It’s almost been five years since FC Bayern last won the Champions League. They were close to making it into the final in 2016 under Pep Guardiola after dominating Atletico Madrid in both legs and last season the Bavarians bowed out in the quarter-finals against the eventual winners Real Madrid.
A lot has changed at Bayern since the Champions League groups were drawn. Carlo Ancelotti was sacked, treble manager Jupp Heynckes was hired again and revitalised the German giant. Despite having him back managing the team, do Bayern actually have what it takes to achieve Champions League glory this season?
Above all, there is one area Heynckes has done an outstanding job – instilling confidence back in a number of players, who were in dire need of it. Alaba has been chasing his regular form for nearly two years, Coman was in and out of the team, partly due to small, nagging injuries. Particularly the latter has looked very exciting under Heynckes’ guidance. If the Frenchman is able to maintain his form, he has a shot at making France’s World Cup squad. Vidal has become more of a burden rather than a helpful contributor ever since Guardiola left and Heynckes is at least utilising the Chileans qualities going forward. Jupp even got Müller back on the right track. Even if the German international hasn’t quite reached his 2015-2016 form yet, he has definitely looked encouraging. James Rodriguez has become an important player too. It took the Colombian a few months to adjust to his new team, but ever since he did, he’s been a superb asset to Bayern’s attacking play.
There is one decision Heynckes made, that anyone could’ve predicted – put Javí Martinez back in defensive midfield. The Spaniard has been a rock in front of defence, tackling and intercepting everything in sight and covering for his midfield partners. Sometimes you Martinez and you get flashbacks from 2013. Having him back to best might be crucial on another quest to win the elusive Champions League.
After a hideous performance against Paris in the Parc-des-Princes resulting in a 3-0 loss, Bayern pumped the breaks and decided to part ways with Ancelotti. Several managers, including the likes of Tuchel, were linked with the vacant job. In the end, a familiar face returned to the Allianz Arena: Jupp Heynckes. Since he took over, Bayern have won 18 out of 19 games – the only loss coming at the hands of Borussia Mönchengladbach (2-1) in the Borussia-Park at the end of November.
This sounds and is very impressive looking at the results, of course, the team didn’t perform well in every match, however. Munich are struggling massively in the build-up and are currently still relying on individual moments of brilliance. Not so different to what was shown under Ancelotti. Especially in the Champions League Munich offered very questionable displays in the away matches against Anderlecht, where Sven Ulreich saved three points with a monstrous performance, and at Celtic Park – a disjointed team performance where the Scottish side had good enough chances to get a point. However, this was followed by a dominating win against PSG, winning 3-1 and almost completely shutting out Neymar. Bayern ended up finishing second in their group behind the Parisians.
FC Bayern have put the majority of this hot streak together without their best player – Thiago. Last season the Spaniard was – arguably – the best central midfielder in world football. He was the brain and engine of this Bayern team. He had creative numbers like Verratti and even better defensive numbers than Kanté. Thiago will be out until the end of February, meaning he might feature in the first round of the knockout stages. Heynckes won’t want to rush him back into action too quickly, though. Martinez needs a partner that will take control of the build-up. Whenever his partner was either Vidal or Tolisso, Bayern faced massive difficulties with their build-up. Rudy started off his Bayern career nicely, but he’s not played overly well in the last month or so either. FC Bayern Munich need a fully-fit Thiago to maximise their potential and give the likes of Ribéry and Robben one last shot at a Champions League win with Bayern if their contracts won’t be renewed.
In the round-of-sixteen, the Bavarians have been drawn against Turkish champions Besiktas Istanbul. The two clubs last played against each other in the Champions League over 20 years ago. The German side won both group stage games comfortably with 2-0. Basler, Jancker, and Helmer (two goals) were the goal-scorers back then.
Besiktas finished top of their group ahead of FC Porto, RB Leipzig and AS Monaco without losing a single game which is an impressive feat. While Besiktas might have lost their best goal-scorer in Cenk Tosun, they still have several players with good individual quality. Ricardo Quaresma, Anderson Talisca or Ryan Babel to name a few. The Turkish side has often chosen a more reactive approach in the Champions League – with much success. Bayern will have to be positioned well to intercept counters early. Besiktas are a well-drilled team, all credit to their manager Senol Günes. They will most likely look to get Babel and Quaresma into one-on-ones on the wing and deliver some sharp crosses. Munich’s defence must avoid clearing the balls out to the middle as Talisca is usually waiting for these balls.
At the end of the day, I’d fully expect Bayern to win this; nontheless, Bayern must not go into these two games with the same attitude as they did against RSC Anderlecht or Celtic Glasgow. I’m certain Heynckes will have analysed the previous matches and have the team suitably prepared. Even if Bayern should struggle, they still have the superior individual quality to see them through.
Writer: Michael Böck/@MichoB93
Photo: FC Bayern