With the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League set, everyone seems excited about the match-ups. And why not? Four great teams with stacked rosters, all in good form, along with plenty of intriguing side-plots (possibility of an all-German or all-Spanish final … Dortmund and Real Madrid in a replay of their Group Stage battles … possibility of a rematch of Bayern and Real’s epic semi-final from last year … Bayern battling Barcelona with Pep Guardiola watching from the stands). In fact, a few supporters have described the Bayern vs. Barca game as a “dream match.”
The way I see it, though, this match can’t qualify as a dream game. It’s simply a very interesting game that may feature the two best teams in the world. To me, a “dream match” is something that can actually happen only with the aid of the imagination. When I think of a dream match, I think of things like “what would happen if East Germany and West Germany had been unified for the 1982 World Cup?” Or “How would the 2010 Champions League Final have been different if Ribery hadn’t been suspended?” Or, my favorite dream match of all:
What would happen if FC Bayern Munich were to battle the German national team?
THE GROUND RULES
– Assume that players who are on both teams (guys who play for Bayern AND the German national side) will be playing for both sides. Call them an evil twin brother, a clone, or pretend it’s a video game where guys can show up in duplicate and play on two teams at once.
– All injuries are healed, and all fatigue is erased. Both sides are able to choose their best possible starting line-up and their best possible bench (though the normal in-game rules on substitutions and cards are, of course, still in effect).
– The match takes place at a neutral location (I don’t know where that would be … Nuernberg would be the best bet, because it’s close enough for Bayern supporters to make the trip en masse, but far enough that many of the locals would be anti-Bayern. Anyway, assume each side has sold 50 percent of the tickets).
– Regular Champions League Final rules apply: 90 minutes, plus added time if the scores are level, followed by … (gulp) … a penalty shoot-out.
Let’s compare the teams, head to head and position by position.
Easy enough: both sides start the world’s best GK, German international Manuel Neuer. You could argue that Die Nationalelf has deeper talent, with Rene Adler and Ron-Robert Zieler backing up their version of Neuer, but we’re going to do a separate depth/bench category later. And, anyway, you’d really have to hope that Neuer wouldn’t get hurt or red-carded (for either side) over the course of the match.
Our first intriguing question of the day. For Bayern, the fullbacks are obviously set (with David Alaba and Philipp Lahm on either corner), and at CB I’m going to go with the old NFL coach’s adage: a player can’t lose his job due to injury. So let’s say Dante and Holger Badstuber are the CB pairing for Bayern, with Boateng as the first guy off the bench.
For Germany, the question is more up-in-the-air, with Lahm and Boateng a possible FB pairing and Hoewedes and Mertesacker both waiting in the wings. But I’ll play it straight and say Marcel Schmelzer (who has been starting recently at LB) pairs with Lahm, and Badstuber and Mats Hummels play in the CB spots.
So who to favor, with Alaba-Dante-Badstuber-Lahm on one end of the field and Schmelzer-Badstuber-Hummels-Lahm on the other? Well, Marcel brings an interesting angle to the German side. And Hummels, when he’s locked in and seeing the field, still has an argument for best CB in the world. But … he doesn’t have much of an argument, ‘cause right now the Big D is smothering everything anyone can throw at Bayern. Dante has the quickness, the awareness, and the tenacity to shut down anyone – even the kind of talent he’d face in this match. Looks like he’s going to be Christian Nerlinger’s parting gift to the club for a long, long time.
Combined with Alabaster and Lahm, the best FB pairing in the world, Bayern’s back line is stout defensively and threatening going forward. Between two super-talented units, I’m going to give the edge to Die Roten.
Infinite variations are possible, but we’re assuming that both sides are running their standard 4-2-3-1. And obviously both midfields will be centered around Bastian Schweinsteiger. So, assuming Bastian plays the same role for both sides, the battle for the midfield will come down to the pig-climber’s partner: Javi Martinez for FC Bayern or Sami Khedira for Germany? Classic question.
Both are solid defenders who can help control the middle of the field; Martinez is a little better at intercepting passes, while Khedira is a tough-tackling boss-of-the-pitch type. Whoscored.com puts Martinez with a slightly better passing percentage and more completed passes per match, but Khedira with more “key passes.” Offensively, neither is going to make anyone forget about Leo Messi, but both are at least threatening enough to draw the attention of a defender (or to find the net if they’re left wide open). I’d guess Sami K is maybe 0.001 percent more useful offensively, but that’s just my opinion.
A few months ago, I would have given a big edge to Khedira here. But with the way Martinez has been playing, this is basically a toss-up (I’m sure some Bayern supporters would even prefer Javi). I’m going to call this almost a draw, with the sliiiightest edge to Germany. Interestingly, this is the one area where Bayern has more depth (Gustavo is a useful weapon, while the third CDM has long been a black hole for Die Nationalelf). But remember that we’re considering depth/subs separately.
ADVANTAGE: Tiny edge to Germany
(By the way – I’ve been writing for 2 fucking years and no one ever told me what “Schweinsteiger” means? Think of all the comic value I’ve been wasting. This is a fucking gold mine. When was anyone going to tell me this?)
ATTACKING MIDFIELD LINE
With the understanding that all injuries are healed, you’d have to think Toni Kroos is back in the hole and Arjen Robben becomes the first guy off the bench for FC Bayern. Ribery-Kroos-Mueller is pretty much an unbeatable line. Kroos (assuming he’s healthy) is a precise passer with a wicked shot from long distance. Mueller is a jack-of-all-trades who can pass, score, and find open spaces between defenders. Despite being switched out of his usual position, he’s racked up 18 goals across all competitions this year, and makes a pretty solid case for Bundesliga MVP. And Ribery is … well, Ribery.
But if ever there was a bunch that could put together a line that would equal it, it’s Germany’s roster. Between Mueller, Kroos, Mesut Oezil, Marco Reus, Mario Goetze, and Lukas Podolski, the German side can throw an endless number of combinations at you. Kroos has been lights-out, but I love that Oezil and Mueller combination, so they have to figure in the starting line-up. On the left side, Poldi seems to be out of favor (rightfully, in my opinion), so we’re faced with a question of who plays on the left …
Although he’s a little less experienced in big tournaments, I think Reus has earned the starting job for Germany. He’s pretty quick, has a good goal-scoring touch, and can use both feet effectively. If Germany wanted to try a counter-attack strategy, we all know Reus can strike like lightning. Plus, with that line, Germany has 3 different guys who can overlap and go inside-out.
So, who gets the edge? Well, Germany’s depth is a huge edge, but we’re considering that separately. I’m pretty excited about Deutschland’s chances at the upcoming World Cup with that deep stable of talented, energetic players. But as far as the starting three, I don’t see how anyone can equal how Bayern’s forward line is playing right now. Ribery is carving up everything opponents’ defenses are putting in front of him. It would be wildly entertaining to see whether Lahm could slow him down. But as far as a head-to-head comparison, FC Bayern has to take a slight edge here.
ADVANTAGE: Tiny edge to Bayern
Mario Mandzukic (Bayern) or Mario Gomez (both sides); I don’t envy Jupp Heynckes, having to make this choice every week. Gomez, the front man for Bayern and Germany for the past couple years, has racked up an impressive goal-scoring record. He’s a big guy who can blast the ball with power and decent accuracy. And while he’s taken some flak for not being the most graceful swan, Gomez has actually shown a few good dribbling/touch moves this year.
Mandzukic, meanwhile, has been a revelation. He had a good season for Wolfsburg last year and a great Euro campaign for Croatia last summer, leading Bayern to swoop for him. All he’s done since then is score 20 goals (15 in Bundesliga play), give Bayern a target man who can score with his head (something the club had sort of lacked in recent years), establish himself as one of the best strikers in Europe, and seemingly take Gomez’s spot.
Everyone’s got their own opinion here, but I don’t think we’re going to settle this age-old question today.
Here’s where the institutional advantage of a national side pays off. Germany has access to so many talented players from the Bundesliga and other leagues around the world: Goetze, Podolski, the Bender boys, Ilkay Guendogan, Benedikt Hoewedes, Andre Schuerrle. Even Miro Klose, who may set the all-time World Cup scoring record next year, is a back-up. That’s pretty much all you need to know about Germany’s depth. If anyone gets hurt, tired, carded, or if they just need to mix it up and show the opponent a different look, they have more options than they could ever need – all of them quick, smart, and with good touch.
Bayern, for a club side, has some good subs of their own: Jerome Boateng, Rafinha, Contento, van Buyten, and of course Arjen Robben (assuming he’s not starting). But there’s no way they could equal the depth at Jogi Loew’s disposal.
ADVANTAGE: Big edge to Germany
In the interest of not starting a fight, I’m just going to drop this here and move on.
TEAMWORK AND INTANGIBLES
This is perhaps the most interesting factor of all. Every time the World Cup rolls around, you hear so much about how the players are excited to be playing for national pride. Which, I’m sure, is largely true. And having the common language and background is definitely a factor. At the same time, I’m not sure anything is quite the equal of going to battle with the guys you play with, travel with, and live with every week. We’ve seen this season how Bayern’s forwards have developed such perfect timing, such flawless understanding of where their teammates are going to be at all times. While the national pride and camaraderie isn’t to be underestimated, there’s no substitute for months and months of practice, drills, film study, and everything else that comes from being professional teammates.
Honestly, you have to think this would be a sparkling match. Skilled players at every position, all of whom are aggressive, but most of whom are also unselfish and smart with the ball. There would be no room for mistakes, as any misplaced pass would be immediately pounced on by the other side. You know Germany Neuer and Bayern Neuer would both be making some huge saves; still, there’s no way any keeper would be able to keep these 2 offenses off the board.
Because neither midfield would have a massive advantage over the other, the match would likely turn on the match-ups along the wings: Alaba and Lahm trying to shut down Germany’s wings, and Schmelzer and Lahm trying to shut down Bayern’s. Die Nationalelf would be slippery, with Oezil and Mueller both hard to pin down in one spot; you might say Oezil plays in the central/9 spot, while Mueller is on the wing, but both can overlap and weave inside and out. Going the other way, meanwhile, Ribery vs. Lahm is the kind of thing that can only happen in a dream game (and, of course, in practice). But Mueller presents some dangers himself, and I’m not sure Schmelzer is up to the task of stopping him.
I think Germany’s edge in depth would help them. And even against a punishing defense, I think Oezil would find a way to create chances for his teammates, especially teamed with Germany-Mueller. But at the end of the day, I think this match would be Deutschland Uber Alles Andere Als Ein, as Bayern takes it, 3-2, with Ribery and Dante making the difference. Now I’m off to run this simulation on Wii Fifa – I’ll let you know how it turns out. Thanks for reading.
Phil Pierson is a Bayern supporter whose work has appeared on The Offside and Bavarian Football Works.