Saying so is cliché, but even as advanced as television and broadcasting technology has become, nothing compares to seeing Bayern Munich play in real life.
Both Samrin Hasib and I headed to Red Bull Arena to watch the Audi Football Summit between the Rekordmeister and Chivas Guadalajara. The stadium was filled with a sea of red, supporting both Bayern and Chivas, and the game time temperature could not have been more perfect.
Trapped behind the prison wall that is the Atlantic Ocean, it was the first experience for both of us to see die Roten with our own two eyes. We were six rows away from the field, the quaint arena walls immersing us in the Fußball experience.
Here are some observations from the stands of Bayern's 1-0 victory against Chivas.
- Gianluca Gaudino is a very intelligent player – At 17, Gaudino appeared as a toddler compared to the brute, mature force of the players around him. Even so, his imprint on the match was very noticeable. His on-the-ball skills are raw, but his movement off the ball is clinical for a teenager. Playing all over the pitch in the preseason, the holding midfield role Guardiola had him in suited him well. With the preseason he has had, Gaudino looks poised for a promotion to the reserves right now.
- Sebastian Rode worked his butt off – Many have long considered Rode a box-to-box midfielder, but last night he was a goal-line to goal-line midfielder. He played a part in the high press, sprinting after the Chivas defenders in the corner, and substituted in defense when Alaba, Martínez, or Rafinha came forward. Whispers of a loan hissed through the tabloids at the end of the 2013/14 season, but every pound of his feet and bob of his head is filled with the determination to stay in Munich. The most important part of his preseason is that Guardiola is committed to putting him on the pitch.
- Juan Bernat is not a fully developed wingback – Getting consistent minutes as a 21-year-old is an impressive accomplishment, but that does not mean Bernat is fully ready to be a week-in, week-out player. He is very astute defensively, marking his fellow flankers well and maintaining aggressiveness without making the referee blow his whistle. His attacking capability is underwhelming though and lagging a bit behind. Guardiola has placed him several times in attacking positions, perhaps to try and develop his offensive game. Even with this apparent minor deficiency, he offers a great complement to the bonafide attacking fullback that Alaba is.
- Bayern is, in fact, playing with five defenders – In a constant definition battle, the new three-center-back setup has wafered between a back-three and a back-five. The naked-eye analysis, however, that Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Juan Bernat were pinned back next to Rafinha and David Alaba respectively. There was even a pause in the action where Bayern spelled out their 5-2-3 formation in bold print. The formation is very flexible, many parts interchanging as players came forward, but the flexibility caused some nerve-raking results. One especially came when Alaba was playing as a sweeper and the ball sailed over his leaping head to Carlos Fierro.
- The fouls against Bayern were very soft – Bayern collected two yellow cards – one for Martínez, one for Rafinha – but the calls that went against them were due to staging from Chivas. Their acting was worse than Shia Labouf in the Transformers movies, and yet Jose Rivero obliged to Chivas's cast of characters. Since the match was a preseason friendly, there is not much to read into Bayern's foul disciplinary record anyways. Nonetheless, the putrid theatrical display was more aggravating to see in person.
- A Bayern-dominated crowd – With the diverse population of New York City, one can imagine the melting pot of fanatics that would appear to see either club play. What was a pleasant surprise was the size of the Bayern horde, which out numbered the Chivas contingent roughly three supporters to one. The stadium was 60 percent full at the opening whistle, but the seats eventually filled in, an attribute of many American sporting experiences. The final attendance was 25,023, although those statistics are not always entirely accurate.
- A Bayern atmosphere – The Bayern-cheering section was in the upper deck behind one of the goals, and they were not short on noise. Red Bull Arena did not play the traditional "Seven Nations Army" by the White Stripes when Claudio Pizarro scored, but instead played the beloved "Stern des Südens". After the final whistle blew, the Bayern München theme song saluted the crowd as they left.
- Pierre-Emile Højbjerg is a big boy – Unlike Gaudino, Højbjerg did not look like his age. His complexion was that of a teenager, but his physique was not. Do not be fooled by his 6-foot height measurement, for solid muscle fills out his robust frame. For those curious whether he can physically last in the center of midfield, be curious no more.
- Claudio Pizarro's hair is amazing – Occasionally drifting to the left, we got a good look at the fabulousness that is Pizarro's hair. It bounces joyfully atop his head as he storms into attack like children jumping up and down on their parents' bed. I have never considered a hair transplant, but if one were to come about, I would only want to swap hair with Claudio Pizarro.
- Holger Badstuber's hands continue to fascinate me – There are many things to like about Badstuber's game, but perhaps my favorite attribute is how he runs around with Tyrannosaurus Rex hands. The farcical habit of his is even more entertaining in person, but I have now developed a theory as to why he does it. When he marked up a Chivas attacker, he revealed how ginormous his hands are. Perhaps he has to curl them in to avoid them flapping around and hampering his game.
Samrin Hasib Recounts Her Experience
It was not a Champions League semifinal, and thankfully for my blood pressure, it was not a European final. It was only but a friendly, a match I had decided to not attend until Davis offered me the chance to do so. Red Bull Arena is only an hour away from my Office and thus my reluctance to travel might sound strange.
Yet, I am glad I attended the match. I will never come closer to Robert Lewandowski or for that matter, the tiny Gianluca Gaudino. Davis and I were very close to the action, as Davis got us seats very close to the pitch in a stadium which, despite the large number of Spanish speaking supporters, granted its support more to Bayern than to Guadalajara.
Some things just cannot be seen on television broadcasts, such as the fact that Tom Starke is not bald (Davis actually noticed first) and the fact that Claudio Pizarro’s hair is even more perfect than when seen in pictures. Aside from styles, other things which cannot be noticed are just how the formation changes constantly throughout the match. Bayern started with a 5-2-3 which became a 3-5-2/3-4-3 when they attacked. Following substitutions, they defended as a 5-3-2 but attacked with a four man backline.
Some moves on the night overwhelmed me such as Lewa’s clever back-heel as well as Javier Martinez’s constant interceptions on the back. Sebastian Rode and Gaudino were fun to watch while Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg appeared bigger and much more physical to me. Watching Franck Ribery run rings around Chivas from time to time and that old man Pizarro score were amazing moments. As I was saying to Davis last night, I do wish they would have put down Lukas Scholl’s strike as an "honorary goal" just because it was created so well (abandon the offside rule!).
Finally, I caught 13 seconds of the match on video and while reviewing it, I realized how loud the surroundings were. The Bayern fans were fantastic all night. After I came home, I had to take a painkiller and I am sure all of you know why.
Had I missed out on this experience, I would have really regretted it. Watching the match alongside someone who understands the game so well was also an honor. And finally getting to watch the team I have supported for more than a third of my lifetime was simply surreal.