Season Preview – FC Bayern München: Might Pep Overcook Jupp’s Recipe?

When runaway Bundesliga champions FC Bayern München triumped over Borussia Dortmund at Wembley to secure their fifth European crown and then dispatched VfB Stuttgart a week later in the DFB-Pokal final in Berlin, many would wonder if – and how – things could get any better.

Legendary coach Jupp Heynckes had created a well-oiled machine, a squad that had not only secured the first trophy treble for any German team but one that for many broken the European footballing hegemony. In destroying Barcelona 7-0 over two dominant semi-final encounters, a whole new era had begun.

The world’s best coach joins the world’s best football club

Before Heynckes’ historic season had even ended, decisions would already have been made to shape the next one. Former Barcelona coach Josep “Pep” Guardiola would be brought to the Säbenerstraße in what would be a massive wave of international publicity.

Bayern has in recent years seen many a fanfare for the arrival of a new coach – Otto Rehhagel, Giovanni Trapattoni, Jürgen Klinsmann, Søren Lerby (OK, scrap the last one) – but nothing would be as big or as spectacular as this. With the man described as the world’s best coach joining what was arguably at that moment the world’s best football club, many would be talking about a whole new chapter in not only German but European history being written.

Germany starlet Mario Götze and impressive young Spaniard Thiago Alcântara would also make their way to Bavaria, and swift on their tale would be the constant chatter, much of it idle. Could Bayern win the Bundesliga by an even bigger margin? Could they become the first team in the post-1992 Champions’ League era to retain the famous Henkelpott? Could they become the first team in the history of European football to win the treble twice?

As the world waited with bated breath for Guardiola to arrive, we would hear all of these questions many times over, and in many different languages. Once the new coach had finally got started, there would be more. Would there be a place in his chosen lineup for a striker? Was he going to employ the “false nine”? Was he going to turn Bayern into another Barcelona? Was there a place for Arjen Robben? What is Javi Martínez doing at centre-back?

The ins and outs

The arrival of the new coach would precipitate a small number of changes in the Bayern squad, many of which had been expected. Ukrainian Anatoliy Tymoshchuk would return to Zenit St. Petersburg, Nils Petersen would decide that a place in the Werder Bremen starting eleven would be better than a place on the bench in Munich, and Mario Gómez after much procrastination would accept the inevitable and move on to ACF Fiorentina in Serie A. Joining them on the boat out would be Maximillian Riedmüller, unused English midfielder Dale Jennings, and the promising Emre Can – who would take the route taken by Toni Kroos a few years earlier in moving up to Bayer Leverkusen.

Joining the €37 million Götze and €25 million Thiago on the way in would be Mainz 05 defender Jan Kirchhoff – signed on a free transfer – and Under-21 international midfielder Mitchell Weiser, back in Munich after a loan stint at 1. FC Kaiserslautern.

The gentle build-up

Bayern would ease their way into the season with a number of friendly matches, and five days after Guardiola’s first press presentation they would take on a fan club side in front of eleven thousand enthusiastic supporters in town of Weiden, located in the Oberpfalz near the Czech border. The largely reserve outfit would rack up a 15-1 win, which would be followed the day after by a 9-1 win over local part-timers TSV Regen. It would be the perfect opportunity for the new coach to get to know his players, as well as to see some of those who might stand a chance of working their way into the first team. American Julian Green would score hat-tricks in both of these warm-up matches.

The fun would continue as the new coach took his team for training in Italy, where a 13-0 win against a “Paulaner XI” – with hat-tricks from Austrian reservist Alessandro Schöpf as well as “fringe regulars” Xherdan Shaqiri and Claudio Pizarro – would be followed by a 3-0 win against their first genuine opposition in the form of Italian Serie B side Brescia Calcio.

By mid-July, the coach would start integrating more of the first-team players, and a 6-0 win over Regionalliga Südwest team SG Sonnenhof Großaspach would be followed the day after by a 4-0 win over Hansa Rostock, with all benefits going to the beleaguered north German club.

The pre-season Telekom Cup – with matches consisting of two thirty-minute halves – would see Bayern line up alongside hosts Borussia Mönchengladbach, Hamburger SV and Borussia Dortmund, and having dispatched HSV 4-0 in their semi-final with goals from Jérôme Boateng, Mario Mandžukić, Toni Kroos and Thomas Müller Guadiola’s side would hand out a 5-1 thrashing to Die Fohlen in the final, with Franck Ribéry, Philipp Lahm, new boy Thiago, Robben and Müller sharing the spoils. The highlight of the month however would be the season’s first show at the Allianz Arena, where a crowd of over 71,000 would see Die Roten beat a young Barcelona side 2-0.

Things get a little tougher

In what would be Bayern’s first “test” of the Pep Guardiola era we would see the first possible signs of a new tactical approach, with a little experimentation thrown in for good measure. Bayern would play in a 4-3-3 strikerless formation: Manuel Neuer in goal, a back four of Rafinha, Dante, Boatend and David Alaba, a defensive midfield trio of Thiago, Lahm and Kroos, and an offensive triumvirate of Ribéry, Robben and Müller. The formation would raise some eyebrows as would be the somewhat outré decision to place wing-back Lahm in midfield, but it would appear to pay off with the diminutive skipper rose above his marker to nod the home side into a fourteenth-minute lead.

The second half would see a glut of personnel changes, and after plenty of pressure the crowd would have to wait until three minutes from the end for substitute Mandžukić to settle issue. Overall, Bayern had been solid in midfield and the experiment with Lahm in midfield had been positive – but there was something to be said about how the team were able to work their way out of a sluggish spell in the second half once Mandžukić had come onto the field.

Things would take the pretty much the same course when Bayern entertained Brazilian outfit FC São Paulo in the four-team Audi Cup the following week. On this occasion Guardiola would revert to a 4-4-1 system with Pizarro up front, and the crowd would be treated to forty-five minutes of dominant football from the home side, but no goals. In fact, at times they looked a little like Spain. The arrival of Mandžukić – again – would spark things into life, and after Manuel Neuer kept out a late penalty substitute Weiser would wrap up the win.

Bayern would take on Manchester City the following day in the final, after the Premiership side had beaten AC Milan 5-3. Again, Guardiola would play a 4-4-1 – with Thomas Müller now slipping into the striker’s role. As in the previous match there would be plenty of dominance without any goals for Bayern, and there would be a sense of inevitability when Alvaro Negredo put the visitors in front after a swift break – breezing past Javi Martínez who had been drafted into a central defensive role. An arguably harsh handball decision would see the clinical Müller level the scores from the penalty spot, and supersub Mandžukić – on for the disappointing Thiago – would seal the win.

The season proper would begin with a 5-0 win over fifth-tier BSV Schwarz-Weiß Rehden in the first round of the DFB-Pokal, a match where Bayern would be convincing enough against predictably stubborn opposition without being spectacular. Shaqiri and Robben would both find the back of the net, sandwiching a Thomas Müller hat-trick.

A sharp nudge in the ribs

So, a long unbeaten run to take Bayern to the big Bundesliga kick-off against Mönchengladbach. Well, not quite.

Bayern’s dominant start would be upset slightly by rivals Dortmund, who would triumph 4-2 in the DFL-Supercup at the Signal Iduna Park. While some would describe the game as little more than a dressed-up pre-season friendly, this would not be the approach taken by Dortmund, who would have more than a point to prove. Bayern would be missing both Neuer in goal and the injured Ribéry and would start with midfield linchpin Bastian Schweinsteiger on the bench, but could find no excuses as they suffered what could only be described as a sharp nudge in the ribs from the Ruhrpott outfit.

Marco Reus would do what he couldn’t in the previous season’s Champions’ League final and give Dortmund an early lead, and after Wembley hero Robben had equalised nine minutes later an unfortunate own goal from Daniel van Buyten and a spectacular curling effort from İlkay Gündoğan would suddenly put Dortmund 3-1 up. A second from Robben would reduce the deficit, but Reus would finish things off four minutes from the end.

While many would dismiss the result – Bayern would also be without the defensive midfielder axis of Schweinsteiger and Martínez – but Dortmund had put down a clear marker: last season’s treble winners were not going to be allowed to have it their own way and run away with things.

Questions, formation and permutations

The pre-season matches would inevitably present a number of questions, but only when things really begin will we see what Guardiola’s long-term plans might be. The strikerless system doesn’t appear to have gelled too well, and the significance of Mandžukić has gone some way to saying that the good old fashioned approach of having a dedicated goalscorer up front isn’t quite dead yet. The midfield has been shuffled around to the point where almost every permutation has been applied – and this is without the injured Mario Götze, who has yet to feature.

When Götze signed in controversial fashion for the Bavarians, there would be much talk about Arjen Robben’s place in the side. With the undroppable Franck Ribéry guaranteed his place out on the left wing, the logical move would have been to put Thomas Müller out on the right, with the versatile Götze in the centre. It is hard to say what might have happened had the youngster been fit from the start, but his absence has coincided with something amounting to a Robben renaissance. Might Pep play a midfield of Ribéry, Götze and Robben with Müller up front? What then happens to Mandžukić?

There are a few certainties however. The side needs Schweinsteiger and Martínez back together, Lahm may provide decent midfield cover but is still a left or right back, and Martínez is no centre-back. Meanwhile, the unheralded Kirchhoff has slipped gently under the radar, and had more than made the most of his time on the pitch. I fancy that we may see a lot more of the talented under-21 international as the season starts to tick along, and with all of the media brouhaha surrounding the big money signings Thiago and Götze the man signed for free from Mainz may well prove to be the bargain of the season.

Thiago is certainly an interesting signing, but it puzzled me at the start and I have to admit it puzzles me even more now. He might have had a starring role for the Spanish under-21 side, but I can’t see how he can possibly secure a place in a Bayern side packed with riches in midfield. He likes to score goals and might be more suited to a more attacking midfield role, but there is clearly no real option there. Defensively, he holds the ball up well but has not really been that impressive. That said, people were saying the same thing about Martínez at the same time last season.

With the serious stuff finally about to start, the time for experimentation is surely at an end. We will now finally see what Pep Guardiola intends to do, and which team he will pick.

For Bayern fans, the thing is not to get carried away too soon. Many – myself included – are predicting great things for Bayern this season. But might we be all crying out for Jupp when we hit the Winterpause? Might the much-fêted new coach end up overcooking Heynckes’ perfectly crafted recipe?

The first six fixtures

v Borussia Mönchengladbach (H)
v Eintracht Frankfurt (A)
v 1. FC Nürnberg (H)
v SC Freiburg (A)
v Hannover 96 (H)
v Schalke 04 (A)

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London-based but with his heart firmly in Fröttmaning, Rick Joshua's love of German football goes back more than thirty years and has witnessed everything from the pain of Spain '82 and the glory of Italia '90 to the sheer desolation of Euro 2000. This has all been encapsulated in the encyclopaedic Schwarz und Weiß website and blog, which at some three hundred or so pages is still not complete. Should you wish to disturb him, you can get in touch with Rick on Twitter @fussballchef. This carries a double meaning, as he can prepare a mean Obazda too.

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