Though Pep Guardiola's star ensemble have attracted some criticism - former Arsenal FC goalkeeper Jens Lehmann described their imperious domestic form as "boring" in the Guardian over the weekend - the sheer quality of Bayern's football of late has generally been acknowledged.
‘A class apart’
The British press were particularly impressed with the current Bundesliga leaders’ 3-1 victory over Manchester City FC last October. “The European Champions lived up to every inch of their billing. The eventual two-goal margin does not do justice to the mastery that Bayern had of the ball for long periods,” wrote the Independent. “They pressed very high up the pitch and were fantastic with the ball,” observed Sky expert Graeme Souness immediately after the final whistle, before adding that the visitors’ display at the home of the English champions had been “frightening”.
Souness’ Sky colleague and former Liverpool FC midfielder Jamie Redknapp agreed with his fellow pundit’s sentiments, describing Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm as “a class apart”. Even the Manchester City fans gave Bayern a standing ovation after their heroes had been subjected to a footballing “lesson” – as the Telegraph put it – at the Etihad Stadium.
Special praise has been reserved for Guardiola’s tactical flexibility. The Mirror described Bayern’s display as “a masterclass in passing, movement, thrust and penetration”, while the Guardian was no less complimentary: “Guardiola frequently changes players, positions and formations if he feels that the opposition has found a way to deal with the initial plan. Guardiola’s interventionism often impacts negatively on the flow of Bayern’s football – too many changes can make them disjointed – but they tend to get the job done.”
The Observer, while claiming that hard work plays just as big a role in the Bavarians’ performances as talent and tactical awareness, added that the secret of the team’s secret to success was exemplified by Franck Ribery, whom it described as “a unique combination of artistry, blue-collar work ethic and defensive devotion.”
Ribery missed Bayern’s 2-0 victory over Arsenal FC in the last 16 first-leg tie, allowing Kroos to assume a more “instrumental” role in the side. According to the Daily Mail, the country's second-largest newspaper, the 24-year-old’s “midfield masterclass” taught the Gunners a lesson in keeping the ball.
The way the club is structured has attracted similar plaudits. “The main credit belongs to some truly visionary individuals,” wrote the high-brow Telegraph. "Their decision to subsidise tickets for the away game in London, with fans paying just 45 euros apiece, was symptomatic of a club that must take its supporters seriously."
Risk of complacency
Not everyone in England has jumped on the Bayern bandwagon, however. The Sunday Mirror went as far as to describe Guardiola as a footballing “monarch”, who “has inherited a lot at both clubs he’s managed. He is only the world’s finest manager if you discount the idea of team-building”. In his column for the Daily Telegraph, former Liverpool defender Alan Hansen wrote that “this Bayern team are not yet in the same bracket as Barcelona”, adding that he “would not regard it as a shock” if Bayern failed to defend the trophy they won last May.
There is, according to Hansen, a risk that “complacency or arrogance could catch Bayern out” this season. Arsene Wenger, meanwhile, feels that Real Madrid CF – rather than Bayern – are favourites to win this season’s UEFA Champions League: “This year they still have an awful lot of possession, but I think they’re less dangerous – I think we saw that at Arsenal. Even though we were playing with 10 players they didn’t really create an awful lot.”
Wenger’s predecessor George Graham, however, begs to differ. “The second half of the first leg was like a practice match for Bayern,” the 69-year-old told the BBC. “Personally I’d play a weakened team [on Tuesday] and concentrate on the league rather than on winning the tie, which is nearly impossible.” The Mirror offers an equally bleak outlook ahead of Tuesday’s second leg: “Bayern and Real are the two favourites for the competition, so why not just fast forward straight to the final?” Wenger’s Gunners haven’t yet given up hope of offering a robust response to that very question on Tuesday night.
Raphael Honigstein is a German football expert based in London, renowned for his television work on ITV and his popular column in the Guardian. Honigstein also works as an English football correspondent for the Süddeutsche Zeitung. You can follow him on Twitter at @Honigstein.