Soccer

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Bayern insist they have no weaknesses

Heynkes' powerful machine convinced they are steaming towards European redemption

Sam Wallace

Published 25/05/2013|04:00

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Arjen Robben
Arjen Robben volleys the ball during Bayern Munich’s training session at Wembley ahead of tonight’s Champions League final

If you were seeking the distillation of the confidence playing for Bayern Munich breeds in its players, especially this recent gilded generation of Germans, then watching Philipp Lahm and Thomas Muller face questions at Wembley was an emphatic reminder of how they regard themselves.

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Never more so than the moment when someone asked Muller what he considered Bayern Munich's weaknesses to be and he responded as if the notion had never really occurred to him. "Our weaknesses?" he replied. "Maybe you should ask Dortmund what our weaknesses are; I can't say we have any weaknesses."

Later he was pushed on the thorny question of penalty-taking, not usually a problem for the Germans until their nerve went against Chelsea in the Allianz Arena last May and they lost a final that the whole club considered a home banker.

"There's always some players better than others when it comes to penalties," Muller said.

"You have to be realistic, but, look, I don't think anyone is going to wet their pants over it."

This is FC Bayern, a club that scarcely encountered issues of self-esteem even when it was not considered the new force in Europe. Now they are strutting into their third Champions League final in four years, that belief seems unshakeable.

Their coach Jupp Heynckes hailed his side as the best team in the last 50 years of the Bundesliga and the recent history is, indeed, hard to argue with.

There is the 7-0 aggregate demolition of Barcelona in the semi-finals, the 25-point winning margin in the Bundesliga, the fact that they have not conceded in 21 out of 34 league games this season. We could go on.

Never mind that a poll by German television network RTL yesterday found that only 25pc of the German population wanted Bayern to beat Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League final tonight. This is Bayern and they are here to win.

The Great Room at the Grosvenor House hotel on Park Lane is already booked to accommodate 1,800 people for what Bayern expect to be the post-match victory party.

They are ready to put right what they consider the aberration of not beating Chelsea last year in what should have been one of their finest hours. This time, they fully expect to add European Cup No 5 to the list and go level with Liverpool in third in the all-time titles list.

Surely they won't screw it up this time, will they?

That is what makes it such an intriguing game. There are subplots, like the growing mood that German football is about to take over the world, with the Deutsche Fussball Liga (DFL) expectation that the rights for the Bundesliga will double in value from €72m (£62m) a year to €150m (£129m) on the back of this year's success in Europe.

There is the clash between the coaches, the 68-year-old Heynckes and the enigmatic Jurgen Klopp, 23 years his junior.

But what makes this game most absorbing is the prospect that for all the good football sense, meticulous planning and sheer belief of the Bayern machine, this team of theirs is flawed. And that tonight is to be another one of those occasions when they allow the big prize, the second part of a potential treble, to slip through their fingers.

Muller might say that none of his team-mates are about to wet their pants but that was, figuratively speaking, what happened in Munich.

In an interview for the match programme, Klopp outlined, in beguiling fashion, his football philosophy of "energy, speed, aggression, hard but fair duels, a lot of goalscoring chances, hitting posts and the bar and a lot of corners – that is what I call attractive."

He is the relative newcomer to the elite level, beloved of that oh-so-cool breed of European football connoisseurs. He is the edgy coach to defy the corporate, all-conquering monolith that is FC Bayern.

This is Klopp on Barcelona. "Others like how they play, dominant with only a few duels – the opponent can't get into them because they play so quickly: it's just about passing the ball around from side to side and then forward, and when Lionel Messi gets it, it's a goal.

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"What I like is something that's still a bit rough, a bit flawed, something that isn't perfect. And that's our game."

Even the absence of Mario Gotze tonight gives Dortmund that element of unpredictability. There are no doubts as to what the Bayern XI will be, but in the absence of the playmaker who will move to Bayern next season, there is not the certainty about Dortmund. The likelihood is that Kevin Gross­kreutz will come into the side on the left and that Marco Reus will play behind Robert Lewandowski, but it is not definitive.

Bayern have won just one of the seven previous competitive games between the sides, a German Cup tie in February and, as it stands they have lost more European Cup finals, five, than they have won.

Their first three trophies came in consecutive years in the mid-1970s, their only other triumph in 2001, two years after their greatest-ever choke in the Nou Camp against Manchester United.

There seemed to be a reluctance from Heynckes yesterday to admit that his team had been practising penalties; eventually he conceded that, yes, his players had practised penalties every day for the last week.

When he was asked to compare himself to Klopp, Heynckes bristled, preferring to concentrate on his greater "experience" and a determination that the mistakes of the past would not be repeated. Klopp, on the other hand, admitted that he once "tore a muscle celebrating too much" on the touchline.

You get the feeling that Bayern can deal with pretty much anything that is thrown at them, with the possible exception of this remarkable Dortmund team and their manager. (© Independent News Service)

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