By Nikolai Mende
BORUSSIA DORTMUND REFUSED TO SELL ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI
The first half of the 2012-13 Bundesliga season has come and gone for Bayern Munich and once again they have the league title at their mercy. However, as they learned last term to devastating effect, titles are won in May, and not December.
In order to avoid another collapse, the club's hierarchy successfully implemented a new transfer policy to provide greater depth and competition, which would also help stave off the possibility of injuries and suspensions, which ultimately harmed them in this year's Champions League final.
The biggest change came in attack. Ivica Olic never really recovered from the long-term injury he sustained in 2010, and could not recapture his old form under Jupp Heynckes. What's more, Nils Petersen, purchased from Energie Cottbus in the summer of 2011, failed to live up to expectations and did not prove to be realistic competition for Mario Gomez. The regulars were not under pressure from those on the bench and in emergencies, the squad was sadly lacking.
Back-up was needed for Gomez in particular. He may have enjoyed a prolific season in front of goal, but there was a complete lack of a tactical alternative. In March, long before the official announcement, the club had wrapped up a deal for Claudio Pizarro to be third choice.
To challenge the Germany international more directly, Robert Lewandowski of Borussia Dortmund was discussed. The Pole was open to a summer departure from Signal Iduna Park, but BVB officials Michael Zorc and Hans-Joachim Watzke told him that he would not be sold in the same transfer window as Shinji Kagawa.
During Euro 2012, Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge were convinced of the abilities of Mario Mandzukic, who was in fine form for Croatia at the tournament. A €13 million fee with Wolfsburg was promptly agreed, and the new signing proved himself during Gomez' lengthy injury, scoring a number of goals.
GUARDIOLA MOVE ON HOLD ... FOR NOW
The second season of Jupp Heynckes' latest reign at Bayern has seen something which few would have credited him with last term - true tactical innovation. Last season, a 1-0 deficit almost certainly meant defeat, but this time out, the Bavarians have been pressing their opponents intensively all over the pitch, not just in the Champions League, but in the Bundesliga too.
Heynckes has the players totally behind him and under his control. His new rotation policy has kept them satisfied, and they have found a plan B to avoid losing games in the manner they did against Dortmund, Borussia Monchengladbach and Chelsea last season.
Despite an energy-sapping Euro 2012, the players have done their best to change the static game which saw them fail against the Blues into a more open blueprint that Heynckes laid out, allowing them to create far more chances. The fruits of this endeavour are already noticeable in December.
However, his contract expires this summer, and the issue of next season's trainer remains, and it is one that needs to be addressed in case Heynckes does decide to draw the curtain on his glittering career. Hannover's Mirko Slomka was touted as a potential replacement, but recently extended his contract at the AWD Arena, and no release clause has been reported yet.
The preferred European candidate to replace Heynckes is Pep Guardiola. The former Barcelona boss is currently recharging in New York with his family, plotting his next move. The two-time Champions League winner would rather avoid a nouveau riche club like Chelsea or Manchester City, preferring a stable outfit like Arsenal, or Bayern.
Should the opportunity arise, Heynckes could well talk Hoeness into making a move for the Spaniard.
DECISION TIME IN DEFENCE
One question certain to be prevalent in the January transfer window is that of the Bayern's defence. Last season's Champions League final will live long in the memory of all supporters, and the club's efforts were certainly hindered a the number of suspensions and injuries.
This year, an ugly case of deja vu could be on their hands. Holger Badstuber is unlikely to play again this season after suffering a tear in the anterior cruciate ligament against Dortmund and the worry was compounded by the needless red card Jerome Boateng picked up a few days later versus BATE in the Champions League. Dante, meanwhile, the mainstay of the back line, is also just a single yellow card away from a one-match ban.
Should all three regular centre-halves miss out, veteran Daniel Van Buyten would be the only recognised defender. Luiz Gustavo and Javi Martinez, despite midfielders by trade, have done decent job when filling in at the back, but there are no guarantees that they would be able to do so against Europe's finest.
In order to avoid the problems that come with switching players to positions not natural to them, the Allianz Arena bosses would be wise to snap up a new defender in January. And, with Van Buyten likely to retire at the season's end, it is time for sporting director Matthias Sammer to evaluate the situation and make a decision as to whether the defence needs urgent reinforcement