COMMENT By Christoph Kockeis
It's all about the number four for Bayern this season and nobody at the Sabener Strasse will hold back when asked about the club's objective for 2015-16. The board of directors, the players, the coach - they all dream about a fourth successive Bundesliga title. "Bayern can write history this season," commented sporting director Matthias Sammer. But how strong are Bayern really heading into the new campaign? Goal exams their chances of success.
GOALKEEPER: He is a World Cup winner who has lifted the Champions League, Bundesliga titles and DFB Pokals. After a difficult relationship with the crowd early on, Neuer has developed into one of the Bayern faithful's most beloved players. His saves are extraordinary and he is FCB's undisputed No.1.
Sven Ulrech will be serving as his deputy. The former Stuttgart man would have been a starter at many other clubs, which made his decision to join Bayern all the more surprising. Ulreich will be more than ready whenever Pep Guardiola calls on him to rest Neuer.
DEFENCE: There can only be one chief in the back line and that's Jerome Boateng. He has learned to direct his colleagues and to remain stable himself in the process. He has become a constant factor in defence.
Ruthless fighter Mehdi Benatia seems to be the perfect partner for Boateng at centre-back. And they could very well opt for a three-man defence against weaker opponents with David Alaba and Philipp Lahm, who could both feature in midfield as well, flanking Boateng.
Rafinha and Juan Bernat will be ready to grab their chance whenever an opportunity opens up, Holger Badstuber and Javi Martinez are also options for Guardiola, while Dante and Jan Kirchhoff's situations appear to be grim.
MIDFIELD: Guardiola has five or six positions to fill in midfield, but has more than enough options. Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Douglas Costa, Thomas Muller, Arturo Vidal, Thiago, Xabi Alonso, Mario Gotze, Sebastian Rode, Joshua Kimmich, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Sinan Kurt and Gianluca Gaudino can all fill roles there. And then there are Bernat, Lahm, Alaba and Martinez.
Thiago, Vidal and Alonso are likely to play key roles in the three central positions, while Kimmich could also be called upon. Rode also seems a good candidate to get plent of gametime, while Hojbjerg, Gaudin and Kurt could still leave on loan.
Nobody is talking about the departed Bastian Schweinsteiger any longer.
ATTACK: As stiff as the competition for places is in midfield, Guardiola has few options up front.
Robert Lewandowsi is the only traditional No.9 and while his maiden campaign for Bayern was rather promising, he will now have to explode in his second season at the Allianz Arena.
The Poland international cannot afford to get injured as Claudio Pizarro has left the club and has not been replaced. Thomas Muller could also feature as a striker, but the lack of options in attack remains a risk, especially with Gotze failing to impress as a false No.9 last term.
PROBABLE FORMATION: 3-2-4-1, 3-1-5-1, 4-2-3-1, 3-4-3 – the Spanish tactician has a number of options and will be keen to give his individual stars the chance to shine. FCB have become very much about coordinated chaos under Pep. They employ various formations, changing fluidly with plenty of pace to dominate their opponents. Pep's style is all about having the ball and Costa, Thiago and Vidal know all about it. Bayern have more options with these three players and become even more unpredictable.
FINANCES: "Don't spend more than you receive." Bayern's top priority is as simple as it gets. The Bunesliga champions are run like a company and a healthy company needs to act clever to remain competitive. Bayern has been following this strategy for years and consequently are among the most healthy clubs around in the game. They can afford to spend big and parted with an estimated €80 million this time around. Without taking any major risks, Bayern managed to strengthen their squad. Additionally, they generated a healthy sum as they cashed in on Schweinsteiger.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Arturo Vidal. "The time was right to switch clubs. I wanted to take a big step in my career. I want to continue developing myself as a player and win major trophies." After missing out on the treble with Juventus last term, the Chilean midfielder is hungry for more. He embodies Bayern's desire for success with his attitude. Aggressive. Versatile. Flexible. Vidal could be the one to make the difference.
COACH: There has been plenty of talk about the former Barcelona coach in recent months, who has still not entered talks with the club over a contract renewal. Some Bayern icons even blamed Pep for the departure of Schweinsteiger to Manchester United, while the influx of Spanish-speaking players has been another talking point.
The commotion surrounding him has had its effect on Guardiola and he has looked nervous and frustrated on occasions. Will he still be there come the start of 2016-17? It remains unclear for now!
GOAL PREDICTION: FCB will face little competition domestically and the fourth Bundesliga title in succession should be a mere formality. Whether Bayern's season is a success all comes down to their results in the Champions League, though. The European title is what matters most in the end.