European Football Round-Up // December 10

Bayern score a whopping seven goals away at Bremen in the Bundesliga while it was goals galore again in Serie A as Napoli draw 3-3 at home to Udinese. It was the cup in Spain as Real Madrid came unstuck against the lowly Xatavia, though not to forget mentioning PSG who continue to look formidable in France as they won 5-0 at home to Nantes.

 

When Pep Guardiola was appointed the manager-to-be in of Bayern Munich for the following season I wrote about how he faced the task of ‘reinventing the wheel’. When I wrote that, Bayern were in the quarter finals of the Champions League, top of the Bundesliga and also still in the German Cup. A little over four months later Guardiola’s task looked a whole lot harder.

Bayern had won the Champions League, won the Bundesliga, and won the German Cup. Not only had they won the treble, but most notably they decimated Pep’s previous club Barcelona which sent shivers down the spines of the millions round the world who had been captivated by Barcelona’s space-age tiki-taka football the past four years.

Such success would be impossible to top, certainly in one season. Not only that, but as Bayern destroyed Barcelona and seemingly their possession based football, many questioned what Guardiola could bring to thing new all-conquering Bayern side. There were questions whether Pep would over-complicate a side who had found a formula which couldn’t be matched. The summer signings of Mario Gotze and Thiago Alcantara insinuated Pep wanted to bring some Catalonian inspired football to Bavaria.

Fifteen games into the 2013/2014 season having played 15 league games Bayern sit on top of the Bundesliga having won 13 games and drawn two, scoring 39 goals and only conceding seven. They’re already ten points clear of last season’s European and domestic runners-up Borussia Dortmund (who have since dropped to third place) and four points clear of high-flying Bayer Leverkusen. Not only that, they top their Champions League group having won every game.  As for the questions regarding the football he would bring to Bayern, well, it has been a fusion of lat season’s dominant counter attacking, and his tiki-taka possession based football we all seen from his Barcelona side. If I could give one example of how Pep’s innate genius has improved this Bayern side, is the curious case of Phillip Lahm.

Lahm, who despite being right-footed has been the best left-back in the world for the past decade has been moved to play in defensive midfield replacing one of Europe’s best players last season in Javi Martinez. Many scoffed at the tactical decision initially, including me. Nevertheless the decision has been inspired, as Lahm has mirrored the performances of Sergio Busquetts for Barcelona. Lahm now sets the tempo for the best side in Europe: the fulcrum of the side. A full-back: genius.  Maybe Guardiola won’t top last season’s trophy haul but he’s going about equalling it the right way, that’s for sure.

I guess all of that was a prelude to the news that on the weekend Bayern travelled to Werder Bremen and won 7-0. There was a double from Robben who at one point looked to be likely to be sold in the summer. Mandzukic was brought back into the side and scored,  there was also an o.g. from Bremen’s Lukimya, a goal for Gotze and even one for centre-back Van Buyten. It has got to the point where the number of goals Bayern score is the benchmark of how well they do, not simply if they win. If Bayern’s dominance is benchmarked by number of goals scored, it’s a little different for Sami Hyypia’s Bayer Leverkusen side who have found themselves within four points of the Bavarian giants as they edge closer to the winter break.

Bayer Leverkusen travelled to Borussia Dortmund on Saturday which frankly Dortmund needed to win should they want to keep any hopes of winning the Bundesliga this season. The game was tight and Bayer won with a solitary first-half goal from attacking midfielder Son. The victory puts Leverkusen on 37 points after 15 games and four points within Bayern who, quite clearly, look Europe’s best side by a distance. Not bad for Hyypia who’s only been managing less than two years.

Elsewhere in Germany there were wins for Wolfsburg who travelled to Freiburg winning 3-0 which leaves them in fifth, behind ‘Gladbach who hosted Schalke and won 2-1 which keeps them on course for European football next season.

In the ever-so boring Serie A this weekend there were two 3-3 draws for Napoli-Udinese and Inter-Parma and another draw for AC who travelled to Livorno in which a Balotelli brace made the game 2-2. Juve as ever looked like a mechanical winning machine as they travelled to Bologna and won 2-0.

Ac’s 2-2 draw leaves them in ninth place and a whopping 22 points behind Serie A leader Juventus who look on-course for a third successive Scudetto. Not bad for a side who only a few seasons previously were relegated to the Serie B for their part played in the Caliopoli scandal. If Galliani and co need answers surely they need to look to Turin where solid management and player acquisition, without an extortionate outlay on funds, has saw them look as formidable and healthy as they have in quite some time.

Napoli’s 3-3 draw with Udinese leaves Rafa’s men in third, now eight points behind Juve. Roma however, got back to winning ways with a Destro inspired victory as they saw off Fiorentina 2-1 which leaves the side from the Capital only three points behind Juve having won 11 and drawn four of their 15 games played this season. Totti’s return to fitness sends signals to Turin that Roma will surely run Juve close for the Scudetto this season.

Inter’s 3-3 draw at home to Parma was another mad-hatter performance which in a roundabout way shows their improvements from last season and their remaining deficiencies. Despite containing a leaky defence, they’re scoring goals and looking more fluid in attack than last year with Guarin at the heart of all things’ positive for Inter. The draw leaves Internazionale in fourth position, four points behind Napoli.

In France the big news came from Lille who finally conceded a goal after an 11 game shutout which saw them overtake Monaco as the best side that won’t get near PSG. Lille travelled to Bordeaux and lost 1-0 which saw them drop to third place behind Monaco. Monaco hosted Ajaccio and won 1-0 which leaves them within two points of leaders PSG who beat Sochaux 5-0 in another romping performance from Blanc’s side.

In Spain this weekend it was the Copa Del Rey and literally nothing interesting happened. Real Madrid could only muster a 0-0 draw with lower league side Xatavia while Barcelona looked as poor as you can in a 4-1 victory over Cartagena (who?). Diego Simeone’s Atletico side won again (surprise surprise) as they beat Saint Andreu (again – who?) 4-0. In one of the few all La Liga clashes Celta hosted Bilbao and won 1-0 which leaves them in good stead for the second leg to be played in the coming weeks.

Kevin Kelly

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