Alex Ferguson’s retirement from Manchester United is supposed to provide a good test for managerial influence. David Moyes, carrying a well-estbalished track record at a very stable, consistent club, inherited a winning team from Ferguson, one that undertook very few changes. Other factors will have a say in the Red Devils’ 2013-14 results, but the changes we see in Manchester United’s performance will likely have fewer confounding factors. Ambition, resources, personnel have all maintained their same level. The change from Ferguson to Moyes is the big one.
Bayern Munich has undertaken a similar experiment, though with Borussia Dortmund close on their heals, they’ve been forced to buy to keep ahead of Germany and Europe’s runners up. That buying’s included Mario Gotze (from Dortmund) and Thiago Alcantara (Barcelona), but also Pep Guardiola, the renown former Barça boss taking over for the retired Jupp Heynckes. With him he’s brought different preferences, a new style, and a formation tweak, the switch from 4-2-3-1 to a 4-1-4-1 sure to be debated throughout the season.
It’s one reason why Guardiola’s standard will be different than Moyes. Whereas the new United boss will always be judged against his competitor, Guardiola’s will be measured against his ability to stay ahead of Borussia Dortmund. Hold them off for the league and out-perform them in Europe, you’re fine. Fall behind, and even if the quality of his team is better than Heynckes’s, Guardiola will be judged harshly.
In that way, the Bayern versus Dortmund dynamic becomes a battle of ambition versus continuity, even though Dortmund’s been forced to undergo their own changes this summer. But they’ve kept Jurgen Klopp, the coach who has harnessed BVB’s potential and made them a European elite. While Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang now play where others once were, the philosophies that underpin the team’s style remain. Not so at Bayern.
To this point, continuity is winning out, if barely. Through five rounds, Dortmund is the league’s only perfect team, with Saturday’s 6-2 demolition over visiting Hamburg notable for who contributed to the rout. Saint-Etienne import Aubameyang scored his fourth and fifth goals of the season. Former Shakhtar midfielder Mkhitaryan got on the scoresheet again. Robert Lewandowski, somebody who had been relatively quiet this year (by his standards), scored twice and set up another, while Marco Reus, the other of BVB’s attacking four, also got on the scoresheet.
With Gotze gone, it was thought Reus would have to step up. Or, he’d have the opportunity to shine brighter (six of one half, etc.). But Klopp hasn’t needed more from him, nor has he needed a healthy Ilkay Gündogen or Lukasz Piszczek. The speculation that Dortmund could push on from the team that nearly won last year’s European title is starting to play out. Early in the season, BVB have a more ruthless side, leaving them with a +11 goal difference after a month’s games.
Bayern Munich, on the other hand — a team that finished with a +80 difference last season — have taken a step back, seemingly sacrificing dominance for greater control. That tradeoff saw them drop two points before the international break, Freiburg catching them with a late counter attack, but it also saw them ease to a 2-0 win this weekend against visiting Hannover. Like all other Bayern games, they dominated possession (68 percent) and shots on goal (eight to two) but didn’t see that reflected on the scoreboard. With second half goals, Mario Mandzukic and Franck Ribéry pushed Bayern to 13 points through five games.
There’s a good chance that FCB, continuing to acclimate to Guardiola’s approach will become the juggernaut his Barcelona teams once were. There’s also a chance that the ways to slow down Barcelona are now being applied in Germany, and the scores will stay down. In stronger, more athletic league, that may lead to a greater percentage of points dropped, leaving Bayern more likely to give the title back to Dortmund.
The head-to-head battles will have a lot to say about that. In the German Super Cup, BVB scored four times on Bayern, a result that’s unlikely to be replicated in a game that matters. The threat, however, is made clear every time Dortmund kicks off. They are clearly as, if not more, dangerous than last year. We’ve yet to see if Bayern can keep up.
Elsewhere in Germany: Bayer Leverkusen sit third, recovering from their first loss of the season with a 3-1 win over visiting Wolfsburg. Stefan Keißling scored twice … Kevin Prince-Boateng made his first major contribution for Schalke, scoring the only goal in Schalke’s 1-0 win at fifth-place Mainz. Schalke’s won two in a row … Augsburg ran their winning streak to three as second half goals from Halil Altintop and Tobias Werner reversed a 1-0 deficit, handing visiting Freiburg a 2-1 loss … The shootout-to-be between Hoffenheim and Borussia Mönchengladbach didn’t quite come off, but goals by Anthony Modeste and Kevin Volland still gave Hoffenheim a 2-1 win … Franco Di Santo was sent off in the 26th minute as newly-signed Vaclav Kadlec, with a goal on either side of the dismissal, helped Eintracht Frankfurt to a 3-0 win at Werder Bremen, who’ve lost three straight … Timmy Chandler was back in the XI for Nurnberg as FCN took a point at Braunschweig, 1-1.