In the excitement of the new season, supporters are often guilty of creating over-the-top expectations and ending up disappointed when the clubs fail to meet those objectives. Often all we need is a bit of perspective from experts to maintain rational thought; our Q&A mini-series going into the 2014/15 season serves this purpose.
Clark Whitney is the expert for this Bayern Munich Q&A. Clark is a Bundesliga expert for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @Mr_Bundesliga
While Pep is sticking to his philosophy, there have been doubts as to the efficiency of this method of play. How, if at all, is Pep going to further the evolution of his approach?
If last year was Guardiola’s first step in moulding Bayern into his ideal image, he’s put his tactical revolution into overdrive this summer. His preferred system is the same 3-4-3 he wasn’t able to perfect towards the end of his stay at Barca, but the specifics of it are still up in the air. He used two full-backs (David Alaba and Rafinha) and a defensive midfielder (Javi Martinez) as his back three in the latter stages of the pre-season, but used three natural center-backs in the DFB-Pokal opener on Sunday with Alaba and Philipp Lahm as the double-pivot in midfield. The attack seems clear-cut, at least, with two wingers flanking Robert Lewandowski.
Formation aside, it appears that Guardiola is looking to move the ball quicker and more deliberately towards goal. That at least is one area where he’s learned from his mistakes. With three players starting at a high position, we can expect to see more counterattacking from Bayern this season.
Bayern’s previously impenetrable defence seemed more than just a bit shaky at times last season. We saw some of the same problems at Barcelona while Pep was there. What does the man need to do to change this?
Guardiola needs to either swap his brain with that of Arrigo Sacchi or spend a few decades studying tactics in Italy if he is to create a team that truly looks sturdy in defense. His philosophy is to use possession as defense and to press to win the ball back as soon as it’s lost, wherever it may be. The result is utter domination in many instances but susceptibility on the counterattack if opponents are able to string the first three or four passes together. The main difference this season, it seems, is the addition of a third center-back. As long as the four midfielders (especially those out wide) are tactically cognizant, Bayern will have more defensive options this season than the last.
Toni Kroos was a mainstay of the Bayern midfield. With injuries afflicting those around him (Martinez ofcourse the most significant), how much is his loss going to hurt Bayern? And who do you see as the replacement, if any?
Kroos’ loss is a strange one that Bayern will regret. It was entirely avoidable: Bayern were his first point of contact and he wanted a wage near that of Arjen Robben (€8 million), Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm (both €10 million at the time, according to Sport Bild). Bild reported that Bayern offered him €7 million and wouldn’t budge, curious considering even Mario Götze and Thiago were given €12 million and €8 million, respectively, a year before and Bayern’s revenue remains sky-high.
Kroos’ coolness in distribution, his free-kick delivery and shooting ability will be sorely missed. As depth alone he would have been useful, especially with Martinez out for almost the entire season, Thiago out from March until October and Schweinsteiger out until September with apparently chronic patellar tendon problems. On the other hand, Kroos was a defensive liability whose naturally nonchalant attitude may have put off Bayern’s big-wigs.
It seems that Thiago will replace Kroos in function, when fit. Until then, David Alaba will become the next world-class full-back Guardiola will use as a midfielder following Lahm. Alaba is familiar with the role, having played there for Austria, but like Lahm, he still is primarily one-footed (Kroos could use both) and has instincts that are more typical of a defender.
Robert Lewandowski has come in, and the striker is one of the best goal-scorers in the league over the last few seasons. Does the Pole fit right into Pep’s system, or is he a sign of an evolving Guardiola?
Guardiola’s record with natural center-forwards isn’t the best, but Robert Lewandowski should fit well in his system. It’s easy to forget that Guardiola’s best and most dynamic Barcelona side featured two natural strikers (Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry) as part of a three-man attack. Like Eto’o, Lewandowski can play with the ball at his feet and can move deep and into the channels. He’s not just a finisher, he’s a footballer; that’s what makes him suitable for Guardiola. On top of all that, he has a great personality. He’s humble and has an exceptional work-rate. Lewandowski’s attitude is the kind that can take him a long way in Munich.
We track the progress and performances of youngsters with our Talent Radarfeature. Julian Green won a lot of admirers at the World Cup, while Gianluca Gaudino has impressed in pre-season. Do you seen any role for either of them this season?
Especially considering the effect of post-World Cup fatigue, how prone Thiago Alcantara is to picking up injuries and the prognosis that Martinez will miss almost the entire season, Bayern will need every bit of depth they can muster this season. That may explain why Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said last weekend that he’d rejected several requests from Premier League clubs to sign Green on loan. With that having been said, it will be hard for either Green or Gaudino to impose themselves this season.
Green will be competing with Götze, Robben, Thomas Müller, Franck Ribery and Xherdan Shaqiri for playing time and can expect to be last on that list at least to start.
Gaudino’s central midfield position is one where Bayern could use more able-bodied players, but the problem is that he isn’t actually able-bodied just yet. In Bayern’s recent Superpokal loss, Dortmund’s midfielders repeatedly skipped past him with consummate ease. He’s hugely talented and very skillful, it’s just that at the age of 17, he hasn’t physically matured to the point where he can play in a position that requires defending. Pierre Højbjerg, who recently turned 19, is the most likely Bayern teenager to be used on the regular this season. He has all the technical qualities Guardiola will want, plus a sturdy frame. Considering all the injuries in central midfield that have struck the Bayern squad, Højbjerg may well get considerable playing time this season.
Bayern made a mockery of the competition in the Bundesliga last season. Do you think any team is strong enough to take them on this time, or at least reduce the gap?
Dortmund have a good chance to reduce the gap, although it would be a minor miracle if they were to win the Bundesliga. Robert Lewandowski is gone, but BVB have more depth and maturity than ever in recent memory. With Ilkay Gündogan soon to be fit and the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in great form as they enter their second season at the Signal-Iduna Park, Dortmund will be hard to beat. Don’t count out Schalke who, if they ever can get their act together (which is admittedly a big ask) have every chance of becoming Germany’s third power.
Bayern have injuries and more post-World Cup fatigue to manage than any other Bundesliga team. But they also have the most expensive and best-paid team in Germany by a mile. The league is theirs if they play to their potential. If not, BVB might make a fight of it.
Though last season was a domestic clean-sweep while Europe raised lots of questions, what are fans’ expectations after two seasons of winning 5 out of a possible 6 major trophies?
Right now there’s a split among Bayern fans over their opinion of Guardiola. While it’s unfair to have expected a treble, some feel that his tactical changes were unnecessary and invited disaster against Real Madrid. Many among these fans also feel that they were deceived when in his first press conference as Bayern coach, Guardiola said he’d have to adapt to the players rather than have them adjust to him.
Another faction of fans feel that Guardiola is a genius who was always going to impose his own ideals on even a treble-winning squad, but needs to be given time. They view the record pace in winning the Bundesliga, the (albeit more controversial and hotly contested) DFB-Pokal, the Club World Cup and UEFA Super Cup as huge successes and the Real defeat as a fluke incident.
Both groups are united in expecting domestic success. The only difference is that one will be more tolerant of a Champions League exit prior to the final.
Juan Bernat certainly seems like one of the brightest young players and he’s sure to succeed with Guardiola’s development. But what does this mean for David Alaba? Are you convinced of his abilities in the centre of defence & midfield?
My opinion and that of many Bayern fans is that David Alaba is the best left-back in the world and that it will take quite some time for that opinion to change. But like Lahm, it appears that he will often be used in a central midfield position with Bernat to his left. Like Lahm, Alaba may be a victim of his own versatility. He certainly can play quite well in central midfield, but is decidedly at his best on the wing. As for the center-back position, he brings good pace but lacks the size, strength and general burliness that center-backs need to fend off physical strikers. This showed in the Superpokal in the lead-up to Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s opener.
The Bundesliga model is widely adored, its player development is envious, and the German national team are certainly in it’s golden age; yet at club level, only Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund have shown consistency. Why is there such a big gap between the big two and the rest of the league in terms of European competition?
Not long ago, the Bundesliga sent Bayern and a couple (or in some cases, just one) also-rans to the Champions League. In recent years, the league’s overhaul of the academy system in 2000 has started to bear fruit. Many will cite the miracle that is Dortmund, but it’s also worth noting that in 2011, a young and fearless Schalke hammered the same European champions Inter that had eliminated Bayern in the Champions League. Although outclassed in the semifinals, it was a huge accomplishment for Schalke to reach the last four. The problem they face in the post-Raul era is a lack of leadership and maturity. The same goes for Bayer Leverkusen. Both clubs have regularly appeared in the Champions League in the last few years but seem to capitulate when facing elite or at least well-respected opposition. For a third German power to emerge, they’ll need a combination of excellent coaching, talented youth with nothing to lose, leadership from experienced veterans and strong fan and financial backing. Bayern and Dortmund aside, no Bundesliga club at present has more than two of the above.
Questions answered by Clark Whitney.
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