10 March 2014

So Bayern has matched the Invincibles' streak. Yawn.

With their laughably easy romp over Wolfsburg, a 1-6 thrashing that saw Bayern score five goals in 17 minutes, Bayern has matched the Invincibles' run of 49 league matches without a loss. They haven't yet gone an entire season undefeated yet, but matching the Invincibles' overall run looks to be a mere prelude to the formality of running the Bundesliga table. In fact, the only opponent that looks to seriously threaten Bayern's march is boredom, ennui, jaded satiety. Okay, so that's three, but they're more like teammates in the same squad. Going undefeated in any league is noteworthy, but you'll have to excuse me if I'm not quite impressed with Bayern's accomplishment-to-be. In fact, I'm offended that they're being mentioned in the same breath as those Invincibles.

Bayern's assault on history, courtesy of arsenalist.com
Of course, I'll have to admit to a certain bias. I am, after all, a Gooner. However, there's more to it than bias. Simply put, the Bundesliga of 2013-14 is not as competitive as the Prem of 2003-04. I could trot out research to that effect, talking up UEFA coefficients and number of teams in the Champions and Europa Leagues and how far they progressed and all (all counts on which the 2003-04 Prem emerges as superior). However, those are proxies for the real debate, symptoms of the larger problem. After all, the record we're talking about is domestic competition. By that standard, Bayern faces little, if any resistance. Hell, what little resistance they've faced, they've simply bought up rather than face again. Mario Götze left Dortmund after last season; Robert Lewandowski will leave after this one, both joining a juggernaut that beggars the previous definition of what it means to be a juggernaut. For comparison's sake, this would have been akin to Arsenal swooping for Man U's Ryan Giggs and then Ruud van Nistelrooy. If anything, the opposite might be true as we saw the departures of mainstays like Parlour, McKeown, and Kanu.

The Invincibles' run (thanks again to arsenalist.com)
But I digress. The table above shows Bayern leaving all Bundesliga competitors in the dust. The last time they had to worry about the rearview mirror was mid-January, when their lead was "only" seven points. In other words, for more than half of the season, Bayern has not had to worry about winning the Prem and could therefore rest players—not that they need to with the depth they have. Mathematically, of course, it is still possible that Bayern could finish as low as 6th if they lose every single match while Dortmund, Leverkusen, Schalke, Wolfsburg, and Augsburg each win all of theirs, but I think I just put more effort into composing that sentence than Bayern will have to put into avoiding it becoming reality. By contrast, the Invincibles had a tighter race, fending off Chelsea and Man U far deeper into the Prem season, keeping tension higher and legs wearier. Chelsea clung stubbornly to striking distance, coming as close as four points as late as April (although Arsenal did have a game in hand at the time).

Bayern, then, has all but coasted to their current position. Of their ten remaining matches, they've beaten these teams by a combined 30-7. Yes, there was a draw at Bayer Leverkusen in there, and a couple of nail-biting one-goal wins, but there were also four clean sheets, two 3-0 scorelines (one at Dortmund), and a 0-7 hammering of Werder Bremen.

That last tidbit brings to mind another glaring anomaly. The Invincibles rarely destroyed opponents—beating Leeds 5-0 and Middlesbrough 0-4 along with three wins with a three-goal margin—but Bayern are running roughshod over opponents. Ten of their 22 wins have come by three goals or more, including four four-goal victories, two five-goal victories, and the aforementioned 0-7 demolition of Werder Bremen. The psychological edge this creates before a match even begins must be razor-sharp. Knowing that Bayern has not only scored 72 goals already (averaging a tidy three goals per game) must be daunting enough; seeing that they've conceded a mere 11 (averaging 0.46 per game) must be enough to cause sphincters to pucker. The Invincibles were similarly dominant—over the course the entire season, scoring 73 goals and conceding 26...in 38 matches. Bayern still have ten to play. While they'll certainly concede a few, they'll also score quite a few more. In fact, they may very-well score 100 goals.

No less an authority than Jens Lehmann, both a former Gunner and current (I presume) German, has sounded less than impressed, saying of Bayern that "the challenges they are facing in the Bundesliga are not too high. Their opponents really don't know how to play them. They don't even find a way of trying." Of course, even if you do try, they simply overwhelm opponents through the sheer depth of their quality and width in class. It's boring. It's akin to playing FIFA at home when you can amass a squad of all-stars. Is a rival threatening to close the gap? Buy his striker and sit him on the bench. Don't quite fancy your midfielders? Buy a few more. And so on.

Who will stop them? Will it be Bayer Leverkusen, who visit Allianz Arena on Saturday? After all, they did it last season, making them the last team to defeat Bayern at home since Dortmund did it in 2011. Somehow, though, I doubt it. The fact that Leverkusen dared draw with Bayern in October and defeat them in 2012 should mark them as due for a comeuppance. After that, there's precious little resistance to be offered, and we may very well see a new invincible squad anointed. You'll have to excuse me, however, if I have to stifle a yawn.