Bayern Munich players featured in 26 of the 64 World Cup matches, and half of their participating players were able to lift the gold-plated mango at the end of the 20th running of the World's greatest single-sport competition. The 18 goals the players scored were more than any other club in the world, and even though Bayern tied Manchester United for most players at the World Cup, the rate of players advancing to the next stage of competition went unmatched.
With such a good showing, the hope for Bayern now is that those performances can be extrapolated back to the club level. After all, there is hopefully a 53-match docket that Bayern is hoping to complete, which will put the club once again in a position to add to their extensive hardware.
Since the players were isolated in unique situations, watching the 26 matches provided a unique perspective of their talents and skill sets. Picking out their individual performances was much simpler, leading to a much better evaluation of a showing on any given day.
Here are the things I learned from Bayern's World Cup:
- Jérôme Boateng cannot close down the ball, but that is ok: The Joachim Löw experiment of the all-center-back defense provided what Germany needed in the group stage, giving them seven points and two clean sheets in three games. The return of Philipp Lahm to defense signified the limitations of that set-up. Boateng's play as a fullback was adequate to the situation, but he remains too gangly to close the ball down above pedestrian levels. That attribute is critical for a fullback, but not so much as a center back. When Boateng moved back into the center of defense, his clearance and interception abilities made him a better option than Per Mertesacker, who Löw relied upon four years ago in the later stages of the tournament. As long as he is not pulled out wide, he remains one of the best stalwarts in the modern game.
- Arjen Robben is better when the shackles come off: Louis van Gaal was predisposed very early in the World Cup process that Robben was his best player. Van Gaal thus set Robben free, allowing him to make his predictable yet unstoppable runs into attack. He pranced through the open space afforded to him like a gazelle, frequently creating goal-scoring chances for a relatively inexperienced Netherlands team. Pep Guardiola's leash on him a year ago was relatively loose as well, but the leash was nevertheless present. After playing strictly as a right midfielder for most of his career, maybe that is not his best position, but rather in a free, central role.
- Manuel Neuer is really good, and we take that for granted: Neuer's World Cup was perhaps as spectacular as a goalkeeper's World Cup ever could be. What some fail to recognize is that his octopus-esque abilities are not new. If he was not wearing that sapphire blue kit last season, Bayern would not have been in the position they were at the end of the season. The defensive mistakes would have led to goals, the goals would have led to dropped points, and dropped points could have led to a major restructuring of the club that is Bayern. Savor every moment he plays, for this kind of showcase does not come around very often.
- At 36, Daniel van Buyten can still play at the highest level: whatever pace he had in his spry days is gone, but every other attribute in his repertoire has diminished in the finest of margins. With Vincent Kompany's fitness issues, van Buyten was Belgium's best defender, marking the some of his opponents' best players. The only time he appeared beaten was off of a fortunate deflection that fell to Gonzalo Higuaín, which he smashed first time to give Argentina the lead in the Quarterfinals. Marc Wilmots even called upon van Buyten to be the target man in search of an equalizer, pushing him higher than Romelu Lukaku. He is out-of-contract at the moment, and whichever club convinces him to join them will be exponentially better defensively.
- Super Mario Götze is a super-sub, a role he should embrace for now: for both club and country, Götze is grouped with several players whose talents equal and exceed his. Luckily, he has nonetheless found a significant enough role in both squads, breaking into the starting XI while some of his mates were unable to. However, at the end of his club season, he expressed his frustrations with a bench role, not having a secure place in the side. With his talents ever-growing, what he should recognize is that his time is coming, and it might manifest sooner than he can forecast. Turing 22 years old last month, a super-sub role suits him well, for a third of his goals in all competition have come from off the bench. It is a role that he should embrace, but more importantly, one that Guardiola should utilize frequently in his second season.
Be sure to add what you learned from this iteration of the World Cup, whether about Bayern or anybody else!