Who: FC Bayern Munich, 2012-13 Champions League winners and runaway champions of the last two German league campaigns.
When: Tuesday, 2:45 p.m. Eastern against Porto in Portugal.
Why: Because if there has to be a global standard, might as well the unsympathetic product of trademark German efficiency.
Two years ago, Bayern Munich was a machine. The club won the Champions League and was undoubtedly the best team in the world. Then it hired Pep Guardiola, Barcelona’s former maestro, and asked him to turn Bayern into a more elegant machine.
Now Bayern is the envy of the world. Incredible, beautiful, mesmerizing, and full of the players who led Germany to the World Cup last year in Brazil. It’s tough to side with the big, bad behemoths, but the club’s play is so flirtatious that you can’t help but fall in love.
- Quick guide to Wednesday’s Champions League: FC Porto
No team maintain such an obsessive control of the ball, which means no team passes or prevents others’ passes with as much zeal as the Bavarian titans. En route to the third straight Bundesliga title, Bayern is focused on accomplishing the one thing it hasn’t done under Guardiola: Conquer Europe.
Why München matters: Six players from Germany’s World Cup team are on Bayern Munich, including Germany’s captain, leading goalscorer, star goalkeeper and the man who scored the winner in Brazil 2014’s final. If you were to list the 15 best players in the world, half of them might come from Bayern. The club is that stacked, and its manager is the man who led forged the Barcelona team many consider to be the best of all time.
If Bayern Munich isn’t the best team in the world, it’s the second best. And over the last three years, no team has been as good. The team is a video game come to life, set on a ridiculously low level, so all the final numbers are unrealistically absurd.
The cool in FCB: You didn’t hear? Bayern’s filled with the world’s best players, arguably the best manager on Earth and do nothing but win.
Beyond that, the team trying to redefine the way the sport is played. That whole idea of positions and specific roles for Bayern has been thrown out the window. The team expect its players to do a little of everything, crowds the midfield and ultimately does more than beat you. It dominates the ball, the tempo and controls the entire match from start to finish, with players circulating in a way that movement indistinguishable from swarm.
There isn’t another team in the world quite like Bayern Munich, and that goes well beyond it players. It is most evident in the way it plays and its attempt to change the way we look at the sport. It’s evident in Guardiola’s willingness to reconsider the way the game has evolved and ask how why he can’t undermine our assumptions. It’s evident in the way every Bayern game looks distinctly different than anything else you can watch.
Watch this player: Part of the point of Bayern’s revolution is that there isn’t one player. There’s one team.
Right winger Arjen Robben is virtually unstoppable, and forward Thomas Muller does nothing but score goals. Is Robert Lewandowski one of the three best strikers in the world? It almost doesn’t matter because not even they start every single match. They can be swapped in and out for someone else and Bayern will still dominate. That’s also true in the midfield and defense. The team is a machine.
You know who stands out the most? The team’s goalkeeper, Neuer. He’s not just the best in the world, he’s a madman who will come 25 yards out of his box and slide tackle the ball away, dribble it forward and try to play a killer 20-yard pass. But can you really tell people to watch a goalkeeper who isn’t actually tested that much? Of course not, which is why Bayern Munich is one giant cheat code.
There is nobody on this team that wouldn’t be an amazing signing for the collection of potzers you support. You should watch every one of them and be envious, pissed, thankful and distraught. They’re all so damn good.
What they have to do: Don’t be stupid. Literally, that’s it.
The list of teams that can beat Bayern Munich straight up can be counted on half-a-hand, and Porto isn’t one of them. Unless Neuer forgets he has hands, a defender confuses which goal he’s supposed to be defending or the posts start moving to keep Bayern’s shots out, there’s no reasonable reason to pick Bayern to lose.