It would seem that the Bundesliga is over after week one. Bayern Munich won it at a canter last season and after they showed the spirit of champions to peg back a plucky Wolfsburg side, who would bet against them? Who would be brave enough, especially after Borussia Dortmund showed the exact same Jekyll and Hyde characteristics of the previous season? How can a team go from a super-heroic performance one game to looking more ordinary than pre-bite (insert Suarez joke) Peter Parker? How they capitulated so badly against Bayer Leverkusen, I’ll never know. So as we joked on the podcast, surely the season is over already, right? I guess we’ll have to wait and see how that pans out.
This would make for a boring Bundesliga article if my sole purpose was to talk German title chances. Fortunately that’s not what I’m here to do. I’m interested in Bayern’s current standing amongst the giants of European football. This summer, Bayern spent relatively little in comparison to other top European sides and as a result many have forgotten about them and even discounted them as potential Champions League winners. So far this summer, they’ve spent only £30m and that number was only recently hiked up by the £21m signing of Roma centre back Mehdi Benatia. Let’s compare that to other European giants. Real Madrid have signed James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos for almost £90m, Barcelona have spent more than £120m as they anticipate their upcoming transfer ban. Manchester United have spent over £130m to try and prevent themselves from following Liverpool’s 90’s collapse and even at Anfield they have broken the £100m barrier. In fact when one considers the sales of Mario Mandzukic and Toni Kroos to La Liga then Bayern net spend is in fact negative.
Many would think that a team mauled so badly home and away by a rampant Real Madrid would need to spend heavily to ensure they can still compete at the highest level. After losing a player of Toni Kroos’ quality I’d have expected Bayern to jump into the market headfirst…but they didn’t. At first I scratched my head but on second thought, the reason why is very simple. Pep Guardiola signed Thiago Alcantara to add depth to his centre midfield, converted Lahm into a defensive midfielder and now that Benatia has been signed, once Javi Martinez is fit he can go back to playing in defensive midfield. Bayern planned appropriately and are now well stocked in the position. No wonder they didn’t mind selling Kroos for £20m. They could easily afford to.
In the last two seasons, Bayern have seen their two best strikers leave the club. One of my personal favorites – Mario Gomez – was shafted out of the team in favor of the more mobile Mandzukic. This summer Mandzukic has joined the strikers’ paradise of Atletico Madrid. His exit was forced as a result of the best transfer this summer. Perhaps it’s unfair to call it the best transfer of the summer because we’ve known about it for almost a year now. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m referring to the FREE signing and yes I said FREE signing of Robert Lewandowski. Robert Lewandowski, in my humble opinion, is the best number 9, target man, box striker, whatever you want to call him in the world and Bayern got him for FREE. Blessed with two splendid feet, height and strength; Lewy has it all and he changes the game for Bayern.
Last season Bayern played a false 9 with Thomas Muller and when they needed a traditional forward switched to Mandzukic. Both struggled against physically dominant centre backs. Lewandowski eats centre backs for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If Pep wants to play tiki-taka, he has the ball control and passing ability to lead that from the front. If they want a plan B then they can cross it in and he’ll bully the defender and put the ball in the net. The man can do it all, and Europe should be scared. Zlatan is aging and starting to get injured more often, Falcao costs more in health costs than he does wages while Cavani is out on the wing. In the dying age of the number 9, Lewandowski is the shining light and Bayern may just take back their Champions League trophy with him at the forefront. They may not have spent like the desperate housewives of Manchester, Barcelona and Madrid but the Munich men should not be forgotten. Winning the league may be academic considering how impressive their squad are. Will Dortmund be able to test them? On current evidence I have my doubts. Where Lewandowski will help most will be the Champions League. Winning the Champions League will be their main aim and Guardiola’s job will be under assessment if they don’t give a good showing. With Benatia and especially Lewandowski, they should and I believe will win the tournament. Who wants to put $30 on that?