One game into the 2016-17 Bundesliga season, Bayern Munich looks unstoppable, a dead certainty to lift the Meisterschale for a fifth straight season.
Premature hyperbole it may be but a crushing victory in front of a frenzied sellout crowd leaves little doubt the defending champion looks to be miles ahead of the chasing pack.
Not named amongst the teams with even a faint hope of challenging Bayern for the title, Werder Bremen departed the Allianz Arena beaten, 6-0, confident at least in the belief that such displays won’t be uncommon this season.
In the ninth minute of the league opener Friday, Xabi Alonso controlled a partial clearance and struck a majestic volley from nearly 25 yards out. Werder Bremen keeper Felix Wiedwald’s desperate lunge got just a fingertip on the shot on its way into the net, and by the time the ball landed a sense of “here we go again” had probably flashed among players, coaches, executives and fans as the likely slogan of a 54th Bundesliga campaign.
Werder, which had lost to Bayern, 5-0, last March on its way to a 13th place finish, a full 50 points behind the champion, succumbed a second time four minutes later to the first goal of three for Robert Lewandowski and was never really in the game.
Bayern won the title by 10 points last year, 10 points the year before that, and 19 points and 25 points in the two seasons prior to the last two. Not since the 2011-12 Borussia Dortmund team coach by current Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp captured the crown has Bayern been seriously challenged domestically.
Several months ago, before he took on the job of replacing head coach Pep Guardiola at Bayern, Carlo Ancelotti said, “Bayern win the league with their hands in their pockets.” The club did indeed secure a record 26th title but also stumbled in the Champions League, the third straight such failure for Guardiola, who months before the season finished had agreed to take over at Manchester City.
Bayern won its fifth Champions League just three years ago under Jupp Heyneckes, but that triumph ended more than a decade of disappointment. During the first reign of Ottmar Hitzfeld (1998-2004), Bayern captured the 2000-01 crown, which ended a barren quarter of a century since the great Bayern teams of the mid-1970s won the European Cup (as it was known then) three straight times.
Ancelotti is the only man to manage three teams to Champions League titles: two with AC Milan, which he served for five years as a player, and more recently with Real Madrid in 2014. He’s also won domestic league titles in Italy, England, and France.
“Carlo is a football man,” said Alonso in an interview with FOX Sports that aired Friday during the pregame show prior to Bayern’s romping victory. “He’s been a great player, he’s been a great manager in so many countries with so many great clubs.”
If anyone besides Jose Mourinho could be considered an upgrade from Guardiola, it would have to be Ancelotti. At 57, he’s taking his first venture into the Bundesliga, which despite Bayern’s dominance regularly cranks out intensely competitive games played in packed stadiums crackling with energy. Last season, Bundesliga games averaged 43,300 fans per game, the highest figure of any pro soccer league and second in all sports only to the NFL (68,400).
“It is a new challenge, a new team, a new language, which has not been easy,” said Ancelotti, who does speak very good English along with his fluency in fussball.
During the summer Bayern didn’t spend a lot on new players but did snag German international Mats Hummels and Portuguese teenager Renato Sanches for combined transfer fees of $78 million. The main Bundesliga challenger again appears to be Borussia Dortmund, which plunged $123 million into transfer fees, most notably for Ousmane Dembélé, Mario Gotze, Sebastian Rode, and Andre Schurrle. Bayern cut loose Gotze and Rode, which gives an indication as to the club’s assessment of their importance.
The major hope for Dortmund and the other 16 Bundesliga clubs is for Bayern’s obsession with European success to hamper their domestic performances, but the league’s deepest roster will be hard to dent significantly with injuries, suspensions, international callups, and fatigue. A master tactician and excellent manager of men, Ancelotti will relish the opportunity to take a team from yet another nation to the European summit. Aside from derbies and regional rivalries, tackling Bayern is the acid test for every team, and those that can take points off the perennial champion provide one of the world’s most entertaining leagues with underdogs to root for.