Cologne - And then there were five: amidst all the understandable hullabaloo surrounding FC Bayern München's capture of Xabi Alonso in the final days of the summer transfer window, it did not go entirely unnoticed that the midfield star had thus become the fifth Spanish player on the reigning champions' books.
Should Alonso, Pepe Reina, Juan Bernat, Thiago Alcantara and Javi Martinez at some point get the opportunity to run out together on league business, Bayern would be just one man short of equalling the record for a single-nation foreign contingent starting a game in the Bundesliga - held, incidentally, by FC Hansa Rostock, whose six Swedish players helped them to a 1-0 win at 1. FC Nürnberg in February 2003.
With the exception of Martinez, they have all arrived in the Bavarian capital since Pep Guardiola took up the reins as head coach and that in itself is perhaps no great surprise, or coincidence, either. The Catalan tactician is a renowned football visionary who remoulds a team to his own specifications and the Spanish system is naturally enough the one he knows intimately, and with which he enjoyed such phenomenal success at FC Barcelona.
Alonso, of course, arrived from Barca's eternal rivals Real Madrid CF - only a matter of weeks, indeed, after 2014 FIFA World Cup winner Toni Kroos moved in the opposite direction. At that juncture, Bayern looked fairly well covered in the deep midfield department but then Martinez tore a cruciate ligament in the pre-season Super Cup loss to Borussia Dortmund. With Bastian Schweinsteiger also sidelined for weeks due to a recurring patellar tendon problem and Thiago's comeback date from his own wearisome knee injury still unknown, the record champions moved fast to secure the services of Alonso from Real.
Assured debut at Schalke
The day after they did so, the veteran star was thrown in at the deep end away to FC Schalke 04, alongside team-mates he had not as yet even properly trained with. Nine kilometres racked up and a pass completion rate of 90 per cent told their own story about his 67-minute debut shift in the Bundesliga, with keeper Manuel Neuer noting he “looked like he'd been playing for us forever” and a satisfied Guardiola given the immediate confirmation he scarcely required that his new midfielder “knows that position inside out”. For his part, the 2010 World Cup winner said it was a “decent” performance for starters: “My team-mates helped me a lot, although obviously we were hoping for a better result.”
The next opportunity to achieve that comes against VfB Stuttgart on Saturday afternoon. After picking up a minor foot injury, the much-travelled Alonso is desperate to be fit for what would be his first game at the Allianz Arena in a Bayern shirt and the atmosphere is guaranteed to be even more fervid than usual for the clash of southern Germany's two biggest clubs.
Still hungry for success
Stuttgart will meanwhile take to the pitch seeking to put the brakes on an 11-game league and cup losing streak against their illustrious hosts and having themselves made another underwhelming start to the campaign. Armin Veh's second stint in charge of the side he led to the title in 2007 began solidly enough with a draw at Borussia Mönchengladbach, but the 2-0 home loss to newly-promoted 1. FC Köln last time out was a bitter pill to swallow.
Bayern fully intend to compound the visitors' early-season woes and extend that victory sequence against their old rivals to a round dozen. The club's ingrained winning mentality is an asset that their new midfield star shares. Alonso, who turns 33 in November, is as hungry as ever and the late-career switch to the Bundesliga is a “huge challenge” for the two-time UEFA Champions League winner. FC Bayern's Spanish connection has moved up to another level and for the competition, it's a less than thrilling prospect.