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 20, 2014, 11:15 PM EDT
Both Ronaldo and Ramos have gone to Madrid president Florentino Perez to ask him to keep Di Maria.
Aug 20, 2014, 10:20 PM EDT
Sunderland manager Gus Poyet believes United States striker Jozy Altidore is the happiest he has ever seen him.
Malky Mackay and Iain Moody investigated by FA for ‘sexist, racist and homophobic’ text messages while at Cardiff City
Aug 20, 2014, 9:11 PM EDT
Malky Mackay has been reported to the Football Association for being involved in a series of racist, sexist and homophobic text messages.
Aug 20, 2014, 8:35 PM EDT
If Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher showed up to your training to sign autographs, what would you ask him?
Aug 20, 2014, 8:15 PM EDT
Arteta’s status means that Jack Wilshere and Mathieu Flamini will be the holding midfield partnership against the Turks.
Aug 20, 2014, 7:25 PM EDT
Champions League play-offs continued on Wednesday with a series of tight contests headlined by a 1-0 victory for FC Porto at Lyon.
Aug 20, 2014, 6:35 PM EDT
Could Mario Balotelli be Liverpool’s answer to replace Luis Suarez?
Aug 20, 2014, 5:43 PM EDT
Malky Mackay can’t escape Vincent Tan after Cardiff owner files report with FA that prompts Palace to withdraw managerial offer.
Aug 20, 2014, 5:40 PM EDT
Will Cristiano Ronaldo’s back injury prevent him from playing the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup?
Aug 20, 2014, 4:55 PM EDT
Liverpool fans can finally kiss goodbye that Warrior label but will that improve the designs?
Aug 20, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT
Dzeko becomes the sixth player this summer to sign a new contract with City.
Aug 20, 2014, 3:26 PM EDT
D.C. welcome Jamaican side Waterhouse to RFK, while Montreal head to El Salvador in CCL group stages.
Aug 20, 2014, 2:50 PM EDT
Red Devils finally land their man as Argentine defender signs five-year deal.
Aug 20, 2014, 2:35 PM EDT
Nani is being paid his Manchester United wages in full… to play for Sporting Lisbon.
Aug 20, 2014, 2:20 PM EDT
The diminutive Croatian midfielder will remain at Real after proving himself in the Spanish capital.
Aug 20, 2014, 1:49 PM EDT
Check this out: one of the craziest tattoos from a soccer fan, ever.
Aug 20, 2014, 1:25 PM EDT
Fer, 24, is back in the Premier League as QPR capture box-to-box midfielder.
Aug 20, 2014, 12:25 PM EDT
Set to arrive in MLS in 2017, the league’s newest franchise has already sold a staggering number of season tickets.
Aug 20, 2014, 11:49 AM EDT
Wenger: “It’s very difficult to understand but, in the second half, the performance of the referee was very bad.”
Aug 20, 2014, 11:01 AM EDT
Muller: “The amount that foreign clubs were offering me was astronomical. But Bayern are my club.”
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