Sep 17, 2013, 7:32 PM EDT
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.
Aug 1, 2014, 11:44 PM EDT
The 22-year-old is giving the 31-year-old all he can handle, and Barcelona looks set to forget Victor Valdes quickly.
Aug 1, 2014, 10:44 PM EDT
Goalkeeping starred in the first half before one a-piece settled the score.
Aug 1, 2014, 10:09 PM EDT
Geoff Cameron may no longer fit at Stoke City, and could get a CB role elsewhere.
Aug 1, 2014, 9:04 PM EDT
Another Sounders keeper went up in the air, although he couldn’t remain awake for the whole flight.
Aug 1, 2014, 7:56 PM EDT
Two Eastern Conference teams on unbeaten streaks meet at Sporting Park in Kansas City.
Aug 1, 2014, 7:39 PM EDT
The Arsenal captain saw his games drop significantly last season, and would be a fantastic grab for Manchester United.
Aug 1, 2014, 6:51 PM EDT
After a very disappointing debut season with Norwich City, the Dutch striker is off to France.
Aug 1, 2014, 5:55 PM EDT
A head-scratching moment by the New York defender cost him two games, while the ensuing melee dug into the wallets of others.
Aug 1, 2014, 5:16 PM EDT
With helpful videos, NBC is getting you ready for the upcoming Premier League season just days away!
Aug 1, 2014, 4:34 PM EDT
Despite reports to the contrary a month ago, it appears the newly-added Crimean clubs will indeed play in the Russian leagues next season.
Aug 1, 2014, 3:52 PM EDT
After 13 years at Chelsea, there’s a good chance Frank Lampard could play at Stamford Bridge again…in a lighter shade of blue.
Aug 1, 2014, 3:18 PM EDT
Arsenal, Newcastle and West Ham are among the teams who’ve loaded up on talent.
Aug 1, 2014, 2:34 PM EDT
Myers and actor Daniel Craig were among the luminaries on hand to watch Liverpool take on Manchester City at Yankee Stadium.
Aug 1, 2014, 1:42 PM EDT
Silly season has reached an absurd level, with even sports books creating rumors out of club links.
Aug 1, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Birmigham City defender Will Packwood and Southampton goalkeeper Cody Cropper are on the list of U-23 stars preparing for the Bahamas.
Aug 1, 2014, 12:10 PM EDT
Serbia and the Ivory Coast also tab new bosses as the race for continental and world glory continues.
Aug 1, 2014, 11:25 AM EDT
Fans of Detroit City FC helped raise money for slain Michigan referee John Bieniewicz via a “swear jar”, then saluting him with silent red card salute.
Aug 1, 2014, 10:51 AM EDT
A great save followed up by an awful rebound, as Hull draws Trencin 0-0 in its Europa League debut.
Aug 1, 2014, 9:59 AM EDT
West Ham, Crystal Palace and Newcastle have all added players for 2014/15, according to reports.
Aug 1, 2014, 9:23 AM EDT
Would City’s best prospects playing in MLS be a boon for the league, or lend the league a minor league image it’s trying to escape?
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