Bayern Munich were not satisfied in Seville. “Lucky,” admitted central defender Mats Hummels. Despite coming away from their Champions League quarter-final first leg with a highly serviceable 2-1 defeat of Sevilla, an opponent who Jose Mourinho would tell you is one of the toughest in the game, existential questions circle Germany’s now seemingly permanent champions.
Are they good enough to win the Champions League? They definitely have the players to do so, but is life just too easy for them in the Bundesliga? Upping the gears, tightening the concentration when not having matters all your own way is a difficult discipline if you are so used to strolling through opponents.
A 17-point lead on Schalke makes a sixth successive title a formality. Should they win at mid-table Augsburg on Saturday then that will be secured. Saturday’s 6-0 thrashing of Borussia Dortmund was less “Klassiker” than a damning indictment of the inability of the rest of German football to keep up with Bayern’s phenomenal wealth and power. They never even had to hit the heights of being truly awe-inspiring, despite being 5-0 up by half-time, with another goal chalked off by VAR.
Asset-stripped and unable to repeat the alchemical magic of the Jurgen Klopp years, Dortmund no longer not offer much of a rivalry. The time has long past when they were good enough to contest the 2013 Champions League final with Bayern. Dortmund were the last team other than Bayern to win the Bundesliga back in 2012 and the make-up of the teams who faced each other at the Allianz Arena spelled out why nobody can now get close to “FC Hollywood”.
Hummels was imperious in defence and a frequent part of the attack while Robert Lewandowski scored a hat-trick, doing so almost at will. Both were members of Klopp’s champion team yet joined the brain drain to Bavaria, as did Mario Götze, now back in Westphalia having struggled to live with the demands of playing for Pep Guardiola.
The Catalan genius continues to cast a long shadow over Bayern. His three years at the club were supposed to convert the club into the Germanic version of Barcelona, a centre of excellence which would dominate Europe. It didn’t work out that way. Bayern’s dominance in Germany accelerated but Guardiola’s team lost in three consecutive Champions League semi-finals.
And after Guardiola took on the Manchester City project in the summer of 2016, Carlo Ancelotti, seen as a more relaxed antidote to his predecessor’s megalomaniacal zeal, could not repeat his Champions League successes with AC Milan and Real Madrid, and eventually departed last September after a 3-0 defeat at Paris Saint-Germain panicked Bayern’s power brokers into activating the ejector seat.
The burden falls again, and he has promised for the last time despite repeated pleas from club president Uli Hoeness to reconsider, to Jupp Heynckes, who is back for a fourth go, and has reached the final each time he entered a team into the Champions League.
The 72-year-old had not coached since 2013, when he led Bayern to a treble, including winning that Wembley Champions League final, making him the last coach to win the competition without Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo in their team.
A glance at the players available to Heynckes suggest a squad as strong as any other contenders can offer. Lewandowski only competes with Harry Kane to be Europe’s best pure centre-forward. Hummels plays the game with the elegance of predecessors like Franz Beckenbauer and Mattias Sammer, while on the flanks, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, still in tandem after nine years together are not as explosive as they once were, but still highly capable.
Full-back Joshua Kimmich, 23 and expected to be the heir of Philipp Lahm, who played as an auxiliary right winger for much of the game in Seville, is alone of the outfield players in being relatively inexperienced. The rest of Heynckes’ deep pool of talent drips with experience and know-how, from Javi Martinez, back in midfield after Guardiola tried to convert him into a centre-back, to Arturo Vidal, playing his best football in some years, and the always mercurial Thomas Muller.
On Tuesday, Heynckes was able to leave Robben and James Rodriguez, outstanding on loan from Real Madrid this season, on the bench. Sven Ulreich, meanwhile, has been a revelation as goalkeeper in standing for Manuel Neuer, who has missed almost the entire season with a foot injury.
The expertise is definitely there, and so should be the nous, but Bayern have suffered inferiority complexes to the likes of Ronaldo, their hat-trick scoring destroyer in last season’s quarter-final or Messi, who in 2015, outfoxed Guardiola’s semi-final stratagems and left his former manager dumbstruck.
A scratchy win at Sevilla did not put the fear into the rest of Europe in the fashion that, say, Ronaldo’s overhead kick in Turin did, but if Bayern can find a way to raise their level and overcome themselves they can win the Champions League.