Where did we leave off? Oh yeah, the annual tradition of the world sporting media crowning Bayern the most insanely unstoppable force in the world of soccer. It seems like this is an annual tradition. Mostly it serves as a reserve for when Real Madrid or Barcelona fail to tear the world to pieces and put it back together while wearing blindfolds.
Truly, Bayern is one of the greatest things in sports. Also, more truly, they are prone to looking like the 1996 Chicago Bulls, 2001 New York Yankees and 2010 Green Bay Packers rolled into one massive entity for an extended period of time, re-writing the very fabric of sports reality only to do something insanely stupid and come crashing down at the hands of an inferior opponent. Such was the case this past week.
Last time around I pointed out that the effort and performance of Werder Bremen against Bayern was a tale of two halves. This week, it was Bayern who had two completely opposed performances. First, they took on Arsenal in a mid-week Champions League fixture in London. Then they played Bundesliga upstarts Koln on the weekend.
The Arsenal match was boring for so many reasons. First, we seem to play them every year in the Champions League at some stage, having eliminated them from the competition in consecutive seasons. Second, Bayern was coming off a road match, then heading to London for another away match on short rest. Third, all good things that happen at Bayern will end eventually.
The performance given in London was pretty much the antithesis of the form they had shown up until that point. Really, it did appear that the short rest and consecutive road matches made enough of a difference in this affair. Bayern was still on the front foot, taking the game to Arsenal for large portions of the match, but after their tedious build-up play put them into a good position they put passes into the wrong spaces and overplayed their targets every time.
I don't even need to watch the match to remember how tired Thiago looked and who Vidal could find the feet of teammates in the wide areas when they started to break down the Arsenal defense.
All of this was still manageable for Bayern, until Neuer went haywire. Occasionally, wires can cross inside machines, or rub on each other, creating a glitch. I think that something was knocked loose in Neuer, the keeper doing his best Burki impression by charging out to meet an incoming ball, only to completely whiff on his attempt. And that's thing about Arsenal, they always try to walk it in. And that's precisely what striker Olivier Giroud did when he, seemingly surprised, found the ball on his chest and then stumbled the ball into the goal right at the line.
The chase was on for Bayern at that point and they still suffered from the same tired legs and slow reacting mental recognition of plays as they developed. Eventually, Mesut Ozil made them pay, adding the second and definitive goal on the evening. Arsenal fans cheered like they just won a trophy and I can't blame since they can hardly remember what winning a trophy is like.
Despite the terrible error of Neuer to open the scoring, the German international No. 1 keeper actually made two amazing saves in the first half. One, a diving save of a low shot across the goal from the foot of Ozil which couldn't have looked more like the ghost of Oliver Kahn unless it had been the legend himself. The second may have been the greatest save I have ever seen. To the tune of Bayern having a slugging mental and physical outing, they left Theo Walcott unmarked just meters from the goal, free to head the ball directly into the net. Instead, Neuer made a one-armed reaction save that someone withstood the force of the header and kept the ball from ever looking like it might go in.
That moment will be one I remember, though it won't count for any points in the Champions League. Arsenal held their home field advantage and now should rightly feel confident to progress in the competition and possibly garner the top spot over Bayern for seeding. Imagine a Bayern vs. Barca or Bayern vs. PSG Round of 16 matchup. We would truly be punished by such a thing.
The bounce back game for Bayern saw them taking on the recent upstart FC Koln, a team enjoying their best run to start a season in 19 years. Entering their matchup with Bayern, Koln stood in sixth place in the league table.
Sadly for the Foals, they were no match for a Bayern squad looking to regain their focus and form after their mid-week slump against Arsenal.
The match statistics continue to be comical in terms of chances and possession, Bayern always dominating. And possession is what Pep values above all else.
The only out of the ordinary thing about this particular matchup is that Bayern found their way to goals earlier than usual. While they have certainly been a goal-scoring machine, it has rarely happened in the first half. Generally, Pep has the team employ their system, withstand the initial push and counter of their opponents and once the combination of mental and physical fatigue sets in on their opponents, they begin to turn the screw. In this game, it was about establishing a lead early and then adding to it later on.
Big highlight of the match is the continued great form of Thomas Muller, striking a penalty en route to reaching 10 goals on the season. Currently he and Robert Lewandowski have combined for a total of 23 goals through 10 league matches. Impressive stuff if I do say so myself. There are already murmurs that people think this Bayern duo can top the 2009-10 record for a goal scoring combo. I'd have to say I think it is a bit early, particularly given Bayern's historical aversion to having a reliable golden boot at the front of their attack.
Something to watch: the health and status of the young players in relationship to the established and older players. Supposedly, Ribery has experienced another setback. At this point, it would seem unlikely that he has much playing time left at Bayern. And that could be due to the play of newcomers like Kingsley Coman and Douglas Costa. Speaking of that ridiculous duo, many Bayern personalities in the Twittersphere seem to think that Coman is a superior footballer, even at such a young age, to Costa. I'm happy as long as they are both good, though I strongly disagree that Coman possesses more skill than Costa at this time, though his ceiling is clearly much, much higher. Lest we get too carried away in the youth movement, we shouldn't close the book on players like Arjen Robben just yet. Robben returned from injury and a several week layoff the only way he knows how, but scoring with his left foot. Great to see him back and contributing right away. The added depth will help rotations of the squad in the coming hectic weeks. Robben is the type of player who makes the difference between wins and loses in games like the one that took place in London and we will need him going forward.
Speaking of Coman, why did I not see him during the Arsenal match when things clearly needed a shakeup and some athleticism injected into their play? Given the importance of the Champions League, it would seem to make sense that the player who shined so brightly against Koln could have helped the Reds in their attempt to take points on the road in London a few days earlier.
Speaking of the young up-and-comers in the Bayern squad, Julian Green scored a hat trick for the second squad in action this week. The young German-American was tipped ahead of the 2014 World Cup as being prized by both Germany coach Joachim Loew and United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Ultimately, Green has made a few trips to the US national team, but all the sensationalism has died down since the World Cup has faded. Perhaps now Green will start to get more of a look again as a promising piece for both club and country.
Lastly, congratulations to our beloved Bayern Munchen for achieving 1,000 wins in the Bundesliga. That's basically 20 wins per season over the last half-century. It is a wonderful milestone and just the beginning of the next era of domination in the world of soccer.
Today, Tuesday, Bayern has to take on another top Bundesliga side, Wolfsburg, in the Deutscher Pokal (German Cup). Bayern did not win this single-elimination tournament last season so they are hungry to get back to the top. Plus, they have already crushed Wolfsburg once this season, 5-1. Likely, it will be much more challenging and they may even lose. I'm trying to imagine Munchen being eliminated from any competition before Halloween and I don't think I can remember that ever happening.
Whatever the result, we'll be sure to follow up on it right here either later this week or early next week.
by Daniel Coughlin (@xvanwilderx)