Bayern Munich start the 2018/19 Bundesliga season odds-on to make it a magnificent seven titles in a row as the Bavarian ogre swats away the potential disruption a change in coach or personnel might cause to continue marching forward.
Who — or what — can stop them? bundesliga.com highlights five reasons why the scary answer for their Bundesliga challengers may be, "No-one and nothing".
1) James + Bayern = true love
"He is playing well, but he can play better," Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes insisted last season as James Rodriguez and Bayern went together like currywurst and beer, the football equivalent of US über-couple Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez. A-Rod and J-Lo meet J-Rod and B-Mu. Both club and Colombian surely could not have expected their chemistry to combine so fiendishly well to produce a campaign that brought seven goals, 11 assists, and a masterclass in the attacking arts in the 6-0 dissection of Borussia Dortmund on Matchday 28.
Watch: All of James' Bundesliga goals and assists in 2017/18
That was season one of his two-year loan from Real Madrid, and given how he might now perform having gotten to know his teammates and new club better in the last 12 months, season two is a tantalising prospect. Though his 2018 FIFA World Cup might not have been as resounding a success as 2014, the silver lining to the calf injury he picked up in Russia is that he had some additional days of rest to recharge. Added to that, Heynckes has also had a word: "I've told him where he can improve," revealed the former Bayern boss. Now happily retired, he will surely enjoy watching his former protege putting that sound advice into his performances on the biggest stages the Bundesliga and European club football can provide in 2018/19.
2) Perfection tweaked
At times last season, it was difficult to see how Bayern could survive without Arturo Vidal. The Chile midfielder played some of the best football of his career, and yet, following his summer move to Barcelona, Bayern will have to play on. Then again, take a look at their squad for 2018/19, and can you say it's not even stronger than before?
What Bayern have lost in proven experience in Vidal, they have gained in almost limitless potential in Leon Goretzka, the Germany international midfielder every club wanted to sign from Schalke, and Alphonso Davies, the Canadian wunderkind Bayern believe can be the Maple Leaf version of Christian Pulisic. Renato Sanches and Serge Gnabry are also back at the club, a year older, a year more experienced, and still young, while Corentin Tolisso will have learned from Vidal, and — with the massive confidence boost of winning a FIFA World Cup — will surely be still more impressive this season, his second in Germany.
Yes, there are not many new faces, but that's because Bayern do not have to make wholesale changes. The transfer window does not swing violently open and then slam shut at the Allianz Arena. It gently opens and quietly closes, usually long before deadline day, because tweaking — not tearing up and starting again — is their wise and wildly successful strategy. Bayern had the best squad on paper for 2017/18 and then proved it on the pitch. It's impossible to find a better squad in Germany for 2018/19, so…
3) If you can beat 'em, join 'em
The managerial hot seat barely has time to scorch the behinds of some Bundesliga bosses, but a coaching change at Bayern is not something the club takes lightly. The Bayern boss knows, however, only trophies will keep him sitting comfortably, and as a former Bayern player, Niko Kovac, will also be aware the fact he shared a dressing room with sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic will give him no additional protection should the heat be turned up.
🎙️ #Kovac on the preseason:— FC Bayern English (@FCBayernEN) August 17, 2018
"The majority of the team have had six weeks together. We've been working on our game every day and have made good inroads, but there's certainly still room for further improvement."#FCBayern #MiaSanMia pic.twitter.com/YzxTsmIKJq
But Kovac's appointment is not based on friendship, but on that S-word that fuels Bayern: success. His two-year spell as Croatia boss was promising, his two-and-a-bit season tenure of Eintracht Frankfurt provided proof of that promise. After saving them from relegation in 2015/16, he ensured they established themselves safely in the top flight, and masterminded successive DFB Cup final appearances, overseeing a famous defeat of Bayern last season. If you can figure out how the conundrum of how to beat one of the best teams in the world, you can surely figure out how to get them to play. Thrown in the fact Kovac has the Bayern DNA and he is an ideal candidate. It could be a daunting task for anyone to follow in the footsteps of Heynckes, but Kovac — a potent combination of Pep Guardiola, Marcelo Bielsa and Heynckes according to Javi Martinez — already ruined the veteran boss' fairytale career ending, and he will surely now build on his legacy.
4) Same old Lewandowski, always scoring
Robert Lewandowski's wife Anna looks after his diet, and perhaps she keeps his portions small, because boy oh boy, he's just as hungry as ever.
He has finished leading scorer in three of the last five seasons, and was runner-up in the other two, yet the man still loves hitting the back of the net just as much as ever — isn't that right, Frankfurt? Lewandowski's stunning Supercup salvo bodes well for Bayern and ill for the rest of the Bundesliga, who must have produced a collective groan and wondered when will they ever get a break.
Watch: Lewandowski scored three of Bayern's five goals in the Supercup
What makes Lewandowski so good? It's not the ability to score with either foot and his head. It's not his natural-born instinct to be in the right place at the right time. It's not his single-minded dedication to his profession. Well, it is all of those, but more than that, it is his sheer unremitting remorseless relentlessness. The man never takes a day off on the pitch, and certainly only rarely off it.
His tally of 180 goals leaves him just 12 shy of Claudio Pizarro's league-best for a foreign-born player. That will surely go this season even if the legendary Peruvian adds to his tally, while former Bayern boss Heynckes tipped 'Lewy' to reach his haul of 220 league strikes — the third-most in Bundesliga history — soon. Now, if he were to beat Gerd Müller's single season record of 40 in 2018/19… well, you do the math.
5) OMG, it's Manuel Neuer
That's what opposing forwards must think when they manage to break down the Bayern back four and are then faced with arguably the best goalkeeper the game has ever seen. Yes, he's back. And hopefully this time he is — as the Take That song goes — back for good.
The iconic British boyband of the 90s also did a magnificent cover of Barry Manilow's 'Could It Be Magic', and you suspect Manuel Neuer's return between the Bayern posts will indeed have a touch of mystique to it as he again makes us wonder how he can make the extraordinary seem, well, extra-ordinary.
Bayern boasted the best defensive record in the Bundesliga last season — as they have for each of the last six campaigns — despite the world's number one number one playing just three matches, all clean sheets, of course. Sven Ulreich shone as his deputy, but nothing beats Neuer, in so many ways…"Manuel has a presence and is an authority in goal that you can't really compare to anyone else," Heynckes said. Anyone want to argue with that? Nope, thought not.