Sep 17, 2013, 7:32 PM EST
If you’re the type to look for smudges on a Rubens, there were two complaints you could make about Bayern Munich ahead of today’s UEFA Champions League opener. They don’t seem as good as last year, your case would start, but given they posted a +80 goal difference in league, some regression was inevitable. More indicting: The adjustment they’re undergoing under Pep Guardiola leaving teams too close, and while they’re dominating games and rarely giving up chances, they’ve often kept teams within one defensive error or well-executed counter attack of getting a result. (This is where I reference the Freiburg result for the 86th time).
Tuesday’s 3-0 over CSKA Moscow addressed both of those concerns, but the extent to which they answered the critiques depends on how you view early goals. David Alaba, summoning the same fortune that saw him score in last year’s Champions League against Gianluigi Buffon, curved a third minute free kick off Igor Afineev’s hands and into CSKA’s goal. With the lead, Bayern didn’t have to expose their defense or press as they would have while needing a goal. With 87 minutes left to play, Bayern not only had their earliest lead of the season but also a scoreline particularly advantageous to their ball-hogging style.
It’s easy to dispel that theory, thought. Just note that Bayern, after going up one, didn’t change their approach. And for most of the match, CSKA didn’t either. They couldn’t afford to. The fourth minute is too early to change, open up, and start chasing the match. That would have been a recipe for something worse than a 3-0 loss.
What we’re left with is Bayern’s most impressive performance of the season: A controlling, multi-goal victory; against a quality opponent; in an unquestionably meaningful game (as opposed to the German or UEFA Super Cups). Monopolizing possession (69 percent), dominating shots (20-8), and dwarfing their opponent’s shots on goal (9-2), Bayern played out Guardiola’s vision to perfection. And they did so without Javi Martinez, Mario Götze, or a fully healthy Bastian Schweinsteiger.
People may dismiss the performance because of the opposition, but it’s be better to say CSKA had a bad day. Or Bayern are always capable of posting this type of performance at home (ask Barcelona). The Russians have a normally world class goalkeeper, experienced defense, a quality central midfielder (Pontus Wernbloom) and two legitimately dangerous players in attack: Japanese international Keisuke Honda and Nigerian international Ahmed Musa. They were without Alan Dzageov, often their best player in recent years, but with CSKA seeing very little of the ball in Munich, the young Russian wouldn’t have helped them today.
This was the type of performance Guardiola may have been waiting for: A proof of concept that can propel the team forward. The one- and two-goal victories that have filled the start of their Bundesliga campaign were filled with promise, but until a day like today, it was unclear when that promise would come good. Now the question is whether Bayern can build on this breakout Saturday at Schalke, or will a team more familiar with their personnel be better equipped to slow them down?
Having scored twice from set pieces on Tuesday, there is reason to think Bayern’s still not fully clicking. But that gets back to the influence of Alaba’s goal – an early tally that allowed FCB to exercise patience. If they score early at the Veltins-Arena, we’ll likely see another game like today’s. If not, FCB may still be able to use the momentum of their season’s best performance to start meeting some of last year’s standards.
Mar 7, 2014, 10:40 PM EST
Tony Fernandes is in hot water following his massive spending in attempts to keep QPR in the Premier League.
Mar 7, 2014, 9:44 PM EST
In a sports world full of “business decisions” Bolton has clung to the human component of Stuart Holden, remaining strongly supportive of their player despite the sad fact he could be facing his fourth torn ACL.
Mar 7, 2014, 9:16 PM EST
Following the USMNT loss to Ukraine, club action continues in Europe.
Mar 7, 2014, 8:08 PM EST
Away goals now rule playoff matchups, and tiebreaker rules for playoff spots have changed priorities.
Mar 7, 2014, 7:28 PM EST
Looking for yet another reset button, Clint Dempsey will indeed begin the 2014 MLS season with Seattle’s matchday squad.
Mar 7, 2014, 6:34 PM EST
After incidents last weekend, Brek Shea and his teammate have both apologized to fans after lashing out at abusive supporters.
Mar 7, 2014, 5:57 PM EST
PST’s experts weigh in and predict the MLS Cup champs and the final standings:
Mar 7, 2014, 5:44 PM EST
For a year and a half the Ligue 1 side won’t be able to acquire any players.
Mar 7, 2014, 5:13 PM EST
Will the Sounders finally win an MLS Cup in 2014? What will happen to Sigi Schmid if it doesn’t happen?
Mar 7, 2014, 4:00 PM EST
Major League Soccer starts it’s big leap next season. In 2014, the league will enjoy the end of an era.
Mar 7, 2014, 3:40 PM EST
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Mar 7, 2014, 3:08 PM EST
With both newcomers and familiar faces, the 2014 MLS season features a jumble of quality at the front of attacks across the league.
Mar 7, 2014, 2:45 PM EST
Former coach Pia Sundhage, in charge of the USWNT when their streak began, guided Sweden to a 1-0 victory in the Algarve Cup – the USMNT’s first defeat in two years.
Mar 7, 2014, 2:03 PM EST
It once seemed incomprehensible that Leo Messi could leave Barcelona. But is it a possibility?
Mar 7, 2014, 1:15 PM EST
Can Kansas City start their defense of the MLS Cup off on the right foot, grabbing a win at Seattle?
Mar 7, 2014, 12:30 PM EST
When Jonathan Walters converted his match-winner, there was only one song on the Stoke supporters minds: Delilah.
Mar 7, 2014, 11:43 AM EST
The regular MLS referees will be locked out of the weekend’s opening games, meaning the league will turn to qualified replacement officials.
Mar 7, 2014, 11:14 AM EST
The Manchester United manager penned a letter to season ticket holders praising their loyalty and promising the club will be great once more.
Mar 7, 2014, 10:25 AM EST
Juventus insist the midfielder isn’t for sale, but with at least three big names sniffing around, will the Italian giants be tempted?
Mar 7, 2014, 9:40 AM EST
Will either Cardiff or Fulham get the three points they so desperately need?
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