Big names are facing big battles at Bayern Munich | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 13.09.2012
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Big names are facing big battles at Bayern Munich

As the Bundesliga resumes after the international break, one intriguing question is who will be taking the pitch for Bayern. A summer spending spree has ramped up competition within the squad – some egos will be bruised.

While a number of their teammates were off doing battle for Germany against the Faroe Islands and Austria, Bayern midfielders Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez stayed at home getting to know one another. On paper, that's the pairing one would expect Bayern to field this Saturday when the Bavarians host Mainz – Schweinsteiger because he's the teams deputy captain and Martinez because he's the most expensive (40 million euros/$51.5 million) transfer in Bundesliga history.

But names and sums only count for so much. Ultimately performance will determine who prevails in Munich, and that means the heat is on at Bayern from the front to the back. Let's examine the battles more closely:

Up front

Fußball Supercup: FC Bayern München - Borussia Dortmund am Sonntag (12.08.2012) in der Allianz Arena in München (Oberbayern). Mario Mandzukic von München jubelt über sein Tor zum 1:0. Foto: Andreas Gebert dpa/lby (Achtung: Hinweis zur Bildnutzung! Die DFL erlaubt die Weiterverwertung von maximal 15 Fotos (keine Sequenzbilder und keine videoähnlichen Fotostrecken) während des Spiels (einschließlich Halbzeit) aus dem Stadion und/oder vom Spiel im Internet und in Online-Medien. Uneingeschränkt gestattet ist die Weiterleitung digitalisierter Aufnahmen bereits während des Spiels ausschließlich zur internen redaktionellen Bearbeitung (z.B. via Bilddatenbanken).)

Striker Mario Mandzukic got off to an impressive start - tough competition for Mario Gomez

It's near sure thing that a Mario will be manning the center forward position, but which one?

Mario Gomez is sidelined by an injury to his right ankle that required an operation in August, and it's far from certain that he'll automatically reclaim his starting position when he's fit. Mario Mandzukic has proven a very efficient replacement, scoring in each of Bayern's Bundesliga matches and in the opening round of the German Cup.

Is it conceivable that Gomez, who set the previous Bundesliga transfer record of 35 million euros when he moved from Stuttgart in 2009, could be benched in favor of a forward originally envisioned as a squad player? Arguing against the idea is the fact that Munich extended Gomez's contract this spring.

Arguing for it is the fact that Bayern President Uli Hoeness singled out Gomez as a reason for the team's failure to take any titles last season. At pre-season meet-and-greet with Bayern fans, Hoeness called the striker “good, but not very good,” adding that “If [Gomez] were very good, we'd have won the Champions League.”

With Mandzukic up front, Bayern scored nine goals in their first two Bundesliga matches. If Munich continue at that pace, don't expect coach Jupp Heynckes to risk any changes.


Fußball DFB-Pokal 1. Runde: SSV Jahn Regensburg - FC Bayern München am 20.08.2012 im Jahnstadion in Regensburg (Oberpfalz). Die Münchner Mario Mandzukic (l) und Philipp Lahm jubeln über den Sieg. Foto: Andreas Gebert dpa/lby (Achtung! Der DFB untersagt die Verwendung von Sequenzbildern im Internet und in Online-Medien während des Spiels (einschließlich Halbzeit). Achtung Sperrfrist! Der DFB erlaubt die Publikation und Weiterverwertung der Bilder auf mobilfunkfähigen Endgeräten (insbesondere MMS) und über DVB-H und DMB erst nach Spielende.)

20-year-old Swiss midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri was one of the most coveted players in Europe

Tuesday's international matches featured one very familiar spectacle. Netherlands winger Arjen Robben sat out the Elftal's match against Hungary after sensing a worrisome twitching in his groin in pre-game warm-ups.

Overdependence on the Dutchman and his oft-twitching and -aching bodily parts has been one of the most frequently cited explanations for Bayern's title drought in the past two seasons. And Robben is coming off a dire spring in which penalties he missed played a devastating role in Munich's Bundesliga and Champions League frustrations.

It's no secret that the aloof Dutchman has few friends in the clubhouse. And on the right-hand side, he's competing against Thomas Müller, who's already racked up three Bundesliga goals, and Xherdan Shaqiri, the 20-year-old Swiss midfielder who was one of the most coveted players in Europe this off-season. So don't be surprised if Robben's injury doesn't heal in time for the Mainz match or is even prolonged into the late fall.

In defensive midfield, the competition is fiercer still. The arrival of Martinez seems to have lit a competitive fire under players nominally in the second guard. Luiz Gustavo and Toni Kroos have both gotten to strong starts to the 2012-13 season.

Given Martinez's price tag, Heynckes is going to have to give him playing time once the ever mysterious “period of adjustment” football players always seem to need to do their jobs has passed. So Gustavo, Kroos and Schweinsteiger could be battling it out for a lone spot in the starting eleven.

Meanwhile Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, the Ukrainian national captain for whom Bayern paid 14 million euros in 2009, will have difficulty even making the squad.

The Defense

firo Fußball,Fussball, 05.08.2012 Liga Total Cup T Home Cup Saison 2012/2013 Dante - Bayern München pixel

Brazilian defender Dantehas outperformed expectations at Bayern

At the back, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and captain Philipp Lahm can breathe easily. Other than that, 2012-13 promises to be a roller-coaster ride.

In the first two rounds of the Bundesliga, Bayern went with three center backs, Jerome Boateng, Dante and Holger Badstuber – with Badstuber moving out to the left. This was necessitated by injuries to David Alaba and Rafinha.

But Alaba, the promising 20-year-old Austrian and Heynckes favorite, is slated for a return around the end of October, meaning friction is guaranteed at the back as well.

When Bayern bought Dante from Mönchengladbach this summer, most people assumed the Brazilian was intended as a back-up. He's outperformed expectations, though, and seems quite popular within the team. So the loser could be Jerome Boateng – a potential source of controversy since he's been a regular within the German national team.

Daniel van Buyten, the 34-year-old veteran who's been so reliable for Bayern since 2006, seems now to be a last resort only. And Rafinha, who never truly settled after arriving last season, will do well just to get back on the bench.

After sticking to more-or-less regular starting line-ups and coming up short two seasons in a row, Bayern are now adopting a “let-the-best-man-win” approach. The team's hot start to the Bundesliga season has kept potential critics at bay.

It going to be interesting to see, however, whether Bayern continue their winning ways or whether team morale disintegrates as big names start to make big noises about having to take a back seat.

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