By Clark Whitney | German Football Editor
With a month or more of play having elapsed in the majority of Europe’s top leagues, there is one team that stands out head and shoulders above the rest. It is not recent Champions League winners Barcelona or Inter, not eternal giants Real Madrid or Milan, nor Premier League heavyweights Manchester United or their big-spending cross-town rivals Manchester City. No, at the moment, the best team in all of Europe is Bayern Munich.
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In recent weeks, Jupp Heynckes’ men have come out victorious against Wolfsburg - always tough opponents given coach Felix Magath’s history with Bayern - and Kaiserslautern, rivals that historically have been very difficult for the Bavarians, especially at the Betzenberg. They absolutely shut out last year’s second-highest scorer, Papiss Cisse, against Freiburg a week ago, and if that was not enough to convince, silenced Giuseppe Rossi and Nilmar in a dominant 2-0 win away to Villarreal on Wednesday.
At the moment, things are clicking perfectly for Bayern, at least on the pitch. Talismanic winger Arjen Robben has missed the last four matches with an injury, yet in his absence the team have not even stuttered. In all competitions, Mario Gomez has already scored 10 goals, while Thomas Muller has scored once and assisted nine more for club and country. Franck Ribery, meanwhile, is in his best form since he joined Bayern in 2007, and Toni Kroos is beginning to show why it was not long ago that he was regarded as the world’s best player at his age level.
Looking around Europe, many teams are scoring freely, but there is none that has come close to matching Bayern’s record in defence or overall. Barcelona were set to revolutionise football with a 10-midfielder system at season’s start, but Pep Guardiola’s men were a mess at the back even against Real Sociedad. Their rivals, Real Madrid, conceded twice against Getafe and were very fortunate to keep a clean sheet against a resilient Dynamo Zagreb in midweek. Chelsea have conceded in three consecutive games against Premier League featherweights, and although Milan had a good performance against Barcelona, the Serie A champions have allowed five times as many goals as Bayern in a third of the number of games. The traditional powers will surely improve, but their results thus far have justifiably raised questions of whether there is a low ceiling over their performance. For Bayern, that limit is nowhere in sight.
The next few weeks will be critical for Heynckes and his team as they head into a very difficult set of fixtures. Bayern visit Schalke on Sunday, and their following fixtures are home games against Leverkusen and Manchester City. A year ago, this schedule might have induced fear. But on their current form, the Munich giants can only relish the challenges that await.
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