Happy New Year readers and @LovellLowdown followers. The extensive Bundesliga winter break has allowed for everyman and his twitter dog to pen a piece extolling the virtues of Bayern Munich. Hopefully you will have had your fill of these and allow me the opportunity to vent some alternative angles.
Loyal Lowdowners will not need reminding that I closed the book on Bayern’s title success a long time ago. I have been perfectly consistent on this since late autumn. The Bavarians sit comfortably nine points ahead of perennial bridesmaids Bayer Leverkusen and can expect to seal a first trophy since 2010. For a club of Bayern’s stature and considering the ‘strength’ of German football (the number of clubs actually capable of winning trophies), this is an awfully long trophy ‘drought’. Borussia Dortmund, champions for the past two seasons, and arguably the best side in Germany, took their eye off the Bundesliga ball very early on in the season. To use a golfing analogy, BVB conceded their Bundesliga crown to Bayern in early November, and their attentions are very much fixed on Champions League success.
Leverkusen, the only Bundesliga side to have beaten Bayern this campaign, might actually narrow the gap to more manageable proportions and might even do the ‘double’ over the record German champions, but just when it gets tight (or around that time of the season Sir Alex Ferguson refers to as squeaky bum time) ‘it’ will start running down Leverkusen’s leg. I will leave it to your imagination what exactly ‘it’ is, but let’s just say Leverkusen don’t win trophies and will be more than content to secure a Champions League berth.
Onto Bayern’s Holy Grail – The Champions League. ‘Finale dahoam’ (home final) turned into ‘fiasco dahoam’ (home fiasco) against Chelsea. Let’s not beat around the bush – Bayern blew it. Last year the draw opened up nicely for Bayern with manageable opponents in Basle and Marseilles standing in their way en route to the last four. Bayern then saw off Real Madrid in the semi-finals on penalties. And then the ‘fiasco’ in their own backyard, squandering numerous chances against a Chelsea side that was there for the taking at so many stages of that ‘memorable’ Munich final.
This year Bayern have been handed a potentially tricky tie against Arsenal in the last 16. Bayern are undoubtedly strong favourites against a misfiring Gunners side. Whether Bayern react well to favouritism remains to be seen. Bayern tend to thrive on being underdogs in Europe, as evidenced by their remarkable record against the ‘might’ of Real Madrid.
Arsene Wenger would be wise to concentrate on exposing certain long-standing frailties in Bayern’s back line. Whoever was ultimately responsible for letting Mats Hummels leave Bayern for BVB in 2008/9 can hang his head in shame. Bayern have been playing defensive catch-up ever since. Holger Badstuber is out for 6 months and Jerome Boateng is suspended for the first leg. That said, Dante has been rock solid since his signing from Borussia Mönchengladbach. Some might cynically suggest he is due an injury or a downturn in form. It will be interesting to see how Bayern shapes up at the back come late February. I can see Theo Walcott having some fun against Daniel van Buyten or perhaps Jupp Heynckes sees Javi Martinez slotting in as a EUR 40m makeshift defender?
Arsenal are certainly capable of springing a surprise home victory at the Emirates on February 19. The Gunners will have nothing to lose and could come to Munich defending a precious lead. Will fans at the Allianz Arena show the patience required when Bayern need to break down the Arsenal back line? The current fan belief is that any defence parading the talents of Per Mertesacker can surely be easily breached at any time.
I can see Arsenal giving Bayern a good game and it’s certainly not as clear cut as the bookmakers or the (German) media would currently have you think.
And anytime now that German media will start focusing on the fortunes of ex-Bayern player Lukas Podolski, now struggling to find his feet in the Premier League with Arsenal. No doubt a lot of column inches will be devoted to the German international’s less than happy spell at Bayern, coming to the conclusion that he was a complete ‘failure’. Wouldn’t it be ironic to see ‘Prince Poldi’ prosper in the attractive last 16 tie and shove some of those less than flattering opinions down the naysayers’ throats?
Even if Arsenal can be overcome, I don’t expect a repeat of last season and for Bayern to go all the way to the final. Like most sides in the competition, they will be looking to avoid Barcelona in the draw.
And what’s with all this delusionary talk of Pep Guardiola as the next Bayern coach? This is surely just rumour and nonsense to fill the idle down time of the winter break. I can’t imagine that Pep has been seriously getting stuck into German study books during his sabbatical in New York.
Article originally published on The Munich Eye
Header courtesy of Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images
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