Bayern Munich showed their Bundesliga rivals that their strength in depth and their blend of youth and experience will make them very hard to beat after brushing Schalke aside to win the German Super Cup on Saturday.
Hardly a rare sight, Bayern start the season with silverware
Germany's league and cup double winners Bayern Munich added the German Super Cup to their trophy cabinet on Saturday, beating Schalke 04 in the Bundesliga's pre-season opener.
The 2-0 score line suggests Bayern will again be the team to beat in the coming campaign, while the details of the match do more than just support that conclusion.
Bayern were without a host of stars against their nearest challengers from last season. Dutch winger Arjen Robben was absent through injury, French midfielder Franck Ribery was left out due to his ongoing personal and legal trials, and captain Mark van Bommel was given the day off. First choice goalkeeper Joerg Butt was also on the bench, with Bayern coach Louis van Gaal giving youngster Thomas Kraft his competitive first team debut.
Van Gaal used Bayern's strength in depth by bringing cameo stars Danijel Pranjic and Hamit Altintop into the starting lineup and introducing Andreas Ottl, Jose Sosa and Anatoliy Tymoshchuk as second-half substitutes without any detrimental effect to the team's shape or cohesiveness. In fact, with Bastian Schweinsteiger, Martin Demichelis and Altintop being swapped out with 20 minutes to go with the game at 0-0, van Gaal's substitutions changed the game.
Strength in depth makes Bayern a formidable foe
If Schalke - or indeed, the whole Bundesliga - needed any reminders that the German champions have quality in reserve, here was more evidence of how hard their task will be to stop Bayern's quest to retain their title this season.
Klose is looking to bring his World Cup form to the Bundesliga
It appears that van Gaal now has a squad of players so familiar with their roles, the set-up of the team and the tactics that any combination seems to have the same devastating effect. The seamless introduction of so-called fringe players brought an end to a late surge of dominance by Schalke, restored Bayern's composure and brought about the chances which Thomas Mueller and Miroslav Klose gladly took.
For anyone wondering whether Mueller was going to be just a flash in the pan, the German World Cup star showed through the Super Cup match that he intends to be a stalwart of Bayern teams and a thorn in the side of rivals for many years to come.
Mueller no flash in the pan
After signing an extended contract which will keep him with the club until 2015, Mueller seemed to have put all the transfer speculation behind him and was destructively focused in his role playing up front with Klose.
If anything, he was too sharp. On more than one occasion he got behind the Schalke defense only to find that his teammates had not reacted with the same speed and presence of mind, forcing him to hold the ball up. However, such was his industry and energy, it was no surprise that it was Mueller who put Bayern ahead at 75 minutes.
Mueller continued his fine run of form against Schalke
There has been some discussion where Mueller will fit into a team which has welcomed back Toni Kroos from his loan spell at Bayer Leverkusen and which has a wealth of midfield options all competing for a place in the starting lineup.
On Saturday, Mueller was moved into the front line with Ivica Olic and Altintop dropping deep in positions the youngster filled last season. When Robben is fully fit and Ribery is ready for duty once more, it is entirely possible that van Gaal will stick with Mueller and Klose as his strike force. Judging by Saturday's performance it would be folly to tamper with this contrasting pair.
Klose reinvigorated after World Cup exploits
Klose was on the brink of leaving Bayern, if the transfer rumors swirling around him at the end of the season could be believed. The striker had been a bit-part player and a shadow of his former self for most of the campaign and had spent more time on the bench than on the field.
But, true to form, the World Cup brought the best out of Klose and after a summer spent regaining his passion and proficiency, the Germany striker looks sharp. Playing in tandem with the live wire Mueller could complete his rehabilitation and strike fear into the hearts of Bundesliga defenses once again. His goal, which sealed the Super Cup win, showed his predatory instincts are back to their best.
It certainly appears that Bayern will have far too much quality to draw on for many of their Bundesliga rivals to cope with. Schalke, the team which ran the Bavarians closest in the final weeks of the title race, are still some way behind and they know it.
Schalke still lacking the necessary quality
Magath captured Raul, but can he capture the title?
Despite persuading former Real Madrid and Spain legend Raul to come to Gelsenkirchen, Felix Magath's team still look to be lacking the necessary quality to move to the next level. Magath himself admitted as much after the Super Cup defeat.
"You must see that we haven't yet got the quality to beat a high-level team," he said.
As well as giving Raul his competitive debut for Schalke after a couple of impressive preseason performances since signing, Magath brought young Spanish full back Sergio Escudero into the team. Escudero gave Schalke attacking options on the wing but was shown to be a little shaky in his main role in defense.
Schalke strikers Raul and Edu worked well together, but the team as a whole could not create any fluidity. This suggests Schalke have a lot of work to do to remain Bayern's main challengers, and even more if they are to finally end over 50 years of championship disappointment and win the league.
Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Martin Kuebler