FC Bayern showing championship form once again
Munich - We've been here before. Many times this season, and season's past. FC Bayern München win a couple of matches, and the press, the fans - all naysayers days earlier - believe the club will go on a tear and get back on top. After Munich's impressive 1-0 win in the Champions League against holders Inter Milan at the San Siro, it may be time to start believing again.
And this time it could be different. This run has not started with a win against Cluj from Romania, sandwiched between expected romps versus Bielefeld and Bochum. We are talking about a conquest on the road, against a strong European opponent, basically the same team that upstaged Bayern in the Cup Final in the Spring. Before that, a tough league road win versus Mainz who are over-achieving this year and dealt Munich their lone loss at home earlier this year.
Despite the (usual) rumblings from the coaching staff and team management, the starting squad is stable, healthy and productive. Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben finally look fit and if they stay that way, they will come in with fresher legs after being off most of the fall and winter. Mario Gomez, who has disappointed his first year and half in red, got inspiration by the Chilean miner who he shares his name and started scoring goals (I thought it was because I wore his jersey at an indoor football tournament and scored the most goals for my team - I will still take credit for this). How he attacked the goal after the save on Robben's shot is exactly what he should do - clean up everything at the goal mouth, and finally he's recovered his radar.
The surprise change in goalkeeper, one that could have ruined the chemistry of the team, is a smart one. Jörg Butt was tremendous in their almost treble a year ago, but if Bayern want to become a powerhouse, youth is needed between the pipes. Head coach Louis van Gaal looked to the long run and committed to getting the youngster Thomas Kraft on the pitch. Kraft made some key stops last night, and his confidence can only grow a match like that one. Van Gaal's next move needs to be to shore up the defense, but if the team continues to score as they have and goalkeeper who can stop all those shots, one or two mistakes may not cost them (ok, let's wait on that theory).
Regardless, the timing could not have been better. Bayern are now in the most critical part of their season. Top-of-the-table and unofficial Bundesliga Champions 2010-2011 Borussia Dortmund visit the Allianz Arena Saturday night. A win will not catapult Munich back into the title race...yet. It only serves as a way for them to stay close to Bayer Leverkusen, who occupy second place and the automatic Champions League spot for the league. Leverkusen face a tough road assignment on Sunday at Werder Bremen. Munich are the best home squad this season, but Dortmund have already beaten Bayern 2-0 and are playing extraordinary football this season. FCB can only hope that a dominating win against BVB will get them on losing streak and tighten up the race.
On Wednesday, FC Schalke are in town for the German DFB Pokal domestic cup semi-final - winner moves on to the final in Berlin in May. After that, two matches against teams nipping at their heels - Hannover 96 and Hamburger SV. And to cap it all off, Inter are in town for the second leg with a little revenge in mind and the stakes a bit higher.
But before all that, Bayern has to focus on the next match, and that's Dortmund. "We will enjoy this victory for only a blink of an eye," explained Bayern executive and German football legend Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. "Unfortunately we have another important match on Saturday, and it is then we need to continue our play."
If Bayern are going to win any hardware, the coming matches will keep their hopes alive. Maybe you should start believing... after they beat Dortmund.