Bayern make case for defense

It may be one of the oldest adages in football, but new Bayern Munich coach Jupp Heynckes isn’t afraid to make it his rallying cry for the new season.

“Attack wins you games, defense championships,” the veteran said ahead of the new Bundesliga season.

Indeed, Bayern’s defense will probably decide the destination of this season’s title.

While Borussia Dortmund were running away with the league last time out, Bayern had a miserable time, suffering their worst ever start to a season and firing coach Louis van Gaal after a series of public slanging matches. Only a superb finish secured them third place.

Scoring was never a problem. Bayern bagged 81 goals in 34 games, even though injuries restricted their most creative player Arjen Robben to 13 games and workaholic forward Ivica Olic to a mere 3. They even hit the woodwork more than any other team.

The problem was at the other end.

Bayern’s defense was ridiculed by opposing forwards, journalists and even the club’s own bosses.

“It is more than annoying, it is careless” fumed chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge after a two-goal half-time lead at Cologne ended in a 3-2 defeat. ”They must be slowly laughing themselves to death inDortmund.”

Result: almost all of Bayern’s summer transfer budget (€41 million out of €44 million) was spent on shoring up the backline.

Neuer: Bayern Munich's saviour?Enter Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng and Rafinha.

”Now Dortmund are the ones being hunted,” roared president Uli Hoeness this week. “The league will now experience the real Bayern Munich.”

Van Gaal’s decision to pick young keeper Thomas Kraft was the ultimate reason for his sacking.Germany’s best goalkeeper Manuel Neuer was top of Hoeness’ summer shopping list and the Gelsenkirchen-born player duly spurned Manchester United and headed south for €22 million.

Many Bayern fans were furious with the idea of a player clearly Schalke through-and-through following in the footsteps of club legends like Sepp Maier and Oliver Kahn.

Hundreds of ”No Neuer” banners adorned the Allianz Arena in the closing months of the season but it seems Kahn was right when he said that would all be forgotten ”once he takes a couple of training sessions and saves a penalty.”

Neuer’s quality is not in question (he was voted 2010-2011 Bundesliga player of the season by Kicker magazine). Handling the notorious pressure cooker atmosphere of Munich will be his toughest task.

Bayern’s €14 million purchase of Boateng is riskier. Hamburg couldn’t believe their luck when Manchester City came with a similar-sized cheque a year ago. The centre back does have unique qualities (he insists on wearing spectacles during press conferences) but is notoriously hard to man manage.

The diminutive Rafinha left Schalke after five years but never settled inGenoa. A right back in the ”loves to get forward” mould, the Brazilian has a tendency to leave gaping holes behind him. Boateng, beware.

But even if there are teething troubles, the trio of defensive signings should be enough to help Bayern win back the title.

It’s easy to believe that Bayern’s defense is wafer thin, but the facts don’t bear that out. Only miserly Dortmund and Mainz conceded fewer goals than the Bavarians last term, and the season before that Bayern had the best defence in the league.

And history favours Heynckes’ men. Franz Beckenbauer was right to blame tiredness after the 2010 World Cup for Bayern’s poor start. Bayern thrive in seasons following a blank international summer – the last time Bayern failed to win the title in an even numbered year was 2004.

“We’ve no excuses,” admitted Thomas Mueller. ”We can’t say that it is because of the World Cup till the winter like last year.”

Bayern’s spending comes as other clubs remain as prudent as ever. Of the 25 biggest summer European transfer movers so far, Neuer and Boateng are the only Bundesliga-bound players.

Genuine challengers look thin on the ground.

“We’re the first champions in the history of football who go into the new season as challengers rather than title defenders,” conceded Dortmund coach Juergen Klopp.

Indeed with Nuri Sahin sold to Real Madrid, the champions have a huge hole in their midfield. Leverkusenhave lost their most influential player Arturo Vidal, while Schalke have released no fewer than 16 players.

The German press may poke fun at Heynckes, calling him ”Jupp Osram” after the light bulb maker because his face glows red during matches. But they concede the 66-year-old, in his third stint at Bayern, is one of the few figures inGermanywho can unite the team. Only a major surprise can stop Bayern landing the title, 22 years after his first Bundesliga title triumph for the Bavarian giants.

By ANDREAS EVAGORA

For more Never Mind the Ballacks blogs go to uk.eurosport.yahoo.com/football/the-ballacks/

Here are the top three predictions from Eurosport 2’s Bundesliga commentary team. Let us know what you think.

Andreas Evagora – Champions: Bayern Munich. 2nd: Borussia Dortmund. 3rd: Bayer Leverkusen.

Andreas Joerger – Champions: Bayern Munich. 2nd: Borussia Dortmund. 3rd: Wolfsburg.

Tony Jeffers – Champions: Bayern Munich. 2nd: Borussia Dortmund. 3rd: Schalke.

Angus Torode – Champions: Borussia Dortmund. 2nd: Bayern Munich. 3rd: Schalke.

Ian Holyman – Champions: Bayern Munich. 2nd: Borussia Dortmund. 3rd: Bayer Leverkusen

Eurosport2’s 2010-2011 Bundesliga coverage kicks off on Friday with the champions Borussia Dortmund againstHamburg. As usual we’ve two live matches on Saturday, Stuttgart v Schalke (15:30 CET) and HerthaBerlinvNurnberg(18:30). Then on Sunday catch Mainz v Leverkusenand Bayern v Borussia Moenchengladbach. We’ll bring you all the best action in our highlights show at 19:30. Matches broadcast in north and eastern Europe only.

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