The 51st Bundesliga season for Bayern Munich could bring about something no German team has ever done before: four consecutive Bundesliga titles. That record may seem like a footnote in the club's impressive history of success, and yet it is a strange accomplishment that has eluded the Rekordmeister thrice already.
The first failed attempt at four in a row was excusable, for Bayern were preoccupied with winning their second consecutive European Champion Clubs' Cup (now the UEFA Champions League) in the 1974/75 season under legendary head coach Udo Lattek. Lattek won three in a row again a decade later from 1984-87, but replacement Jupp Heynckes could not continue the success after Lattek's first retirement. Bayern's latest shortcoming came under Ottmar Hitzfeld, who won the Bundesliga in each of his first three seasons – after winning the Bundesliga/UEFA Champions League double in 2001.
Now Bayern have yet another opportunity to complete the outstanding four-peat in their latest run of football dominance. Like Hitzfeld, Pep Guardiola has won two titles in his first two seasons, and will try to manage a third while simultaneously lifting the UEFA Champions League trophy. The Bundesliga field has improved greatly since Bayern started this quest, casting doubts on whether four consecutive league titles will ever be possible for a German club.
How can Bayern add yet another record to their outstanding legacy? Here are five keys for the Rekordmeister to win their fourth consecutive Bundesliga title.
1. Balancing the best XI with effective squad rotation
Every success and every issue ultimately leeds back to how effectively Guardiola can rotate the squad throughout the season. Bayern are consistently playing over 50 matches a season in recent years with four consecutive trips to the DFB-Pokal and Champions League semifinals. The club made aggressive efforts to refresh the squad, Guardiola still relies on several players to get over 3500 minutes throughout the season.
Rotation is not something Guardiola has done effectively in his first two years at Bayern. More often than not, he trotted out what he believes to be his best XI until the Bundesliga title is in his hands, underutilizing squad players like Sebastian Rode and Xherdan Shaqiri as a consequence. Even when squad issuesmade many team sheet decisions for him, he still had a certain "circle of trust" he relied upon more often than not.
That aspect to his management is not necessarily a bad thing, for he knew his best XI for most of the season. He played his inform players effectively in his first two seasons, even if it seems he is stuffing his team sheet like a sleeping bag. The issues he had with results arose when he wanted to give some of those players a breather, and the squad pieces behind his stars were not prepared to step up to the challenge.
Bringing in Douglas Costa, Joshua Kimmich, and Arturo Vidal to replace Claudio Pizarro, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and Xherdan Shaqiri looks very prudent on paper, but everyone will want to play. Guardiola now has a lot of tools to use, but he has to prevent any of them from collecting too much rust when he needs to use them most.
2. Winning the Herbstmeisterschaft
Bayern's performance in the Hinrunde has not necessarily been an indicator for Bundesliga success throughout their history. However, the Rekordmeister's Bundesliga dominance has come from getting off to a very strong start. The stellar goals allowed record in the 2014/15 Hinrunde was the perfect formula for a post World Cup campaign, which drove them to get out to a big lead by the Winterpause.
Though the gap between them and the rest of the Bundesliga has caused them to let off the gas a little late in the season, several clubs would love to be in a position where they have one less competition to worry about. However, with the emergence of Wolfsburg, the incremental improvement of Bayer Leverkusen, and a rebound from Borussia Dortmund will make the gap smaller. Another strong start to the campaign will relieve some of the stressful situations late in the season, when the pressure of a three-front campaign really kicks in.
3. Taking fitness issues in stride
Though their showing in knockout competitions suffered greatly with the absence of key players last season, Bayern have done a decent job plugging the holes which injuries open. A big reason for that is Guardiola's tactical creativity, grouping together a certain set of players that can still get results on a weekly basis. Even so, Bayern's fitness issues inevitably caught up with them, and in a way the club was fortunate it wrapped up the Bundesliga title when it did.
Bayern's additions and loan returns in the transfer window will go a long way in order to prevent a collapse in form due to fitness issues. Even so, Bayern still have a lot of players getting meaningful minutes who have a lot of tread on their tires. Fitness is a problem rotation can certainly solve, but when fitness issue come about, Bayern need to continue to be sure their squad players can shoulder the load an injured player leaves behind.
4. Improving the record against the Bundesliga's top clubs
Last season's Bundesliga campaign had the worst narrative of the three they have won in recent years. The negativity does not come from the 10-point gap they held over Wolfsburg at the end of the season, although recent harsh Bundesliga standards make that number look more pedestrian. The cynicism comes form Bayern's record against the top teams, one that was not as good as it had been in years past.
That cynicism was somewhat justified, even though there were only two clubs – Borussia Mönchengladbach and Schalke 04 – the Rekordmeister did not defeat at least once. The table below shows how the top six teams performed against each other:
|Bayer 04 Leverkusen||4||2||4||13||16||-3||14|
|FC Schalke 04||3||4||3||9||11||-2||13|
Even with the worst record among top opponents, Bayern's 22 victories against everyone who placed 7-18 – including two victories against Borussia Dortmund – still gave them a convincing margin in the final table. That said, Bayern may not win the title again if they have a run against the top like they had last season. After all, the best way to ensure nobody takes the title from Bayern's clutches is to ensure their opponents do not get the points to do so.
5. Let the new arrivals fuel Bayern's success
While not the most prestigious of trophies in the world – the UEFA Champions League would probably take the cake – to lift the Bundesliga Meisterschale is a very high honor for any footballer. After all, that is what attracts players to Bayern in the first place, whether domestically or internationally.
Arturo Vidal has contributed to seven club championships in his career, but every one of them came in Italy; he did not lift a trophy while he was in Germany with Bayer Leverkusen the first time and did not even lift one with Colo Colo in Chile. Douglas Costa has eleven club trophies to his name, but has not collected one from a top European league before. The only trophy Joshua Kimmich has in his young career is one with the U19 German National Team.
These are all players hungry for trophies. While motivation is something nobody can put a finger on, each have already shown a high work rate and a willingness to do what is best for the team on the field. Those are players Bayern always need in their squad, and could provide a fresh perspective in a clubhouse with players who have achieved almost everything.