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Harding’s Hark - The Inside Story: Improvement 

In the opening fixture of Bayern Munich’s UEFA Champions League defence, the home side strolled to a 3-0 victory against CSKA Moscow on a chilly Tuesday night in Munich. Jonathan Harding dissects the action.

As much as playing Philipp Lahm in defensive midfield was partly due to limited options (injury), it is frustrating to see the best right back in the world moved out of position. There is something in Guardiola’s desire to broaden Lahm’s already vast capabilities by playing him in that role, but replacing him with Rafinha weakens the team. As ever though, the captain busied himself with reorganising, creating and preventing (particularly in the first half) exactly in the manner Guardiola would have hoped for.

CSKA were without two leading talents in attack (Doumbia and Dzagoev) but with Keisuke Honda, they still had a playmaker capable of inflicting damage. Conceding early, considering their one-striker formation, hampered them but that doesn’t give Bayern enough credit. They were aggressive in the opening quarter of an hour and perhaps should have had more had Mario Mandžukić been both more fortunate and composed. By the time the second goal came around, CSKA went limp and the contest ended before it really began.

Bayern’s communication was improved from the weekend but there was still room for improvement – the best example coming when Mandzukic inadvertently took the ball off Arjen Robben on the edge of the box midway through the first half. The same could be said for movement, as the likes of Toni Kroos or Robben regularly had no runners when they found a yard or two on the edge of the area. Thomas Müller, last year’s space-finding master, had one of his most forgettable games in Bayern colours. Rather surprisingly, the midfielder seems to have lost his sense of direction amidst Guardiola’s tactical revolution.

Cheer up Pep! There are signs of improvement. Photo: DPA

Franck Ribéry is a fantastic footballer, and he hardly needs a good performance against CSKA Moscow to prove that; his UEFA European Footballer of the Year award will do him just fine. He remains, in this illustrious Bayern squad, one of the few players that Bayern notice when absent. The speed of his footwork and his movement make him one of the most ruthless wingers in the modern game.

The question of motivation was raised on the weekend. Frankly, Bayern are never going to be as motivated as much as last year because the circumstances are nowhere near as intense. You simply cannot replace the drive that came from the hurt they had after losing that final to Chelsea at home and the pain that came with being ousted domestically by Dortmund. Those things don’t exist this year, but Guardiola’s ambitions do.

The first 20 minutes of the second half strolled by. Bayern were in control, CSKA weren’t going even threatening to threaten and it was a case of if and when Bayern fancied another. Moments of individual brilliance, such as David Alaba’s scoop pass for Arjen Robben’s volley (Bayern’s third goal) are the ones that Guardiola is relying on his side utilising after patient possession.

As much as Group D is not this year’s “Group of Death”, Bayern are growing and learning under Guardiola and so each game, particularly in Europe, becomes a lesson and should therefore not be discarded too swiftly. Against CSKA, Bayern may have continued to stumble over a few of their minor lines, but they improved their delivery and were deservedly rewarded. It wasn’t an emotional performance, but it was certainly an improvement.

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