Flying into Germany for the opening game of the Bundesliga season after 12 long weeks off is always exciting. But jetting to Munich to see treble winners Bayern and Pep Guardiola’s Bundesliga debut is extra special.
There were no obvious signs that Bayern would be starting the defence of their title the next day against Borussia Moenchengladbach. What was clear was a strong Spanish presence. The Guardiola effect or just young Spaniards escaping a fragile economy to take their chances in Germany ?
Ominously it rained heavily on the Friday. A bad sign for Guardiola’s Bundesliga debut ?
There was great fanfare as the President of the German Football League, Dr Reinhard Rauball, led the teams out to the German National anthem and the unmistakeable verse of “Deutschland Uber alles”. After the all-German Champions League final last May, the confidence of that anthem seemed very fitting. But this was hardly a nationalist affair as all eyes were on a Catalan, Pep Guardiola.
During Bayern’s pre-season, Guardiola’s team choices had posed more questions than answers. Philip Lahm in midfield, Franck Ribery as the playmaker and Thomas Muller as a false Number 9. On the day of the game, German football media reported that the two players to be left out would be defender Jerome Boateng and Mario Mandzukic in attack. The Bundesliga record signing Javi Martinez was tipped to replace Boateng with Muller ousting Mandzukic.
There was a mini stampede when the Bayern official handed out the team lists.
And yet after all the speculation about who would be in and out, it was a case of “as you were”. Boateng started in defence with the Croat striker Mandzukic as centre forward. Reports of the Guardiola revolution had obviously been exaggerated. That was perhaps because of Thiago Alcantara missing with a fever. The 25 million euro signing from Barcelona, whose agent just happens to be Guardiola’s brother, had been Bayern’s best player in the entertaining 4-2 Super cup defeat to Borussia Dortmund two weeks before.
One thing which the media did get right however was the 4-1-4-1 formation.
Bastian Schweinsteiger played in front of the back four but without a defensive midfield partner. Toni Kroos, back from the knee injury which saw him miss the Champions League final, was further up the field.
In front of 71, 000 fans at a sold out Allianz Arena, Bayern made a dream start.
They raced into a two nil lead in the opening fifteen minutes as goals by Arjen Robben and Mandzukic punished mistakes. It looked as if the rest of the game would be an exercise in damage limitation for the Foals.
However, their Swiss coach Lucien Favre is a canny tactician and decided to play Bayern at their own game. New signings Max Kruse and Raffael settled quickly and when Dante scored an own goal against his former club just before half time it was game on.
Bayern lost their shape in the second half. Following ankle surgery in June, Schweinsteiger didn’ t look one hundred per cent fit and was isolated as ‘Gladbach through Max Kruse stretched the Bayern defence and exploited gaps between defence and midfield.
The game turned in a whirlwind two minutes with twenty minutes to go.
Spanish defender Alvaro Dominguez handled the ball in the area but Muller’s penalty was well saved by Marc Andre Ter Stegen. Inexplicably from the rebound, Dominguez handled again to give away another penalty. This time David Alaba made the final score 3-1.
That extended Bayern’s unbeaten run in the Bundesliga to 26 games but records weren’t the talking point at the post match press conference .
Guardiola, speaking in decent German was pleased with the result but not the performance. Bayern averaged more shots on goal than last season but the negative was they also conceded more shots on goal than last year’s average. The coach himself doesn’t consider the new formation a problem: “I like the system, but perhaps I need to adapt more to my players and make some changes,” he said. “I wouldn’t have a problem with that.”
The Eurosport team’s evening ended with a 50 minute traffic jam inside the Allianz Arena complex. Our French producer couldn’ t believe that the locals weren’t complaining. Patience is a virtue in Munich. And maybe that’s what Guardiola will have to show at Bayern.
“We need more time, insisted Guardiola. “It’s difficult for a new coach at the beginning of the season. In my first press conference I said, the beginning will be not easy.”
Ths is what makes the new season so intriguing at Sabener Strasse. Jupp Heynckes was always going to be a tough act to follow after guiding Bayern to the first treble in German football. So how does Guardiola follow that ? Yet there’s the problem because the 42 year old is a perfectionist and an obsessive.
A more pragmatic coach would not be remonstrating so much in his technical zone in his first games. Rome wasn’t built in a day and so Bayern Munich won’t be changed overnight. A radical overhaul would be foolish so it would be wise if changes were small and gradual.
But Guardiola’s used to doing things his way. Whether that means selling Ronaldinho, Eto’o and Ibrahimovic or taking a year off.
He’s shown his perfectionist steak by learning German well enough in six months to be able to conduct press conferences in German. However as a capable linguist he might want to learn the English expression : ‘If it’s not broken then don’t fix it.’
Eurosport Bundesliga commentator