Harding’s Hark - The Inside Story: Snow and Records Fall in Moscow
A 3-1 win in a snowy Moscow sees FC Bayern Munich continue their footballing rampage of Europe, nonchalantly breaking records in the process. Jonathan Harding muses on the latest outing from Guardiola’s men.
It rarely matters where or who Bayern Munich play these days. A traffic-ridden, snow-covered, midweek journey to Moscow threatened to derail the record-champions though. Wait a minute. Did it really? Even in extremely cold conditions, on a crumbling pitch, Bayern won 3-1. There might have been a few moments where breath was drawn, but Bayern were never in danger of losing. In fact, that word has almost been forgotten at the club. Their win in Moscow made them the first side ever to win 10 UEFA Champions League games in a row, a run that started after that shock, 2-0 home defeat to Arsenal in the second leg of the last 16 of last year’s competition.
After clearing their eyes and warming their legs, Arjen Robben finished superbly at the near post to give the visitors a half-time lead. The hosts had their chances, Keisuke Honda in particular, but after more acclimatisation and a change of gloves, Mario Götze changed the game in Bayern’s favour for the second time in the space of four days with a superb solo goal in the second half. Having overcome those initial injury concerns, the 21-year-old has finally started to hit the form his €37 million price tag suggests he is worth. A frantic period of play followed as Honda finally got on the scoresheet (from the spot), before Thomas Mueller converted a penalty for Bayern which was awarded after Götze had hit the post.
Tactically, Guardiola reverted to a slightly more familiar set up after the odd surprise in the weekend’s game against Borussia Dortmund. Captain Philipp Lahm was originally the solitary holding midfielder but it wasn’t long before, Javi Martinez dropped deep and Lahm roamed in between the Spaniard and the attacking four. Lahm’s injury in the opening half an hour – a suspected pulled hamstring but the pull is seemingly not as severe as first considered – didn’t affect Bayern as a busy Thiago impressed on his return. While Toni Kroos excelled yet again, Jan Kirchhoff’s 10-minute cameo at the end added some unnecessary nerves to the finish and suggested the former Mainz man has a long way to go. There was a special moment for American youth striker Julian Green who came on for his Bayern debut in the closing stages. The striker has yet to decide for which country he will play, having both Germany at the USA available to him. Nevertheless, how (and if) Guardiola moulds him will no doubt having a bearing on that decision.
Fielding a strong side against CSKA surprised many, particularly as Bayern had already qualified before the game. There’s a lot to be said for the building of momentum though, and Guardiola certainly has got that with this team. Since the start of the league season, the Spaniard has yet to taste defeat in his 20 competitive fixtures. They’ve won all 15 of their home games in 2013 (two left), conceded a league fewest of seven goals, and are the first side ever in the Bundesliga to have collected 35 points after 13 games. If Guardiola avoids defeat in his next two league games, he will hold the record for the longest undefeated streak as a new manager in the Bundesliga (15). Bayern have also gone 38 games undefeated and scored in 50 consecutive games in the league. Who would be the visiting Eintracht Braunschweig this weekend? Quite.
How before we see past the monotony and realise what is actually happening here? How long before the suggestion of this side being a candidate to become the first ever double treble-winners no longer sounds absurd? Now seems as good as time as ever.