"In the last four years, Bayern have had a much better squad than during the treble season." Don’t take it from us! That is the opinion of the man who orchestrated the — so far — unique feat of winning the Bundesliga, DFB Cup and UEFA Champions League: Jupp Heynckes.
The 72-year-old is ideally placed to compare having returned to the club in October after watching Bayern’s development under his successor, Pep Guardiola, and his predecessor, Carlo Ancelotti.
If Heynckes can repeat his historic feat this season, the 2017/18 generation will join the 2012/13 vintage in club legend. But is the current squad actually better than the one Heynckes took to the summit of domestic and European competition?
bundesliga.com puts the two sets of players under the spotlight, and ponders the question whether Herr Heynckes is right.
Watch: Bayern's historic treble-winning season
For all Sven Ulreich’s brilliance stepping in for Manuel Neuer this season, there’s no doubt the former Stuttgart goalkeeper is not quite in the same class as the man who backstopped the treble. But a solid case can be made for the four men in front of him being a collective upgrade.
Two of the personnel — David Alaba and Jerome Boateng — have accumulated five years’ worth of experience at the very top of the game, an invaluable commodity that has given Bayern a more robust platform on which to build. Alaba has become a bona fide Bayern first-teamer and established international, Boateng has developed into the bedrock of a Germany side that was crowned world champions in 2014, and could be so again in Russia next summer.
Though Boateng’s injury problems have deprived him of time on the pitch, the arrival of Niklas Süle means Heynckes has a top-quality back-up option, and one that — mouthwateringly — will only get better.
Mats Hummels was on the opposite side of the Champions League equation in the colours of Borussia Dortmund at Wembley five years ago, and his return to Bayern is a major boon. While Dante was a key figure in the dressing room, the Brazilian made mistakes on the pitch that Hummels does not. Calm and cool on the ball, Hummels’ laser-guided distribution from the back affords Bayern 2018 a more polished dimension.
Polish is something Philipp Lahm had by the boatload. Class and talent, too. The man who lifted Bayern's fifth European title looked irreplaceable in 2013, but Joshua Kimmich has all the tools to disprove that. Yes, Lahm’s reputation is tried and successfully tested, while Kimmich’s is still only promising, but what the 23-year-old has done in his career to date suggests he will join his predecessor in the well-stocked pantheon of Bayern greats.
Is Jupp right? Ja!
Javi Martinez is the one constant patrolling in front of the back four since 2013, and — like Boateng and Alaba — the former Athletic Bilbao man has built up first-class experience while swelling his medal tally significantly in the interim period.
Like Lahm, ‘Schweini’ is a Bayern icon, homegrown talent made exceptionally good with his local team. Vidal may not quite enjoy the Fussballgott - Football God - status among Bayern fans his German counterpart does, but the Chilean is at least a match for Schweinsteiger in terms of his contribution to the team.
The former Juventus man is playing some of the best football of his career this season, mixing controlled aggression with lung-bursting industry and formidable goal threat in a potent all-round package that makes him one of the game’s best-ever midfielders.
Add that to his ability to drive the team forward and inspire his team-mates — something Schweinsteiger could also do, admittedly — and Vidal has the edge on the former Manchester United and current Chicago Fire man.
Is Jupp right? Ja!
The common thread in the creative department of the 4-2-3-1, Thomas Müller remains a key component of the Bayern XI. The Germany international’s invention and uncanny ability to sniff out the space needed to hurt opponents remain undimmed, while his ability to score goals has only become more sharply honed since 2013.
The real difference comes in the central role. Toni Kroos’ move to Real Madrid has — with time — led to James Rodriguez leaving the European champions to take the opposite journey. It is a switch that has done both players — and their clubs — good. Kroos has the ability, but not necessarily the instincts to play in the more advanced role he was used in in 2013.
While inching back down the pitch to a more classic midfield position in Madrid has been beneficial to the Germany international, the arrival of James has been a boon to Bayern. The Colombia star is a genuine number 10, and is clearly revelling in the role which has given his new side added goal threat and greater balance.
Kingsley Coman's ankle injury is unwelcome for many reasons, not the least of which is that he has been playing his best football at Bayern this season. The French youngster is not yet at the level of metronomic consistency Franck Ribery enjoyed five years ago, but his 2017/18 campaign had been showing Bayern’s faith in him was far from misplaced.
His prodigious haul of medals means we often forget his age — he is only 21 — and like Kimmich, he has the potential and talent to match and even surpass the achievements of his compatriot.
Is Jupp right? Ja!
Watch: Shades of 2012/13 with Bayern on treble charge
The argument here is one of quantity vs. quality. Five years ago, Heynckes had options: Mario Mandzukic, Mario Gomez and Claudio Pizarro. The trio complemented each other well with Mandzukic’s tireless running and undying competitive spirit making him the ideal battering ram up front while Gomez and — if needed — Pizarro could get on the sharp end of moves to score the goals.
Now, Heynckes’ choice is more limited, but… what a choice!
Robert Lewandowski, who played for Dortmund at Wembley, has the qualities of all three of his 2013 counterparts rolled into one formidable and — at times — unplayable bundle. The Poland international has the aerial ability and physical presence of Mandzukic, the finishing skills of the predatory Gomez, and — at 29 — the experience of Pizarro.
Bayern’s decision to draft in Sandro Wagner in January was a sign they acknowledge Lewandowski needs a breather from time to time in order to be ready for the major challenges ahead. But the winter arrival from Hoffenheim would probably come fifth in a comparative list of the five forwards mentioned.
Is Jupp right? Ja!