bilbao, striker Mario Mandzukic from Wolfsburg, Brazilian central defender Dante from Borussia Mönchengladbach and the 20-year old winger Xherdan Shaqiri from FC Basel. All of these players are very smart buys and have bolstered Bayern’s bench strength. With Gomez out injured, it was the other Mario (Mandzukic) who, as earlier mentioned is on the top of the goalscoring list, took over the goal-scoring mantle with ease. The Bayern team of last season would have seriously suffered if Gomez would have been injured at any point but not now with the arrival of Mandzukic, the attack looked equally potent. Another example of this new found bench strength is the game against Mainz, when Bayern had to start the game without the services of Alaba, Ribery, Robben and Gomez. The squad from last season would just not have had the required mettle to perform well with their 4 key players missing, but that isn’t the case this season as into the starting line-up came Dante, Kroos, Shaqiri and Mandzukic and guided the team onto a comfortable and dominant 3-1 victory.
The injection of young talent into the squad has also made some of the existing and older players to put in the extra effort and raise their game to hold onto their places in the starting XI, as there is an intense competition for places now. What this has done is ensured that everyone is working hard on the training field and on the matchday and giving it their all and not taking things for granted, which is translating into positive results on the field and the points tally. Two main examples to prove this are the performances of Luis Gustavo and Thomas Muller. With the arrival of the 40 million Euro acquisition, Spaniard Javi Martinez, no one expected to see Gustavo hold onto his place in the centre of the field after he had managed just 1 goal and 1 assist in 28 Bundesliga appearances in the previous season. But Gustavo has responded very strongly to the threat of being forced out of the starting XI by having found the back of the net 3 times already along with 1 assist in just 9 appearances in the Bundesliga this season. Something very similar has happened with Thomas Muller. With Shaqiri joining Robben as the winger and Heynckes choosing to start with Kroos in the central play-making role, it seemed like it was going to be a long, hard season on the bench for Muller and he would be limited to being a bit-part player coming on as a late substitute in most matches. But, Muller responded splendidly by scoring 7 goals in his 9 appearances in the league this season, already equalling the number of goals he got in 34 appearances last season. He has also proved very class and skill in creating chances and already has 5 assists to his name, thereby putting all the doubts regarding his place in the starting XI to rest.
Another important reason for this renewed Bayern Munich team doing so well is the partnership of Jupp Heynckes and newly appointed Sporting Director Matthias Sammer. Heynckes is a great tactician and manager but he lacked the skill of instilling belief and the winning attitude into his players. After a season where Bayern finished runners-up in 3 of the major competitions (runners-up to Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga and German Cup and runners-up to Chelsea in the Champions League), it was clear that self-belief and the hunger to win was what was lacking in the players and was clearly visible in the way the penalty shoot-out played out in the Champions League final. But the arrival of Sammer has changed that. Sammer, the former Technical Director of the German Football Association (DFB), has always been known to be the one who has had an unquestionable desire to win, ever since his playing days to his days as manager of Dortmund with whom he won the Bundesliga and reached the finals of the UEFA cup and even in his tenure with the DFB where he was in-charge of youth team development. That desire and drive for success is now rubbing onto everyone involved at the club and this combined with Heynckes’ tactical abilities is for sure proving to be a successful formula at the Allianz Arena.
Only the first quarter of the season has passed and a lot is yet to happen, but with the way things are shaping up, the 22-time Bundesliga and 4-time European Champions are well on their way to etching their name yet again on some silverware.