Thursday 26 April 2018

History beckons for Bayern

Bayern Munich are in imperious form and could complete an unblemished Bundesliga season
Bayern Munich are in imperious form and could complete an unblemished Bundesliga season

Amy Lawrence

Having accomplished a memorable treble last season, setting a new challenge for Bayern Munich seemed a little churlish. But the Germans have been in such imperious form they have managed to pursue an extra ambition.

Jens Lehmann, a member of Arsenal's Invincibles who completed an undefeated season 10 years ago, expects Bayern to become the first German team to complete an unblemished Bundesliga season. He says this is the only way they could improve on last season's treble.

"That's the maximum," he says. "You can't do more. Consistency always tells you about the quality of a team. I think they will become unbeaten champions. They're playing a different football."

Pep Guardiola's team, runaway leaders in the Bundesliga, are enjoying an extraordinary sequence of victories. They have not dropped a league point in five months.

Lehmann believes their domestic opponents look psychologically beaten even before kick-off. Bayern's dominance sets them apart, especially since they are able to cherry-pick top players from the next-best teams, exemplified by the fact Robert Lewandowski is already signed up to follow Mario Gotze from Borussia Dortmund.

"I have to say the challenges they are facing in the Bundesliga are not too high. Their opponents really don't know how to play them. They don't even find a way of trying."

He is not convinced they would get such an easy ride elsewhere. "Bayern wouldn't go unbeaten in the English league," he says. "The depth of the Premier League in terms of quality is higher. Teams playing at the bottom of the Premier League have a higher standard than the Bundesliga. They have more money, bigger squads."

The lack of competition Bayern's supremacy generates, however, is not to Lehmann's liking. "Watching them is a little bit boring as well," he explains. "They start playing around the back just in case they are pressurised and then slightly go forwards. It's not a pacy game going forward. They step forward bit by bit until they are in the final third and then they have great quality players who can make the difference."

An unusually high level of motivation, and a winning mentality, is evident in Bayern's ranks – something Arsenal's class of 2004 also recognised as vital.

Lehmann is impressed with the way Bayern have refined their game under Guardiola, making another step in the development which evolved over the past few years. "They had a couple of coaches in recent years who made a big impact. With Jurgen Klinsmann it started with a physical impact. Louis van Gaal came with his positional sense. Juup Heynckes brought the team on greatly, that's what they say. And now Guardiola seems to be a perfectionist and he is improving a lot of little details. That shows in the results right now. They have weaknesses but the opponents don't exploit them."

Lehmann, who has completed his pro-licence and is considering a return as a manager, will be at the Allianz Arena when his old team Arsenal attempt to overcome a two-goal deficit on Tuesday. He is not optimistic. The question of Arsenal's chances requires a long pause before answering. "You always have chances," he says, "but not a lot."

He expects the European champions to have absorbed the lesson of a surprise defeat on home soil last season meted out by Arsene Wenger's team. And, as well as tipping Bayern for an unbeaten season, he also backs them to become the first club to successfully retain the Champions League since Milan's 1989-90 vintage. History, again, could be in the making.


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