Many said that the Bundesliga was boring last year because Bayern Munich set many records, including clinching the title earlier than ever. Clinching the title at the end of March was just one of 13 records that were set in Pep Guardiola‘s first season as manager. This year will not be as easy. The top teams in the league have strengthened their squads or have their stars coming back healthy. Bayern are dealing with mounting injuries as the season kicks off today. They are still a title favorite but not running away.
Bayern captured their 24th German championship to go along with their 17th DFB Pokal trophy. They earned 90 points on the year with a plus-71 goal differential. They had a streak of 53 matches unbeaten snapped after they had clinched the title. Bayern won 19 in a row from October to March. The swoon in March and April did deliver a blow to their treble hopes, and they were unable to repeat as winners of the Champions League.
On the heels of this dominant domestic performance, Bayern brought in Robert Lewandowski from Dortmund to replace Mario Mandzukic. They lost Toni Kroos to Real Madrid even though a recent book on Pep’s first season said that the coach was overruled by the board. Gianluca Guadino and Sebastian Rode were brought in as reinforcements.
Javi Martinez was supposed to be the center of a three-man back line for Bayern. He is out for the season, but Guardiola’s want to make constant changes means the back line will still look a bit unconventional. They are still on the hunt to replace Martinez in the transfer window, but the return of Holger Badstuber softens the blow a bit.
If Guardiola continues with the 3-4-3 formation many players could swap between defense and a hybrid wing/full back position. Dante and Jerome Boateng will be on the back line with one relegated to the bench if Bayern make a transfer move. They will be subjected to a reserve role if David Alaba plays in the back three. Alaba has been used in several positions this preseason.
With Bastian Schweinsteiger out for an extended period of time and Thiago still recovering, Philipp Lahm should take the holding role. This opens up a spot on the right in the hybrid role that could go to Xherdan Shaqiri or Rafinha. Pierre Hojbjerg was used in that role during the preseason but was largely ineffective. Shaqiri is the easy choice, but Guardiola rarely makes the safe decision.
With Lahm in the middle, Rode and Guadino are in direct competition with one another. The buzz has been higher on Guadino as Rode is a defensive-minded, smart player who makes up for his lack of a flashy style with consistency. Of course moving Alaba to the midfield would kick both of the young players to the bench.
Another newcomer, Juan Bernat, has been constantly employed at the utility role on the left side of the midfield.
Lewandowski is sure to fire in over 20 goals for Bayern this season. He has already found his scoring touch in the preseason. Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben will be up top with him, but neither is completely healthy. Ribery’s quality has been dropping off noticeably. However, that just means that World Cup hero Mario Götze gets more playing time.
There is also Thomas Müller and fan favorite Claudio Pizarro. It is a scary attacking front. Goals will not be a problem for Bayern.
This is an incredibly strong side. They are currently slowed by injuries and a coach who can’t leave well enough alone. Several players will find themselves at multiple positions in two or three different formations on the year. They face a tough test today against a strengthening Wolfsburg side that has Champions League aspirations. The result will speak highly to the quality of both teams.
Bayern may have a tougher time out of the gate this year, but once they get healthy and make another move in the transfer window they could be just as scary as they were last season. That means a good chance to go far in the Champions League as well. It may require patience from their fans, but in the end Bayern should take home another title.
2014-15 Record: 25-6-3, 81 Points, First Place