A few weeks ago I suggested that Bayern Munich were a shoe-in to regain the Bundesliga title which has become the exclusive property of Borussia Dortmund in the last couple of years. The truth is in their quest to quench a trophy drought stretching back to 2010 any silverware will do for Bayern this time around.
Bayern remain Bundesliga certainties, unless coach Jupp Heynckes decides to adopt a strict rotation policy and start playing his reserves in key games. It doesn't pay to take liberties and underestimate any Bundesliga opposition. This is the lesson Bayern learned at the weekend, conceding their first away goal of the campaign in a sloppy 1-1 draw in the Franconian-Bavarian Derby in Nuremberg. Franck Ribery and Philipp Lahm were among those rested as Heynckes made six changes to the side that defeated Eintracht Frankfurt in Munich last weekend. Despite taking an early lead through Bundesliga top scorer Mario Mandzukic, the Reds could only force a draw after Manuel Neuer was deceived by a swerving long range shot.
"It's not the end of the world," summised Heynckes afterwards.
There were also some decidedly extra sour grapes from midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger who accused 1. FC Nürnberg of unsporting behaviour after the disappointing draw. "They were constantly trying to influence the referee and were provoking him by time wasting, staying down after fouls, and other little things, all of which had an influence.''
This is besides the point. Bayern's stand-in captain Schweinsteiger was showing his frustration at the two points dropped. The cynic in me thinks some of these qualities will definitely be needed by 'Schweini & co' in the tribal atmosphere of the Mestalla in Valencia on Tuesday evening as Bayern endeavour to keep their Champions League campaign on track.
Bayern were expected to coast comfortably through their 'easy' Champions League group but a shock defeat against BATE Borisov has left them in a precarious position. Defeat against Valencia would leave the Bavarians facing the unthinkable. By the time Bayern kick off in Southern Spain there is likely to be a log jam at the top of Group F with the Belarusians expected to overcome a limp Lille side in Minsk to join the record German champions and 'Los Che' on 9 points.
Mario Gomez will be itching for a return to Champions League action after bagging four goals in his comeback game in midweek. Gomez's goalscoring prowess fired Bayern all the way to the final last year, but unfortunately for him personally and the club, he chose the final to have a stinker on his home patch.
Bayern have undoubtedly been over-reliant on Gomez's goals and the reaction from the hierarchy this summer was to purchase Mario Mandzukic from VfL Wolfsburg and bring Claudio Pizarro back to his old stomping ground, via Werder Bremen to increase competition. 'Golden Oldie' Pizarro notched a hat-trick last time out in Europe in Bayern's 6-1 demolition of Lille to show he is still a force to be reckoned with. It's a different story for his Croatian striker partner. Despite having turned into a prolific domestic striker, Mandzukic has struggled on his European forays. The latter may well have to make way for the more established 'Super Mario' in Spain.
Off the pitch, Bayern announced massive after-tax profits of EUR11.1 million - their 20th successive year in the black. Uli Hoeness has continued his verbal sparring with ex-Bayern coach Louis van Gaal and former German FA (DFB) president Theo Zwanziger. Hoeness will be delighted at his re-election as President after a landslide victory (97.1%) at the recent club AGM -something American politicians can only dream of! A buoyant Hoeness announced further impressive figures. Club membership is thriving with 187,865 members compared to last year's 171,445. There are a further 250 officially affiliated fan clubs, pushing the total to over 3,200 worldwide. ''These are unbelievable numbers,'' Hoeness beamed.
Riding high in the Bundesliga, millions in the bank, all is apparently well in the Bayern camp. However, I still sense an emptiness and pain emanating from that bitter Champions League final defeat in their own backyard against Chelsea. How else can you explain paying over the odds (EUR40 million) for an unproven Spanish water carrier? This has all the signs of being retail therapy for Bayern. The fans would have you believe he is the final piece of the jigsaw but so far it seems as though he might not even be from the right puzzle, let alone the right piece. In my opinion, with financial fair play lurking like a bad smell in the rest of Europe, it was more like Bayern showing the rest of Europe how they can throw their petty cash around.
Meanwhile, Arjen Robben is injured again. But that's not really news.
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