When Bayern Munich last won the Champions League, the focus and strength of that European side was its dynamic wing play. No, Robert Lewandowski wasn’t scoring goals to save Bayern’s blushes, largely because the Polish striker was still smashing goals for Borussia Dortmund under Jurgen Klopp.
In fact, Lewandowski started against Bayern in that 2013 Champions League final, and who was his opponent? Yes, Mario Mandzukic is not the name that immediately comes to mind when thinking of Bayern’s last Champions League title winner, but the often-overlooked Croatian center forward serves as a reminder that the defining strength of Bayern Munich’s greatest side – the only German team to ever complete the European treble – was its wing play with Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery utterly annihilating opponents.
Is “annihilating” the correct word? Well, Exhibit A would be undressing Lionel Messi, Alexis Sanchez and Barcelona 4-0 at the Allianz Arena in the semifinals en route to a 7-0 aggregate victory over the Catalans, after blanking Antonio Conte’s Juventus 4-0 on aggregate in the quarterfinals. Of course, the primary parallel to draw between the greatest Bayern Munich side of all time and the current version is that Jupp Heynckes’s team also beat Arsenal in the round of 16 by a score of 5-1. Only, Heynckes’s men managed that score line over two legs.
The current Bayern Munich has the quality, strength and depth to match the 2013 champions.
Bayern leads the Gunners 5-1 with 90 minutes of the round of 16 yet to be played. Anyone picking them to overturn the four-goal deficit in London should immediately consider getting a mental evaluation. And Arsene Wenger and his staff should seek counseling, or at least an acting coach, to try and convince their players that they still have a chance to advance.
With Carlo Ancelotti on the touchline and a mature squad on the pitch, Bayern Munich is once again the biggest factor in Europe and makes a strong argument to win a treble. As a manager, Ancelotti has claimed as many Champions League trophies as he has claimed domestic league titles (both three), and his reputation as a Champions League specialist is entirely earned and duly deserved. Notably, the 57-year-old Italian with exquisite eyebrows also twice won the European Cup as a player.
Following three straight Bundesliga titles and three consecutive Champions League semifinal exits under Pep Guardiola, anything short of European glory would amount to a failed season for Ancelotti. In the domestic cup, Bayern hosts Schalke in the DFB-Pokal quarterfinals. In the domestic league, Bayern is currently five points clear of controversial upstarts RB Leipzig, thanks to a late, late Lewandowski goal over Hertha Berlin last Saturday.
While the conversation after the latest Bayern late show centered on the fact that the leveler came in the 96th minute when only five minutes of injury time had been decreed, the main takeaway should have been Ancelotti’s willingness to rotate and manage his squad.
Veteran midfielder Xabi Alonso did not start last Saturday, as Joshua Kimmich earned the nod. Lewandowski, who notched his 16th goal in 21 Bundesliga appearances against Hertha, came on as a substitute for the final half hour. In his stead, Ancelotti started misfiring striker Thomas Muller, who scored his third Champions League goal of the season last week. Though the 27-year-old Muller only has one Bundesliga goal in 18 appearances, leaving the 2014 World Cup winner out of the first 11 against Arsenal remained a bold decision for Ancelotti.
Moreover, the Italian prefers Thiago Alcantara playing ahead of Alonso and Arturo Vidal as the most forward-thinking central midfielder. Zooming out for a moment, that three-man midfield is as versatile, dynamic and skilled as any in Europe.