Rewind to a year ago, when FC Bayern München was second best in everything they did. The season was filled more with hope that the dominance of the past, add another dish to a pantheon of Munich football. Fast forward back to Friday, and now skepticism on whether the dominance will continue fills the air with judgement and mistrust.
That brings a realization of all fandom. Life is always better on the way up, but once you're at the top, doubt becomes a splinter in your mind, for you know that the way down is inevitable, no matter how big it is.
Josep "Pep" Guardiola is walking into the toughest job in football history, for he is the first successor to a manager who won the hallowed European Treble. He has embraced this challenge with open arms, and bold may be the simplest way to describe the 42-year-old.
With the Bundesliga opener against Borussia Mönchengladbach on Friday, Guardiola is embarking on a campaign that can have only one result, Bundesliga title number 24. While arbitrary, anything less than that will be a failure.
After all, jobs hinge on the performance in the Bundesliga. FC Bayern let go of Louis Van Gaal after falling 14 points behind Dortmund after 28 matches and Felix Magath after falling six points behind Bremen and Schalke after 18 matches.
With a target on Bayern's back, the Bundesliga will not be as smooth sailing as last year, which will make for a stressful, yet entertaining, campaign.
Evaluating the Squad
The story all preseason was the apparent demise of the 4-2-3-1, a formation that FC Bayern employed in the last two years under Jupp Heynckes. Pep's 4-1-4-1 has provided a lot of possession in conjunction with conservative chance creation, and it has morphed into a 4-3-3 at times to make way for more of a holding pattern.
What comes with added squad depth in Thiago Alcantara, Mario Götze, and Jan Kirchhoff may be the death of the defined Starting XI. With health, Bayern are at least two deep at every position. The sprouting rotation system from last year could blossom into an effective remedy to the jam-packed schedule.
The real controversy could come at the top, where incumbent starter Mario Mandzukic had only made one start during die Roten's preseason cup runs before his cap in the DFB Pokal against Schwarz-Weiß Rehden. While Claudio Pizarro has spent a little time up top, Müller is the flavor of the month, looking like he's warming the seat until Götze makes his Munich debut.
While it seems futile, patterns always arise in the Starting XI, and here is a lineup that could prove most consistent in the biggest Bundesliga games, assuming health.
Ribéry – Götze – Müller
Kroos – Schweinsteiger – Thiago
Alaba – Dante – Martínez – Lahm
12/13 Table Finish: 2nd, 66 pts., +39 GD
Key Player: Robert Lewandowski
Key Gain: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyan (Saint Etienne)
Key Loss: Mario Götze (FC Bayern München)
FC Bayern Matchday: 13 / 30
Single Sentence Summary: With Lewandowski on his way out, Dortmund will try and collect as much silverware as possible.
Projected Finish: 2nd
Bayer 04 Leverkusen
12/13 Table Finish: 3rd, 65 pts., +26 GD
Key Player: Stefan Kießling
Key Gain: Heung Min Son (Hamberger SV)
Key Loss: Andre Schürrle (Chelsea FC)
FC Bayern Matchday: 8 / 25
Single Sentence Summary: With a little additional squad depth than two years ago, maybe a Champions League run and a Bundesliga campaign will be easier than in years past.
Projected Finish: 4th
FC Schalke 04
12/13 Table Finish: 4th, 55 pts., +8 GD
Key Player: Julian Draxler
Key Gain: Ádam Szalai (1. FSV Mainz 05)
Key Loss: Ibrahim Afellay (FC Barcelona, loan return)
FC Bayern Matchday: 6 / 23
Single Sentence Summary: Starting slow could put Jens Keller out of a job, and they have always struggled with a two-front battle (Champions League and Bundesliga).
Projected Finish: 5th
12/13 Table Finish: 5th, 51 pts., +5 GD
Key Player: Jonathan Schmid
Key Gain: Admir Mehmedi (FC Dynamo Kiev)
Key Loss: Daniel Caligiuri (VfL Wolfsburg)
FC Bayern Matchday: 4 / 21
Single Sentence Summary: Over coming the loss of Daniel Caligiuri and Max Kruse may be too much for the unexpected Europa League qualifier.
Projected Finish: 8th
12/13 Table Finish: 6th, 51 pts., +3 GD
Key Player: Alexander Meier
Key Gain: Joselu (TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, loan)
Key Loss: Karim Matmour (1. FC Kaiserslautern)
FC Bayern Matchday: 2 / 19
Single Sentence Summary: Unless the team, and Meier, get off to a similar hot start, they are simply and historically an ordinary mid-table team.
Projected Finish: 9th
12/13 Table Finish: 7th, 48 pts., -11 GD
Key Player: Rafael van der Vaart
Key Gain: Johan Djourou (Arsenal, loan)
Key Loss: Heung Min Son (Bayer 04 Leverkusen)
FC Bayern Matchday: 16 / 33
Single Sentence Summary: Until they solve their problems at the back, they will be trending in the wrong direction.
Projected Finish: 12th
12/13 Table Finish: 8th, 47 pts., -4 GD
Key Player: Patrick Hermann
Key Gain: Max Kruse (SC Freiburg)
Key Loss: Mike Hanke (SC Freiburg)
FC Bayern Matchday: 1 / 18
Single Sentence Summary: A team of young players that has the right veteran guidance can be a very special thing, especially a hard-to-break-down team like this one.
Projected Finish: 3rd
12/13 Table Finish: 9th, 45 pts. -2 GD
Key Player: Szabolcs Huszti
Key Gain: Edgar Prib (Greuther Fürth)
Key Loss: Mohamed Abdellaoue (VfB Stuttgart)
FC Bayern Matchday: 5 / 22
Single Sentence Summary: A balanced team that can focus on just on the league can make moves, and picking up Prib and Bittencourt adds a little more excitement.
Projected Finish: 6th
1. FC Nürnberg
12/13 Table Finish: 10th, 44 pts., -8 GD
Key Player: Hiroshi Kiyotake
Key Gain: Josip Drmic (FC Zürich)
Key Loss: Timm Klose (VfL Wolfsburg)
FC Bayern Matchday: 3 / 20
Single Sentence Summary: A team that struggles with the relegation zone has the upside of a mid-table side, with not a lot of world-class talent to work with.
Projected Finish: 14th
12/13 Table Finish: 11th, 43 pts., -5 GD
Key Player: Diego
Key Gain: Daniel Caligiuri (SC Freiburg)
Key Loss: Simon Kjær (Lille OSC)
FC Bayern Matchday: 7 / 24
Single Sentence Summary: They may be one move away from putting the final touches on an expensive plan, but this time it could pay dividends.
Projected Finish: 7th
12/13 Table Finish: 12th, 43 pts., -16 GD
Key Player: Vedad Ibišević
Key Gain: Mohamed Abdellaoue (Hannover 96)
Key Loss: Shinji Okazaki (1. FSV Mainz)
FC Bayern Matchday: 17 / 34
Single Sentence Summary: The effects of the Europa League have taken their toll, although they seem to find success in one-off games nonetheless.
Projected Finish: 10th
1. FSV Mainz 05
12/13 Table Finish: 13th, 42 pts., -2 GD
Key Player: Nikolai Müller
Key Gain: Shinji Okazaki (VfB Stuttgart)
Key Loss: Ádam Szalai (FC Schalke 04)
FC Bayern Matchday: 9 / 26
Single Sentence Summary: A few young players – like Müller and Shawn Parker – need to step up, while the veterans – like Zdenek Pospěch and Andreas Ivanschitz – to maintain in order to be a competitive side.
Projected Finish: 13th
SV Werder Bremen
12/13 Table Finish: 14th, 34 pts., -16 GD
Key Player: Aaron Hunt
Key Gain: Nils Petersen (FC Bayern München)
Key Loss: Kevin De Bruyne (Chelsea FC, loan return)
FC Bayern Matchday: 15 / 32
Single Sentence Summary: With a club heading into a different direction with Robin Dutt, they still have attacking options to shoot themselves into mid-table.
Projected Finish: 11th
12/13 Table Finish: 15th, 33 pts., -18 GD
Key Player: Tobias Werner
Key Gain: Raphael Holzhauser (VfB Stuttgart, loan)
Key Loss: Ja-Cheol Koo (VfL Wolfsburg, loan return)
FC Bayern Matchday: 12 / 29
Single Sentence Summary: A team promoted two seasons ago will once again be put to the brink of relegation, not to survive.
Projected Finish: 16th
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim
12/13 Table Finish: 16th, 31 pts., -25
Key Player: Koen Casteels
Key Gain: Anthony Modeste (FC Girondins de Bordeaux)
Key Loss: Danny Williams (Reading)
FC Bayern Matchday: 11 / 28
Single Sentence Summary: A former mid-table side is slipping and continues to horde mediocre talent, and their goalkeeping conundrum will push them down a level.
Projected Finish: 17th
Hertha Berlin SC
12/13 Table Finish: 1st, 76 pts., +37 GD (Bundesliga 2.)
Key Player: Ronny
Key Gain: Alexander Baumjohann (1. FC Kaiserslautern)
Key Loss: Arturo Morales (FC Inglostadt)
FC Bayern Matchday: 10 / 27
Single Sentence Summary: A young team on the tails of a promotion will push for a mid-30 point total to try and make their way back up the table.
Projected Finish: 15th
TSV Eintracht Braunschweig
12/13 Table Finish: 2nd, 67 pts., +18 GD (Bundesliga 2.)
Key Player: Dominick Kumbela
Key Gain: Simeon Jackson (Norwich City FC)
Key Loss: Oliver Petersch (Arminia Bielefeld)
FC Bayern Matchday: 14 / 31
Single Sentence Summary: Recently promoted sides have gotten relegated seven out of the last eight seasons, and Braunschweig will make that eight out of nine.
Projected Finish: 18th
FC Bayern München
12/13 Table Finish: 1st, 91 pts., +80 GD
Key Player: Bastian Schweinsteiger
As much as other players get lauded for their efforts, Schweinsteiger has been at the center of FC Bayern's second Bundesliga title in four years. When he is out due to injury, the team is just not the same, and the midfield is less organized. The team has always gone as Schweinsteiger has gone, and they will need the 29-year-old to sustain his form, and his health.
Key Gain: Mario Götze (Borussia Dortmund)
The most disappointing to Götze's Bundesliga campaign could only be that we will not get to see him right away. The change in philosophy and formation was partly due to his addition, and now that Bayern has Germany's top young talent once again, they could prove invincible.
Key Loss: Mario Gómez (AS Fiorentina)
With feelings of obsoletism, Gómez decided to take his talents Italy, like Miroslav Klose before him. With him left a four year philosophy of a direct goal poacher, and a focal point at the top of the formation. Now that he is gone, Bayern will have to focus on a completely balanced approach, without someone sitting in the box to target.
Single Sentence Summary: With depth, quality, and history on their sides, Bayern will be the favorites, and they will not disappoint.
Projected Finish: 1st