A Champions League preview
Ladies and gents, the Heynckes vs van Gaal discussion is just about starting. For all the hoopla the Heynckes regime has brought, we are now standing on shaky grounds. Bayern Munich lost not only its pole position in the Bundesliga; it now sits in third place after losing two valuable points against the rock bottom club in the league. The loss meant the team now trails Borussia Mönchengladbach, a team that had to fight relegation last season. FC Bayern looked all but beatable at the year’s end, now the team just seems to be scratching to find back its mojo.
This is not an easy spot. FC Bayern must face the other FCB tomorrow; not Barcelona of course but FC Basel, the Swiss’ Super League champions two years in a row. UEFA Champions League fans must remember this is not the same Basel that was faced last year when Bayern beat them twice on the Champions League Group stage; both on the away leg and at home (1-2 and 3-0 respectively.)
This year’s Basel, however, look like a menacing force.
They did lose just one game in their Group of 16 run, in this case a disappointing 0-2 to the Divisão’s vice-champions Benfica; in Basel. Things, however, looked quite differently when they came back to tie Benfica in Lisbon. Then they almost pulled their group’s ultimate stunt: beating Manchester United at Old Trafford. At their away leg Basel not only came back from an early 0-2, they managed to score a third goal 15″ later. A very late Ashley Young equalizer left the score 3-3 in what would have gone down in history as the Freis’ night. Note this is not a typo, as neither Frei scored a complete hat trick that night. The late tie meant Basel bumped the vice-champions to the Europa League and retained the Group’s second spot.
Back at home they sit comfortably at the top of their league again in what looks like their third championship season in a row. With six points ahead of second placed followers BSC Young Boys, hardly anyone believes they can be leveled with. Not only do they have one less game in their league, Young Boys couldn’t beat them at home on Thursday the 16th; Basel’s last game overall. This also means Basel has a resting advantage with a comfortable 5 day preparation period over our three day one-trip to Basel included. This is a good way to break up their three game tying streak I’d say.
On our front things are not looking good at all. Losses to the top two teams on the German league were one thing, playing like a reserve team vs the league’s bottom club is something else entirely. There is also the fact that discussions on our below par performances were centered on one, two players at most. Now we are talking about an entire formation collapsing. Hell, if Freiburg figured us out after losing 7-0 at the season’s start; just imagine what is Gladback is able to do when they face us again at their home turf on the Pokal. And we HAVEN’T been exactly stellar at Borussia-Park for the past five years.
Heynckes is no longer the omnifying force he was at the first half of the season; or at least he is no longer seen as one. He has not been able to keep the league’s top spot, he wasn’t able to beat neither Dortmund nor Gladbach this season and tomorrow’s result will define the course of Bayern’s 2012 ultimate goal: winning the Champions League at home. I myself am beginning to question if we will suffer Heynckes’ fate while coaching the Spaniards: Will we have a dismal local league run while winning the Champions League after 11 years?
This late run of events has brought forward the notion that under van Gaal we might have been better off. And although I could hardly agree facts are stubborn things: van Gaal spent much of his first part of last season with an injury roster that would have put any team down on the relegation zone faster than the time it took to drop your pants and show your …. Well, you know the drill.
Heynckes has had more luck with injuries, a lot more. He also inherited a scoring Gomez, a back to form Ribéry, a sort of healthy Robben and the ultimate goalkeeper; among other things. Best of all, he didn’t have to deal with Altıntop, reason enough to sign up if you ask me. Hell, he inherited a defense for crying out loud.
Defend the coach all we want, fact of the matter is we are back where we were last year; and that is on third spot on the table after 22 matches; minus a huge point difference of course.
And the end of the day though, I call that going back to square three.
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