The show that Bayern Munich put on in the Bundesliga rocked the house. The shots reverberated off the stadium walls, the skill sucked the air out of the astonished crowd, and the delicate passing painted a tableau of pitch precision.
Clinching the 24th championship in Berlin on Tuesday, Bayern now has seven weeks of glorified friendlies as the club concludes its Rückrunde schedule. Sure, matches like the Klassiker and Bavarian derbies are on the docket, but the vehemence is now absent with the drive towards the championship now in neutral.
Nevertheless, the show is not over. Before the Rekordmeister packs up its instruments and breaks down the stage, Bayern can still give an encore performance that is a vivacious spectacle.
Player competition is a primary factor why the show must go on. If Bayern were to play a cup final tomorrow, only six players are shoo-ins to suit up: Manuel Neuer, Franck Ribéry, Mario Mandzukic, Philipp Lahm, David Alaba, and Dante. Others might be close, but the players allegedly behind them in the depth chart are nipping at their heals for a spot.
The vying for the final five spots in the side will be the internal inferno that powers the engine of the players. The next seven weeks will be an open tryout, an inner squabble to raise one's game above the rest. Complacency was a nuisance when the roles were defined; with a majority of the squad healthy, the extra bodies provide extra fodder to kept form and fitness high.
If that incentive is insufficient, unbroken records are still apparent. For instance, no Bundesliga club has ever gone an entire season unbeaten; doing so would break the record for least losses in a season, a mark Bayern set in 2012/13 when only losing one match. An unbeaten season may also result in the highest point total in a season, which Bayern also set in 2012/13 at 91 points.
The undisputed holy grail of domestic club dominance is within sight as well. On May 26, 1991, AC Milan embarked on an unbeaten streak thought impossible, going 58 matches without a loss. What started as a simple scoreless draw against Parma turned into a run lasted nearly two full years. Currently at 52, Bayern could surpass that run if it does not pick up a loss from now until the end of the season.
Perhaps for that reason alone, Pep Guardiola will retain a measure of urgency in his squad selections. By the same token the securement of the title presents the first year gaffer with a blank score, one that he can fiddle around with. The tactician side of his management can be suppressed a bit, allowing the latent artistry of his responsibilities to come to the fore.
The summer exhibitions saw Guardiola put Lahm in a position rarely played, a tactic eventually executed once the depth in holding midfield became barren. The winter break allowed for the mid-season experimentation with a diamond in defense in order to put two forwards into his set-up. What comes over the next few weeks will not be as drastic, but the details Guardiola can tweak and churn is the fascinating prospect.
After all, what Guardiola has at his disposal in chess pieces is not the front row of pawns but rather the back row of knights, bishops, rooks, queens and kings. With a heterogeneous hoard of world-class talent, the Spaniard can put players in positions that may seem rash to the naked eye but ingeniously placed in the intricacies. A Xherdan Shaqiri might find a home in a deeper spot on the pitch, while an Alaba could move centrally to a play-making role. Possibilities that were once fantasies might become long-term solutions to a complex collection of pitch-hungry players.
A shuffle also presents the potential of reserve players breaching the surface with the senior squad. Emre Can benefited greatly from the six-game coast from last season, one that might have sealed his loan move to UEFA Champions League qualifier Bayer 04 Leverkusen. Julian Green, Alessandro Schöpf, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Mitchell Weiser are all players who do not play in televised matches, and all have raw talent that the countries they represent want showcased.
The effort forged into clinching the title nearly two months early has a unique reward, and now Bayern can spend that handsome prize by giving an encore of football class.