The Best is Yet to Come
By Alex Fairchild
Tuesday did not mark a power shift. Perhaps it was the end of the shift itself, but certainly, it was not the beginning and end of soccer's transfer of prestige from the sunny shores of Spain to brisk Bavaria.
It was almost a peaceful shift via lopsided election, which time had coming. While the mainstream is shocked that Barca failed to match Munich, those within the game had a sense that the Catalan's time had come, though a 4-0 thumping to write-off Messi & Co. was unprecedented. However, it is not time to print the Barca obituary, as they own the world's greatest attacking footballer and will raise La Liga's trophy in due time.
But Tuesday night belonged to the German side, and things will stay that way for the foreseeable future. Barca are out. Bayern are in.
A supporter of any team in contention for a Champions League title, whether it be this year or next, must cower in fear of the Allianz Arena outfit.
Munich have stepped into another world. Tiki-taka and counter-attacking football have both been adopted by the men from Germany. Munich have shown that they possess the ability to knock the ball about the park, as they have maintained a possession rate that has exceeded 60% several times in Europe thus far. Against Barcelona they held the ball for 35% of the match, but managed to stick four away, on top of 15 shots, 7 of which found the frame.
Essentially, Munchen are all that Barcelona are and more. The Spanish club often lack the ability to get forward quickly and score that a fast goal. In their first leg against AC Milan, they were rattled. Going 2-0 down, they attempted to come back, but hitting a mere 4 long balls in the final moments would never be enough to recover. However, when they have time, they can attack, and they can be the beautiful Barca of three or four years ago.
Bayern can rush the ball forward and that is what separates the two sides. They can play 'smash-mouth' football, similar to the way an American football team hand the ball to a running back, so that he can speed forward into a wall of defenders, as the offense look to power the ball into the end-zone. Stoke City play that way, Blackburn and West Ham United do as well. It is not pretty, but when used right can be effective. Barca do not have that in their arsenal, in part, because they have never had to adapt to a different style of play. Possession football had always worked for them. They are rarely put into a position, in which they must come from behind under pressure.
While the same can be said for Bayern, they have the pace to change. Their attacking venom is obviously superior. When Frank Ribery and Arjen Robben boss the flanks, they are nearly impossible for the opposition to defend, as was the case in leg one, when the two combined for the third goal using Bastian Schweinsteiger as the medium. Meanwhile, the latter and Javi Martinez can hold. They are both strong defensively, combining for twelve tackles (six per) against the Catalan, and have two stout center backs behind them, not to mention the aggressive Mario Gomez in front.
The Bavarians do not lack playmakers. Talented front man Toni Kroos can easily take over for Thomas Muller and vice versa. They will have an overload of talent next year when Mario Goetze comes through the door. The Borussia man could replace one of the aging attackers, but even so, the pair still look the part, despite approaching 30.
Goetze brings the smarts and organization of the German game and combines that with the skill of the world's most talented players. The move could bode well for the country, as playing time with Schweinsteiger, Lahm, Boateng, Muller, and maybe Kroos could prove invaluable come 2014, but the team itself will do more damage domestically and in Europe.
Winning the title with time to spare, it is almost horrifying that this is not Bayern's maximum potential.
They also have Pep Guardiola coming in alongside the playmaker, though that may not be as good as it sounds. Pep had Barca playing in a one dimensional platform and no matter how effective it was, the question remains whether or not the Spaniard can diverge. It is possible he will not let Munich counter and the most fascinating matchup of all would come with Pep in charge of the Bundesliga champions versus his old club. Would he have Bayern play as Jupp Heynckes did or would he open them up by forcing them to playing attacking football? A more pressing questions is would the players listen? However, that is merely speculation which will be, hopefully, answered come next season.
Twenty points clear of Dortmund with four league games remaining and a staggering goal differential of +75, which is bound to climb in the coming weeks, Bayern are in the most delectable of forms. The fact that they sit 20 points clear of one of their Champions League semifinalist rivals should tell the story in and of itself. Though when one looks at the bigger picture, it appears promising that this club will only get better.