Augsburg - Terms such as discipline, organisation, will to win and attitude have been listed as the traditional reasons for Germany's footballing success, and while new buzzwords like ‘flair’ and ‘technique' have been added to that list of late, the original virtues are still vital to the national game.
FC Bayern München coach Pep Guardiola acknowledged as much in the wake of his side’s 4-0 triumph away to Bavarian neighbours FC Augsburg on Saturday, a victory that sealed the Bundesliga leaders’ place at the summit over the winter break.
“I’m very, very proud of my team because I know how difficult it is to win here,” said Guardiola at his post-match press conference. “We were more aggressive in the second half and used our pace better. Things got easier after the first goals. I’m constantly surprised by the mentality of these players who have already won everything […] They play every three days with a great attitude and want to win, win, win.”
It is difficult to reconcile that image of hard-nosed players with tunnel vision with the laid back, jocular Bayern members who passed through the mixed zone after the game. Sebastian Rode strolled through in a t-shirt and flip-flops before heading out into the cold winter evening; a grinning Thomas Müller pretended to return for a second round of questions with the media after emerging from the Augsburg dressing room clutching Ragnar Klavan’s shirt, and Brazilian defenders Dante and Rafinha giggled at a joke with compatriot and Augsburg attacker Caiuby.
Rummenigge: 'Robben's the best in the world’
As soon as kick-off arrives, it seems, the Bayern uniform becomes a kind of armour, transforming what are otherwise amicable young men into on-pitch gladiators with a steely determination to win. Bayern were unyielding at the SGL Arena on Saturday: they had 68 per cent possession, 26 attempts on goal to Augsburg’s six and brought on two more attackers in Mario Götze and Müller when they were already 4-0 up.
Yet special praise was reserved for two-goal hero Arjen Robben, who hammered the nail in Augsburg’s coffin with a superb strike a matter of seconds after Medhi Benatia had given the visitors the lead in the second half. Club CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge called the Dutchman “the best outfield player in the world,” while Guardiola again emphasised the importance of mindset. “Arjen is a fantastic professional and a wonderful player. I’m delighted Bayern have a player of his calibre. He’s got outstanding quality but it’s his attitude especially. He’s incredible: he’s so professional and his quality is unbelievable.”
No letting up
As if on cue, Robben immediately turned his attention to the club’s remaining fixtures prior to the winter hiatus: “We’ve still got another two games, which we need to do well in and then we can have a bit of a break.” The next fixture on the calendar is a home tie with 15th-placed SC Freiburg, against whom Bayern have won their last 11 consecutive matches in Munich, scoring 33 goals and conceding just five.
They close out the year with a trip to 1. FSV Mainz 05, who have failed to win in their last seven games. The odds will be heavily stacked in the Bavarians' favour for those encounters, not that Bayern will be taking anything for granted: their winning mentality simply won't allow it.
Jonathan Stockitt reporting from Augsburg