Jupp Heynckes sent a timely reminder this week: he is still Bayern Munich's manager. "I'm under contract (until 2013) and I expect to fulfill it," the 66-year-old Heynckes told the press on Thursday, "I'm doing this job very passionately and I'm fully committed. Managing is not work for me". He even looked like he meant it, despite admitting that the next two home games -- Saturday's visit of TSG Hoffenheim and Tuesday's Champions League match against FC Basel -- were of "paramount importance." Tabloid Bild was so impressed with Heynckes' cool demeanor that they called the press briefing "Bayern's best performance of 2012."
Bayern Munich's 2-0 win over Manchester City in the Champions League wasn't quite as comfortable as the result suggested. Talk of "the invincibles" or of the team being an Bavarian answer to Barcelona is clearly premature. However, the quality of the performance against a top Premier League side did show that a run of 10 wins without conceding a goal (in all competitions) wasn't merely a result of a particularly kind fixture list. Bayern, as a team, is functioning better than almost any European heavyweight at the moment -- the turnaround from last season has been truly spectacular. Seven reasons explain the radical improvement:
Soccer biographies constitute a niche genre in Germany. Unlike in England, where big names can expect serious money from serialization rights, there's relatively little to be made from having a book penned. There just isn't that much demand for the musings of twenty-something millionaires and why would there be? The level of access to players that the German media enjoys drastically reduces the potential for dramatic revelations.
A 1-1 draw away to sixth-placed team 1. FC Nürnberg wouldn't result in the dismissal of the manager in most clubs, but as everyone in Germany knows, Bayern Munich is a law unto itself at the best of times. Louis van Gaal was unceremoniously sacked for good and with immediate effect on Sunday, after last month's announcement that he would leave at the end of the season. These are the 11 (interrelated) reasons why it didn't work out:
After signing a contract extension (until 2014) and tentatively solving the "Michael Ballack question" -- the Germany captain will have an unofficial farewell match against Brazil in August -- coach Jogi Löw has few problems left. The biggest one might be finding places for a wave of new, exciting prospects in the squad. Here's a projection of Germany's next top model professionals (under 22 years).
After 188 minutes of wildly entertaining, at times outrageously open football Tuesday, it all came down to Bastian Schweinsteiger's tired legs. The Bayern Munich midfielder failed to keep up when Goran Pandev started running from the halfway line and could only watch in horror as the Macedonian smashed in the epic winner that sent Internazionale into the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
Even just 10 years ago, a game like the Bayern vs. Inter clash on Tuesday night would have been, generally, unthinkable. Why? Because it was a German team versus an Italian team. In other words, discipline versus defensive nous. Lazy stereotyping was probably off the mark even back at the turn of the millennium, but at least it was grounded in some kind of reality, some kind of expression of national characteristics. Today they're simply way off base. Bayern and Inter provided plenty of evidence of this.
Bayern Munich and Hamburger SV have much in common this season. Both are underachieving, for starters: fourth and sixth place in the table, respectively, are well below expectations. The two powerhouses of the German game are also beset by internal strife, as sporting directors (Christian Nerlinger, Bastian Reinhardt) quibble with increasingly isolated managers (Louis van Gaal, Armin Veh).
Things really couldn't have gone more swimmingly for Bayern Munich during its winter training camp in Qatar. Long-term absentee Arjen Robben was back on the pitch, moving freely and feeling good. Franck Ribéry, another worry in recent months, was as sharp as he has been since getting injured in Euro 2008. New addition Luiz Gustavo, who will most likely start as a left back, added quality to the squad, and the central midfield pairing of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mark van Bommel was reunited.
"This is a defeat we can live with," Karl-Heinz Rummenigge told sponsors and reporters at the official post-match banquet in the team hotel. "We'd all be well advised to deal with it in a serene manner."
It's too early to tell whether Jürgen Klopp can follow in the footsteps of Bayern manager Louis van Gaal and win the Bundesliga championship this season. But the 43-year-old Klopp is certainly on course to have a similarly positive impact as the Dutchman had on the German national team.
Last Friday, the sun was still shining in Bavaria. Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness held court in his favorite restaurant overlooking Lake Tegernsee, and he was in a splendid mood. After a difficult start to the season, things were finally looking up for the Bundesliga champion on the pitch. Off it, Bayern was in even better shape.
One sole error of judgment, a little slip or loss of concentration, and your entire career can go do down the drain. That's the frightening reality of life as a professional goalkeeper. The idea that an outfield player could be similarly affected by a single mishap seems absurd. But perhaps that's exactly what happened to Mario Gomez.
Sometimes the best tactics can be the simplest. After all the talk about pupils overcoming masters, of the wily veteran against the protégé he developed over three years at Barcelona, there was no sense here that Jose Mourinho had outwitted the Bayern Munich coach, Louis van Gaal. Internazionale won the Champions League final because it has better players, and exploited Bayern's weaknesses.
Nearly 11 months of competition have come to this, a Champions League final to be duked out in king of rings, the Santiago Bernabeu. In the blue corner, the lip-curled sneer of Jose Mourinho, who actually seems to be enjoying his success at Internazionale -- this is a league and cup double-winning season -- about as much as a punch in the face. In the red corner, Louis van Gaal, whose Bayern Munich side thrashed Werder Bremen 4-0 to claim its own double last weekend.
At the start of this season's Champions League campaign, very few observers would have predicted that the two teams left standing on the eve of the final would be Inter Milan and Bayern Munich. And yet, after disposing of more fancied opposition in the semifinals, both teams are poised to make history in a final that has more than its fair share of subplots. Here's five things to note about the final:
Saturday's Champions League final between Internazionale and Bayern Munich has come to feel as though it's as much a clash between their respective managers, Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal, as between the clubs. The flamboyant Latin and the phlegmatic Dutchman are linked, of course, by the time Mourinho spent working under Van Gaal at Barcelona between 1997 and 2000.
First, a disclaimer. Yes, after three consecutive seasons of having three English league clubs in the Champions League semifinals, this year there aren't any. Not since 2003-04 has Europe's Final Four included no Premiership teams.
Forget the mustard deposited in the shoes of teammates, the water fights and the madcap episode in Dubai when he drove the team bus into a bollard. Bayern Munich's attacking maestro Franck Ribéry no longer seems in the mood for pranks; his usual happy-go-lucky demeanor considerably darkened by the club's steadfast refusal to allow him to leave for Real Madrid during the offseason. It's a severe shock to the system for any headliner to be told his desires are of no account.
It has been a weird summer of transfers. Most of Europe's top leagues kick off next month and yet, with a few exceptions (Real Madrid and, to a lesser degree, Juventus and Bayern Munich), there hasn't been too much going on. The window won't close until Aug. 31. In the meantime, here's an attempt at making sense of it all, with 11 questions facing 11 big clubs: