The ghost of Bayern squads past: comparing 2013 to 2018

Reflecting back on Bayern’s highly-coveted 2013 squad, how does today’s team stack up?
It was a special time – 2013 was without a doubt the greatest year in Bayern’s club history. The treble remains the goal of many until today, but neither Pep Guardiola nor Carlo Ancelotti were able to bring the ultimate glory back to Germany’s record champions.

Goal: Ulreich makes the difference

Four and a half years after Arjen Robben’s 89th minute winner, Bayern’s squad still contains the same goalkeepers than back in the past. Manuel Neuer and Tom Starke shared the work in 2012-13, even though sharing was not much of a deal then. The German number 1, constantly dealing with broken feet these days, used to be healthy for the longest time. His replacement Tom Starke played a grand total of three league games, mostly when the league was decided.
The difference to the current squad is found easily: Sven Ulreich. With the former Stuttgart keeper, Bayern have a competent back-up of Neuer, while Starke remains on the bench in case of any further injury. Christian Früchtl is the talented wildcard and will likely step into professional football some day in the not too distant future. Considering Ulreich’s performances, one can hardly attest the club a change to the worse. Instead, Jupp Heynckes has two experienced solutions for Neuer missing time, while also focusing on development for the future with Früchtl.

Defence: More strength at centre-back

Three of eight treble winners remain on the club until today. David Alaba, Jérôme Boateng and Rafinha all remained corner stones of the team, albeit with five years of additional experience and the small feat of a World Cup title for Boateng. However, both the German international and Alaba suffered from numerous long-term injuries over the years. It made them lose their rhythm for quite a while. Nowadays, both look better under Heynckes.
While Dante in his best professional season and Daniel van Buyten proved their value next to Boateng in 2013, the 2018 version looks a lot brighter. Both Mats Hummels and Niklas Süle are current German internationals as well. The latter is often counted as one of the biggest centre-back talents in the world. Additionally, the emergence of Joshua Kimmich as replacement for 2013 captain Philipp Lahm has been wonderful for the club. The 22-year old is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. He should provide more quality performances in the second half of the season.
On the bench, Holger Badstuber (now Stuttgart), Mitchell Weiser (Hertha Berlin) and Diego Contento (Bordeaux) have been replaced by Juan Bernat and Marco Friedl. Due to more consistent centre-back options, our vote goes to the current squad as well.

Midfield: Javi & Schweini take the cake

When Javi Martínez and Bastian Schweinsteiger paired up to be Europe’s best defensive midfield, Bayern fans had nothing to worry about game in, game out. Sadly, it was the one and only year everyone got to enjoy the duo.
Following Guardiola’s arrival in Bavaria, Martínez was pulled back into a more defensive role until Heynckes took over for the fourth time recently. Unsurprisingly, it worked magnificently well yet again. Javi took the top spot in Kicker’s semi-yearly ranking Rangliste des Deutschen Fußballs.
A young Toni Kroos and Luiz Gustavo shared much of the game time in central midfield. Kroos in particular proved his value until he got hurt in the Champions League round of 16 and missed the rest of the season. A
natoliy Tymoshchuk only played 883 minutes in all competitions, but was a squad member on 52 occasions – the highest number of all outfield players. Emre Can and Pierre-Emile Höjbjerg, now both in the Premier League, rounded out the midfield as talented options. However, Jupp Heynckes did not use either one a whole lot in 2012-13.
Depth-wise, the 2018 squad can convince more. Nevertheless, a consistent figure like Schweinsteiger during the treble run is dearly missed. Javi has played with a number of different players: Arturo Vidal, Sebastian Rudy or Corentin Tolisso. All of them have their pros and cons, none is holding on to their spot though. While a comeback of Thiago Alcántara could solve the issue elegantly, the Spaniard is injury-prone and not expected back before March. If he can recover his top form quickly, he might be an option for the Champions League quarterfinals, should Bayern make it there.

Wingers and offensive midfield: James adds flexibility

Arjen Robben, Thomas Müller and Franck Ribéry: What worked great in 2013 still does today – at times at least. Especially Ribéry is showing signs of slowing down compared to the form that made him European Footballer of the Year in the treble season. Ribéry’s and Robben’s injuries were obviously already a problem in the past, but for some magical reason they stayed healthy when it mattered most. Their only alternative back then was Xherdan Shaqiri, who had his moments, but was never quite on Bayern level after all.
While the club is often being criticized for not providing enough alternatives on the wings, they cannot really be accused of it in 2018. Kingsley Coman enjoyed a great first half of the season. He has improved a lot under Heynckes and is determined to keep his regular longterm spot.
James Rodríguez is the second player who can be used just about anywhere up front and convinces with his outstanding technical abilities. Ancelotti’s dismissal did not hurt the Colombian whatsoever. Instead, he found his feet (more so) under Heynckes and recently noted he does not think about returning to Madrid at all. In addition, replacement captain Thomas Müller seemed to regain his form that was lost ever since 2016. The German international looked good in combination with James as well.
Overall, the dependence on Robbery is much lower than it used to be five years ago. James is an absolute quality addition, that gives way more options to the coach. Despite all the pro arguments, it is hard to forget about the out-of-this-world form of Robben and Ribéry that helped secure all titles. At least one of them will have to replicate this along with consistent performances from Coman to have any sort of similar success.

Strikers: Wagner the needed alternative

The 2013 depth up front was simply fantastic. While Mario Mandzukic is usually the player remembered from the treble attack, he used to share a lot of playing time with two other strikers in excellent form. Mario Gomez scored 19 goals in 32 games, played in the Barcelona return leg in the Champions League semi-final. Additionally, then 33-year old Claudio Pizarro provided another 13 goals as third striker.
Recently, it has been the one-man show of Robert Lewandowski. The Polish international had to play all the time, because there was simply no other option. Müller had to fill in in the most important games and showed that using him as a traditional striker does not work against top opposition. In half a season this year, Lewy already nearly amassed the same playing time as Gomez and Pizarro did combined over the full season 12-13.
Finally, Bayern reacted during the winter break and signed own youth product Sandro Wagner from Hoffenheim. This gives Heynckes a lot more flexibility and the squad a much needed second striker. Whether Lewandowski likes it or not cannot be of interest to the club. Bayern have to ensure success in May and a second striker gives them a better chance of achieving this, even more so considering Wagner is still trying to go to the World Cup with Germany.

2018 squad with more options, but weaknesses remain

While the 2013 squad certainly had great options to choose from for Jupp Heynckes, the bench looks even stronger in the current year. Especially Sven Ulreich had to be counted upon due to the recent absence of Manuel Neuer. Furthermore, the German trio Boateng/Hummels/Süle is the dream of any coach in the world. James and Sandro Wagner will (continue to) prove valuable additions to the team.
Despite all improvements, the form of the wingers in the decisive time of the year is doubtful. Jupp Heynckes also needs to find a consistent partner for Javi Martínez in central midfield. If he manages to solve the problems that remain and has an in-form team, there is no reason to believe the 2018 squad is weaker than five years ago.