In years past, I've been extremely excited for the Bundesliga to start anew, it being one of the most thrilling competitions and leagues in world sport. This year however, it's almost a sense of relief that seems to be prevailing over my usual excitement; relief that the offseason is over and much of this speculation regarding who Guardiola favors and who he does not prefer and which formation will be used can finally be put to rest when the team actually takes the field. Not to mention the questions about which plaid shirt Pep will wear and when the lineups will be announced/from which vehicle and where Toni Kroos and Thiago Alcantara will fit into things and if the new white shirt will be CURSED and if Pep is over-complicating the game and if Hamit Altintop is the missing piece to the false-9 puzzle will, we can only hope and beg, be answered. Or better yet, those asking them will return to drooling over their Playmobil sets.
Most of all, it's just nice to have real and important matches to talk about again. Matches that build towards something, not just a one-off cup that only the winners ever try to prove is worth the expense in precious metals used in casting the actual trophy. And not a meaningful match against less-than-capable opposition, either. Not too much can be learned from the Rehden match, I'm afraid, at least regarding the starting players and tactics.
In that sense, here it is, our refuge, the Bundesliga. And this, the 51st edition, begins right where we left off last May: facing up against perennial pebble-in-our-left-loafer Borussia Mönchengladbach.
You may recall that match as being Bayern's most horrid defensive performance of the season (three goals conceded in the first ten minutes) followed by spectacular goal after spectacular goal from Ribery and Robben. Or also as an appropriate Bundesliga farewell for Gladbach and now Bayern legend Jupp Heynckes.
But previous matches against this team have left the Bavarians much worse off. The final match of the Hinrunde was a lackluster (1-1) draw in Munich that surprised many, and in the 2011-12 season Gladbach beat Bayern home and away, a little less shocking since that team still had Marco Reus (and Dante for that matter). Later that season, though, Bayern did knock Die Fohlen out of the DFB-Pokal in the semifinals by winning the penalty shootout that resulted after 120 minutes of scoreless play. In the two season previous to that, Gladbach managed two draws against Bayern as well, and those were much weaker sides that had just reached the Bundesliga again and had to win the relegation play-off in 2011. Over time, though, the series hasn't been so close.
Bayern have amassed a 47-27-20 record in league play and have never lost in Cup play, winning six times and drawing once.
Last weekend, both teams faced up against some of the relative minnows of the German footballing landscape, but only one managed to progress. Gladbach let 3.Liga team SV Darmstadt push them all the way to penalties- and were punished dearly for it.
The shootout went 8 shots without a miss, until Branimir Hrgota smashed the crossbar with his attempt and sent the third-tier team to the next round.
Bayern, on the other hand, took care of their business in a (5-0) win in Osnabrück against BSV Schwarz-Weiß Rehden which saw Thomas Müller get a hattrick.
Historically, there is certainly some bad blood between the two sides. Both jostled for dominance in the 1970's and Gladbach won the league three times in a row when Bayern were at the peak of their European dominance.
In the 1980's, Bayern transfer target Lothar Matthäus suited up to face his future club in the final of the DFB-Pokal and the match went to penalties. Matthäus missed his kick (some thought rather suspiciously as Bayern had already promised a record transfer sum of 2.25 million Deutsche Marks for him) and Die Roten went on to win the shootout.
Another FCB legend, Stefan Effenberg, got his start at Gladbach before joining the Bavarians in 1990. After two trophy-less seasons Effe moved to Fiorentina, got relegated with the club, and returned to Mönchengladbach before coming back to Bayern for a second and final time. In this final stint with the club, Der Tiger famously guided the team to their 2001 Champions League victory over Valencia, helped by Effenberg's game-tying penalty that helped send the match to extra time.
As for more current players to suit up for both teams, Bayern's Dante made the switch a little over a year ago for what has turned out to be a bargain price of 5 million Euro. And of course, though not a player to switch sides, Jupp Heynckes started as one of Gladbach's best ever players before managing them and Bayern on multiple occasions. He scored nine goals against Bayern in his time with Die Fohlen.
Tactically, we can expect to see a 4-1-4-1 since that seems to be the prevailing formation over the last month or so. As for who will occupy those spots? What we know is that Ribery and Robben will play if fit, and that Lahm, Neuer, Dante and Alaba are near locks while Schweinsteiger looks to be a starter as well. The questions come with the fourth defender, as one of two possibilities exist. First, Pep could play Javi Martinez in a distribution roll alongside Dante. Alternatively, he could start a pure defender, likely Boateng (who has decent passing skills for a defender).
The situation in the midfield and up top gets a little more complicated. With Schweinsteiger in the pivot (or the first "1" in 4-1-4-1) it will be interesting to see if Guardiola goes with a player like Thiago or Kroos centrally next to Müller. Or, Thomas Müller could be the forward in this formation (instead of Mandzukic) with both Thiago and Kroos in the central midfield. Once more, for the most complicated and out-of-natural-position lineup possible, Pep could play Martinez in defense, Müller up top and Kroos and Thiago inside of a Robbery wing duo if he feels so inclined.
Flexibility, ladies and gentlemen. That did not exist in 2011. And I never even mentioned Shaqiri or Kirchhoff.
Match time from the Allianz Arena is 20:30 on your limited edition Christian Ude Bavarian cuckoo clock and 1:30 in the afternoon for the North/Central/South Americans who happen to be centrally positioned on the continent.
Enjoy the match, enjoy the season, the Bundesliga is back.