Bundesliga preview: Bayern eye Euro glory
Lessons from last season
Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola, the "New Messiah," managed a domestic double last season (Bundesliga and German Cup) in his debut in Bavaria, following up predecessor Jupp Heynckes' historic treble (including the Holy Grail of the Champions League) in 2013. Guardiola's charges clinched a 24th Bundesliga title at the earliest ever juncture in history on March 25 (Bayern was undefeated at that time). Pundits waxed lyrical after 19 consecutive league wins. Was this the best Bayern side ever?
Surely a three-peat was simply only a matter of turning up? Such fine margins exist at the highest level. Guardiola matched Heynckes' feats with 29 wins in 34 league games, but if anything, the season went stale when it mattered most. The sorry exit (5-0 on aggregate) in the Champions League semifinals in April against eventual winners Real Madrid cast a cloud over the entire season. The zest disappeared from Bayern's play as the side failed to turn huge chunks of possession into goals (72 percent possession against Real in the Bernabeu -- ZERO goals).
Guardiola himself admitted his own failings. The main grumble was over-rotation of his troops, which left his side looking a bit flat. The ill-timed injury to Bayern's pivot, Thiago, was a crucial factor too. Bundesliga success is a given for Guardiola. It's a two-horse race. Bayern just have to garner more points than Dortmund and the Reds will be champions, it's that simple. Ultimately, the Spaniard is judged on success in Europe.
Therefore, the lesson to be learned from last season is to time the run better. Keep the players "right at it" until the business end of the 2014-15 season.
Predicted starting lineup
Four World Cup winners (Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm, Mario Gotze and Thomas Muller) should make the starting lineup. Talisman Bastian Schweinsteiger will be out with an injury until September, while defender Jerome Boateng is suspended for the opener. Arjen Robben, one of the stars of the World Cup for the Netherlands, is not quite ready yet. Frenchman Franck Ribery is also battling a nagging injury. It is important to note that David Alaba will play in a more advanced position this season, after the departure of Toni Kroos for pastures new. Expect a big season from the 22-year-old Austrian, who has the ability to truly excel in his new role.
Having already pillaged Borussia Dortmund for Gotze, Bayern have shown no mercy and ripped Robert Lewandowski free from their biggest/only rivals. For free. Ouch. Spaniard Juan Bernat has joined from Valencia for 10 million euros and will roam the left flank. Sebastian Rode is a combative utility player, signed on a free transfer from Frankfurt. Pepe Reina has been signed to warm the bench as backup keeper and, no doubt, will speak Spanish to Guardiola.
See above. Bayern have added the firepower of Lewandowski (replacing the disgruntled Mario Mandzukic) to a fully functioning unit. Germany became world champions with seven Bayern players (including Kroos) starring in the final. Dante and Arjen Robben were also in Brazil until the final weekend. There is a view that stress and fatigue from the World Cup will mean Bayern will be especially vulnerable in the early weeks of the season.
I do not subscribe to that point of view. It might be valid if teams actually dared to attack Bayern and tried to expose any frailties, but that is simply not the case. Indeed, the ambition of most teams arriving at the Allianz Arena is merely to avoid a pummeling in Munich.
On the back of World Cup success, Bayern can approach the season from a position of strength, with confidence overflowing. And now with the lethal Lewandowski in the ranks, the Pole can make the difference in any tighter-than-envisaged games.
After losing Javi Martinez to a cruel ACL injury on the eve of the new season, Bayern are currently a bit light at the back and are scouring the market for a central defender. Diego Godin of La Liga champions Atletico Madrid and Mehdi Benatia of Roma have both been strongly linked.
Big Belgian Daniel van Buyten has retired. Rafinha is injured. Holger Badstuber is back, 624 days and four operations later, but he will need to be eased back into the fray. Anyway, with the exception of Dortmund, teams don't attack/are afraid of Bayern in the Bundesliga, so any potential defensive Achilles' heel will not be overexposed domestically.
Bayern failed to win the title after the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, but this squad can change that. Even if the back line are in danger, the world's best goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer, is there to save the day. Bliss.
Manager profile: Pep Guardiola
Pep Guardiola likes to pack his side with midfielders and won a few trophies at Barcelona, too. According to Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Guardiola is a "present from God" while stating that Guardiola has a job for life (if he wants it). Unsackable and unshakable from his passing possession football philosophy.
Robert Lewandowski is arguably the best striker in the Bundesliga and in Europe. He has fired 20 goals or more in each of his previous three league campaigns at Dortmund. If he stays healthy, the Polish forward should top the league's scoring charts once again with a minimum of 25 goals.
Predicted finish: First
Bayern powered to the title by massive margins of 25 and 19 points the past two seasons. The German league title race was as competitive as the Scottish Premier League. Yes, Jurgen Klopp is a mini-miracle worker at Dortmund, but not even Klopp can turn those deficits around. The title race may be closer, at least up to the winter break, but Bayern will cruise to the title once again, by at least 12 points. Yes, 25-19-13, that's a nice symmetry.
Mark Lovell is a Germany-based journalist who covers the Bundesliga for various publications, including ESPN FC. Twitter: @LovellLowdown.