London: Manchester United meets Bayern Munich in the Champions League next Tuesday.
It will be April 1, but only a fool would make the excuse that changing managers is the root cause to United’s rapid decline and Bayern’s soaring success this season.
While United were being humbled again Tuesday, losing 0-3 in their own stadium to Manchester City, Bayern Munich wrapped up the Bundesliga in record time with a 3-1 victory at Hertha Berlin in the Olympiastadion.
All season long, the word transition has hung over United’s grounds at Old Trafford. Alex Ferguson had retired after 27 years as the team manager. David Moyes is still trying to grow into those shoes and admits that the scope of the rebuilding is far bigger than anyone imagined.
Ferguson had chosen the successor himself, and when he did so, the old manager appealed to the crowd to give the new man time. Ten months have passed since the change, but it took less than a minute into the game Tuesday for City to brilliantly, and ruthlessly, show which is the superior team in Manchester.
David Silva, a playmaker more skilled and more subtle than any United possesses, went straight for the jugular. His run with the ball from the kick-off tricked and tied up United’s central defence. Rafael managed, just, to block Silva’s path, but there were two other City players already in the goalmouth.
The ball went from Samir Nasri, who shot it against a post, only for Edin Dzeko to then divert it over the goal line. The time was just 43 seconds into the opening minute.
United were undone, laid bare. From then until the final whistle, it seemed to be a matter of how many more times City would strike. Dzeko scored a second time, and Yaya Toure finished off the third goal. But Silva was ever the creator, and Marouane Fellaini, the big, combative, awkward Belgian whom Moyes brought with him from Everton, was lucky to stay on the field after crudely elbowing City’s Pablo Zabaleta in the face.
City have both in the former Barcelona administrators that it hired to oversee the transition — which, by the way, included a change of coach last summer when Roberto Mancini was dismissed and replaced by the experienced Chilean, Manuel Pellegrini.
His key change, bringing in the Brazilian Fernandinho, was thought out well in advance. Where Fellaini runs around like a headless rooster in United’s midfield, Fernandinho’s considerable energy and timely attacking forays dovetail with the powerful presence of Toure at the heart of City’s midfield.
For all of the above — the forethought, the financing and the will to spend before a team grows beyond its prime — look to Bayern Munich. The club has overpowered the Bundesliga to such an extent that their retention of the title, which officially came Tuesday in Berlin, has resulted in record after record being broken.It has 19 consecutive wins in the Bundesliga and has gone unbeaten for 52 matches, both unprecedented.
The league shield is safely locked away in Munich for another season with seven games left to play over the next two months.
And you can bet that if any Champagne was drunk in the locker room, it was very little, because Munich still have some unfinished business this season: Defending their bigger title, the Champions League. That task continues next week in Manchester against United.
You probably know that there was a change of head coach at Bayern around the same time as the Manchesters changed their managers. Jupp Heynckes, who built up Munich’s all-conquering team, retired.
The German transition was known six months in advance. The board of directors went to New York, where Pep Guardiola, Barcelona’s former coach, was on sabbatical, and talked him into taking over in Germany rather than accept offers from other clubs, among them Chelsea.
Guardiola told them of the players he needed if Bayern were to improve on the perfection it already appeared to have achieved. Mario Gotze and Thiago Alcantara were the first two added to the Munich roster.
Gotze’s creative zest belonged to Borussia Dortmund, the second-best team in the Bundesliga and, last year, the runner-up to Bayern in the Champions League. Alcantara is a young man with the ability to conduct the rhythm of a team, but he emerged at Barcelona under Guardiola, playing the same position as arguably the world’s most accomplished central midfield hub, Xavi Hernandez, so his progress was blocked.
It was an easy move for Guardiola: Buy from your opponents, weakening them and strengthening you. That continuation, that plotting ahead by the club, the board and the incoming coach, is nonstop. Bayern are already ahead of the game for next season, having already secured Robert Lewandowski (once again from their rival Dortmund) to come in and add to the firepower after the season ends.
Pep being Pep, his satisfaction was limited. “We played really, really well for 30 minutes,” he added. “We were dynamic but kept it simple and used the whole of the pitch. We controlled the game, but forgot to attack at times.”
Next stop, Manchester.