Last month, Philipp Lahm said that there are similarities between Barcelona, and the current FC Bayern team. This statement was not without basis, and we can see how Bayern are currently developing in the same way as Barcelona did a decade ago.
Unsurprisingly, the situation in both clubs began thanks to the same man. This is, of course, Louis van Gaal. His sporting success with both Barcelona and Bayern is questionable, but he laid the foundations of the offensive, possession-minded football at the heart of both teams’ style. His contribution in the promotion of young talents was also very important, and Barcelona have kept this up even after his departure. For Bayern, it is too early to tell, but it seems likely that they too will continue to look after their own.
After van Gaal left Barcelona, they appointed Rijkaard. He developed van Gaal’s system, and eventually brought about European success in 2006. Rijkaard’s system is still in effect today, to a certain extent, although of course Guardiola has influenced it. Heynckes is doing something similar at Bayern. This Bayern, and the one we saw these last two seasons under van Gaal, are not without similarities. However, this season Bayern have found balance in their play, which automatically has brought better results. The pressing system which Bayern have adopted this season, with all the players helping out to win the ball back as soon as possible, is also similar to that of Barcelona, as Lahm pointed out. Both teams are seeking some sort of balance, and this has led to both clubs giving huge importance to the midfield, more than any other position on the field. The offense of both teams is formidable, in my opinion the best two in the world, and both continue to invest in that area. This has led to the defense being a little neglected. While their is balance in the style of play, their isn’t balance between defense and offense in the squad itself. Bayern haven’t had a world class defense in years, and while Barcelona have Pique and Puyol, their squad depth in this area of the game is non-existent.
Eventually, it was Guardiola who created the Barcelona legacy. Since Guardiola took over many people have described the current Barcelona squad as the best team in history. Jupp Heynckes’ age makes it unlikely that he stay at Munich long. It seems like he is merely the stepping stone, between the beginning and the end, just like Rijkaard was at Barcelona. What has allowed Barcelona to be so successful, and what Bayern seem to be trying to do, is the continuity in the squad. This was helped a lot by giving importance to players from their own youth academy, who know the system inside out and can be introduced at the right pace. It is about time that Bayern stop rebuilding the team every two years. We already have our future, which will allow for this continuity, and we are seeing flashes of it. We have successors for almost every position:
- Lahm -> Contento (he is no Lahm yet, but he is one of the most talented full-backs of his age)
- Centre-backs -> If they do manage to live up to their potential, Badstuber, Boateng and Breno are all very young, and we wouldn’t need to worry about this positions for a long time. If they don’t, well then we still have to build this position up at present.
- Central midfield -> Toni Kroos, possibly Emre Can
- Wings/Attacking midfield -> Alaba, Muller, Kroos, Usami
Many of these players, especially the ones in midfield and offensive positions, which as already said, are the most important for us, are already very important players for Bayern. They are all far from their peak. The best is yet to come. Of course Bayern should not depend entirely on its youngsters, but rather follow Barcelona in the transfer approach as well. Not counting the last transfer window, Barcelona have been making roughly one big name signing per year, thus changing just one position every season. This has allowed the system to survive despite the change of players. By the time you have changed all 11 players, most of them would already have been there for a long time. Patience is the key. Bayern must not lose faith in their project.
Already this season, as Bayern have moved on from the van Gaal stage to the Heynckes stage, Barcelona are on the decline. They have a better squad than last year, but their results haven’t been anywhere near as impressive. Nothing lasts forever, and Barcelona’s time could also be coming to an end. Real Madrid this season have risen to the challenge, trying to outrun Barcelona in three different competitions. But I do not think that Real will create an era like Barcelona did. They have what is probably the most complete squad in history, but it is not possible to keep together a squad like that for a long time. Players who are not playing enough will want to leave, and it is likely that the team will go through a major dip in form once Jose Mourinho inevitably leaves, as has happened with every one of his previous teams. Real’s frequent squad overhauls are not going to stop anytime soon. But if Bayern keep faith in this project they have undertaken… they have so far developed in a similar way to Barcelona, why shouldn’t a similar end be possible? Barcelona’s era of domination is nearing an end, and it seems to me that Bayern is the club which is closest to replacing them at present.
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