Champions League Comment: Bayern Munich Discover Winning Formula… Is There More to Come?

Bayern Munich picked up a historic 4-1 win in Turin, but this may be the beginning of something much greater, writes Clark Whitney.
The last few years have been difficult for Bayern Munich. A year in the UEFA Cup and the following season’s 4-0 Champions League hammering by Barcelona left many fans wondering where the Jeremies, Effenberg, and Kahn-types have gone. Maybe they didn’t leave, after all. Maybe the team had just lost its winning spirit…until tonight.

The 4-1 win in Turin will be remembered as one of Bayern’s greatest victories of the last decade. Such pace, such effort, such determination has not been shown by a Bayern team in years. But today, with Champions League hopes—and Louis van Gaal’s job—on the line, the men from Munich earned an emphatic victory.

From the opening kick-off, it was like watching a whole new team. In Daniel van Buyten, there was a glimmer of Thomas Linke. In Bastian Schweinsteiger, we were reminded of Stefan Effenberg. In Mark van Bommel, there was a resemblance of Jens Jeremies.

For long spells in the first half, Bayern resembled Manchester United circa 2008; the Reds played a physical, pressing style, and simply would not concede possession. In midfield, Bayern were always first to the ball, winning nearly every tackle. They finally learned that it’s not enough to hold possession: sometimes, winning requires an even greater commitment.

Most importantly, Van Gaal won the match on his terms. While many would have brought in Arjen Robben at the start of the second half, the Dutch tactician stuck with the side that in the first half had made the Old Lady live up to her nickname. Van Gaal’s decision paid dividends early, and Bayern were 2-1 ahead early in the second half.

While he is far from perfect, Van Gaal has done one thing right: he has finally eliminated Bayern’s reliance on superstars. It took well over three months, but Bayern are winning regularly—and now are doing so against top-class teams—without Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben in the starting lineup. Assuming their superstars return from the winter break at full fitness, imagine just how good this team can become…

There were also lessons to learn from the less positive aspects of Bayern’s performance. After going ahead, Bayern dropped back and enticed Juve to move forward. After nearly an hour of complete domination—during which time the hosts had one shot, no corners, and just over 30% of possession—Bayern’s midfield lost a bit of its bite. Words from the bench and on-pitch leadership saw the Bundesliga outfit resume a pressing style, and Juventus were unable to recover.

Tonight’s win marks a turning point in Bayern’s season. The result will give a newfound confidence to the entire team. For Robben and Ribery, it means that their team has real potential. For Schweinsteiger, it just might be the kick-start he’s needed in order to play to his potential. And let’s not underestimate Anatoliy Tymoschuk’s goal: earlier this week, there were rumours that the Ukrainian was on his way out of Bayern because he felt unwanted. Tonight, he was given his chance, and in just 11 minutes on the pitch, took it with aplomb, scoring the fourth goal. And the list goes on and on.

As impressive as tonight’s victory was, however, it must not be overestimated. To quote the great Sepp Herberger, “Nach dem spiel ist vor dem spiel” (after the game is before the game). Their advancement to the knockout round is only the beginning for a Bayern team that has yet to accomplish anything. But maybe, after discovering what it takes to win against quality opposition, Bayern will be able to fully tap their potential.

Clark Whitney,