Jupp Heynckes' 2017/18 treble chasers: the best Bayern Munich side ever?
They’ve been in a league of their own for a good number of years, but is the class of 2017/18 the best Bayern Munich side ever?
Boasting a nigh on insurmountable 18-point advantage at the top of the standings with 12 rounds of fixtures remaining, Bayern are on course to be crowned Bundesliga champions for a sixth successive time, and 27th overall. A repeat of 2012/13’s historic treble triumph is also on the cards, with Bayern through to the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 and DFB Cup semi-finals – and among the tournament favourites.
Watch: Bayern got the better of Schalke on Bundesliga Matchday 22
Back in 2013, Bayern wrapped up the Bundesliga title with a then record seven matches to spare. They dispatched the likes of Arsenal, Juventus, Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund en route to claiming their first European crown since 2001 and blew the field away in the German cup. In the words of head coach Jupp Heynckes: “FC Bayern have never played a football this modern, this attractive, this contemporary in their whole history.”
It’s hard to disagree – even after three seasons fulfilling almost every football purist’s fantasy under the possession-mad Pep Guardiola (2013-2016). The Heynckes model was different. Rather than insisting on passing teams into submission like his successor, he struck the perfect balance between defence and attack, combining a suffocating pressing game off the ball with a ruthless eye for goal on it. The record German champions – despite having usurped Heynckes’ previous best-mark by becoming the first team in history to win the Bundesliga in March in 2013/14 – have scarcely played so effectively and with such consistency. Until now.
Bayern have won 14 of their 15 Bundesliga matches since Heynckes replaced Carlo Ancelotti at the start of October. In that time, they have gone from being five points adrift of top spot to 18 clear of their nearest pursuers. No other league leader in Europe can claim to have such a sizable gain after 22 matches, and that despite 72-year-old Don Jupp making at least one change to his starting line-up in each of his 15 Bundesliga assignments so far this season. Not that such a regular rotation policy was ever going to be an issue.
In Manuel Neuer, the Reds have the best goalkeeper ever to have played the game and conceivably the most reliable understudy in Sven Ulreich, who has already made 17 top-flight appearances so far this term. FIFA World Cup winners Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels rank as two of the world’s very best centre-backs, with Niklas Süle a genuine world-class alternative for a coach who knows exactly when and how to tinker. No one can hold a candle to full-backs Joshua Kimmich and David Alaba – although Rafinha gets top marks for effort and application – while Bayern’s midfield is stocked to the rafters with match-winners: Thiago Alcantara, Javi Martinez, Sebastian Rudy, Corentin Tolisso and Arturo Vidal.
Bayern are equally blessed in the final third. At the age of 34, wing wizards Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben are still tying up defenders in knots, with Kingsley Coman growing into the role by the week. No one has figured out how to mark inimitable forward Thomas Müller, who raced to 200 Bundesliga wins quicker than any other player last weekend; James Rodriguez has become unplayable in the No.10 role; Robert Lewandowski – on the cusp of a record 11 home goals in a row – cannot stop scoring; and Germany’s Sandro Wagner is a proven and proverbial Plan B not seen since the days of treble winner Mario Gomez. What is more, only five of the aforementioned outfield players – Rafinha, Ribery, Robben, Vidal and Wagner – are aged 30 or over.
The ‘Golden Generation’ of the 1970s set the bar – Franz Beckenbauer and Co. scored a record 101 goals in 1971/72, won three successive European Cups and provided the bulk of the Germany team that won the FIFA 1974 World Cup – but Heynckes raised it with his peerless Bundesliga, Champions League and DFB Cup romp of 2012/13 – a campaign in which Bayern posted a hitherto unsurpassed 91 Bundesliga points total with a record 25-point cushion on second place – and built the foundation for Guardiola’s dominant three-season reign. Five years on, the former Borussia Mönchengladbach goal-getter is pushing Germany’s most successful club to even greater heights.
Watch: Heynckes’ treble-winning season
Wins in all 12 of their remaining Bundesliga games would secure the title in record time, surpass the record number of Bundesliga victories for a single season by one (29 in 2012/13 and 2013/14) and take their points haul to an unprecedented 92. On current form, there is every chance they will succeed – bad news for their big-name rivals for the Champions League and fellow DFB Cup contenders Bayer Leverkusen, Eintracht Frankfurt and Schalke.
It’s a bold claim to make with the business end of 2017/18 still to play out, but Heynckes’ current Bayern crop are shaping up to be the best – statistically and man for man – in the club’s decorated history.