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Bundesliga

Questions remain for Ancelotti and Bayern despite opening day win

Bayern Munich's new signings delivered on Friday night as the champions got their season off to a winning start. But there are bigger issues at stake behind the scenes on Säbener Straße.

Bayern Munich appeared to put their preseason worries behind them on Friday night with a 3-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen in the opening game of the 2017/18 Bundesliga season.

But despite the comfortable-looking scoreline, Heiko Herrlich's visitors exposed many of the flaws which saw the German champions concede 14 goals as they lost five of six pre-season friendlies. Leverkusen recorded 19 shots to Bayern's 13 and the result could have been very different were it not for some wayward finishing.

As crises go, it could be worse. But there are significant questions to be answered at Bayern as the club reaches a vital crossroads.

On the pitch

Bayern looked as dangerous as ever going forward but were again reliant on Robert Lewansowski and the ageing Franck Ribery. In Renato Sanches and Kingsley Coman, Carlo Ancelotti does have younger attacking options but only the Frenchman got a game, replacing his compatriot Ribery late on.

Should the Polish hit man be unavailable, Bayern could face the same problem they had in last season's Champions League semifinal defeat to Real Madrid. 

In midfield, the opposite is true. Xabi Alonso may have retired but, following the arrivals of Corentin Tolisso and Sebastian Rudy, competition for places is greater than ever.

On Friday, Tolisso and Rudy were outstanding, particularly in the first half. The Frenchman was at the heart of all of Bayern's attacking play and was rewarded with a first goal for his new club, nodding home from close range, while Rudy looked like he had been covering Bayern's back four for years. Arturo Vidal was his usual combative self but there will be a battle for places once James Rodriquez and Thiago return, while Kimmich will stake a claim for a midfield role too. 

In defense, Bayern looked less sure of themselves, particularly once Julian Brandt and Kevin Kempl came on for Leverkusen in the second half. Suddenly, Rudy looked isolated as the visitors were able to forge a number of chances which, had they had a recognized striker (Chicharito, perhaps?), could have changed the game. 

Off the pitch

If Rodriguez fits into the side as easily as Tolisso and Rudy did on Friday, it will be difficult not to call Carlo Ancelotti's transfer activies a success, at least in the short term. But it still may not be enough to satisfy Uli Hoeneß and the Bayern bosses who are striving for a more general long term change of direction. 

When the born-and-bred Bavarian trio of Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Müller led Bayern Munich to their last Champions League triumph in 2013, there was an unmistakable feeling of "Mia san Mia" in the Wembley air – we are what we are.

But four years, a Pep Guardiola "project" and a supposedly sure bet on Ancelotti later, and Bayern are asking themselves what exactly that is. "What is this club's culture? What is its identity?" asked Willy Sagnol, the former Bayern defender who took his place on the bench as Ancelotti's assistant on Friday, in a recent interview with football magazine kicker.

For Hoeneß, the answer is clear. Earlier this month, Bayern proudly unveiled their new 70-million-euro ($82-million) youth "campus" to the north of Munich city center, a 30-hectare state-of-the-art facility with eight football pitches and a planned 35 apartments designed to produce the home-grown stars of tomorrow.

Hoeneß has expressed a desire to restore what he called the "FC Bayern way of life" which, for him, means a move away from multi-million-euro transfers, along with the development of local talents and the inclusion of ex-players in key coaching positions.

The appointments of Sagnol as assistant coach and his former teammate Hasan Salihamidzic as sporting director can be interpreted as precisely such a move - although the more cynical view is that Hoeneß and Rummenigge are simply installing their men as they plan for life after Ancelotti, or even their moles to keep tabs on the current coach.

And so, after Bayern made it five wins from five consecutive Bundesliga openers, all looked well in Munich, at least for the time being. But in the short term, Ancelotti will have been concerned by the chances Leverkusen were able to create. And in the long term, doubts will remain as to whether or not he fits into Bayern's grand plan.

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