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Champions League 2014 Semifinals: Interview with Bayern Munich Expert Ryan Cowper

Bavarian Football Works answered our questions about Bayern Munich!

Ronny Hartmann

SB Nation's Bayern Munich blog, Bavarian Football Works, had the idea of doing a Q&A about Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, and here's how it turned out. Make sure you read their blog to find out what they asked me and obviously read my answers about Real Madrid.

Q: You guys changed your manager too. And while you are doing well in the Bundesliga, your performances in the Champions League have not been as dominant as they were last year. I must say that I expected a bit more from you guys, since I thought you would thrash both Arsenal and Utd. more easily. What are your feelings about this?

That Bayern Munich struggled against Arsenal and Manchester United was not really a surprise, but it was also partly by design. As Real Madrid fans are no doubt acutely aware, Pep Guardiola's requirement of maintaining possession is a key piece of Bayern Munich's offense. Part of that strategy is utilizing the high press of opponents against them. In the Arsenal and Manchester United games, Guardiola had Bayern Munich hold up on attacks and use possession to wear down opposition attacking threats in the first halves. In the second halves they transitioned to a much more free flowing style that used the strengths of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben to attack defenses quickly while facing blunted counterattacks from tired opposition strikers. They don't end up looking dominant because they're more focused on controlling the game then attacking. While this worked against Arsenal and Manchester United, sides that are not accustomed to this sort of defend and counter play, it back fired horribly against Borussia Dortmund who ran over Bayern Munich with a steamroller. Given that just a season ago Real Madrid had Europe's second best counterattacking coach in charge, I'd say some of use have concerns for Wednesday.

Q: Are Bayern a better team this season than last season? Not talking only about the roster here...

Roster-wise and talent-wise Bayern Munich are far stronger then last year. They basically traded Luiz Gustavo, a high quality holding midfielder, for arguably the two best under-23 players in the whole of Europe (our apologies to Isco). I'll make that trade anytime.

Tactics-wise you'll find opinions among Bayern Munich fans are about as diverse as a 120-pack of Crayola crayons. And I don't really have a non-nuanced answer here. The key difference between last year and this year is consistency. Bayern Munich were consistent last year. Every game, they went out, and most often flawlessly, executed their gameplan. It helped that they had basically the same gameplan for every game and a nearly constant starting eleven.

Change is the hallmark of this season.  Every match is approached differently from Pep Guardiola. Gameplans change from match to match based on opposition, and fundamentally change on a dime within matches themselves.  When Bayern Munich are firing on all cylinders tactically(which they haven't been since February), they're absolutely phenomenal and better then last year. Unfortunately, when they're not they look disjointed and out of sync. The highs are higher, the lowers are lower.

Q: With Lahm playing as a midfielder, are you guys a bit concerned about your fullbacks taking care of Bale-Ronaldo?

Philipp Lahm has primarily been used in central midfield and he's definitely the man Pep Guadiola leans on to get his vision for how the team should play implemented on the field. However, recently he's moved back to playing rightback. If he does play rightback, expect him to really focus on putting Ronaldo in his pocket. Lahm's replacement if he doesn't start at right back is Rafinha who is a very capable rightback in his own right. Part of the Rafinha equation though is he's better going forward then he is defensively, and he's never really matched up against someone as dominant as Ronaldo.

On the left is David Alaba and while he may not have the outright pace Gareth Bale has, he's more then capable of matching up with him. Much of that matchup will depend on how advanced Guardiola uses Alaba. The Austrian international was a central attacking midfielder before being converted to leftback several years ago, so he's hyper aggressive in attack and combines well with Franck Ribery. If he gets too advanced. there could be serious issues on the counterattack given Bale's pace. Unfortunately, what may make all of that moot is that he's currently battling a cold, is on antibiotics and will miss the weekend match against Eintracht Braunschweig. That puts his appearance next Wednesday in some doubt. His backup, Diego Contento is injured which would mean using a makeshift leftback or a reserve player. Which if that happens, expect to find me in the corner of the nearest fast food joint, surrounded by empty vodka bottles and half-eaten cheeseburgers, sobbing uncontrollably.

Extra) I hear Kroos might be leaving your team. Let's agree a 20M€ move and you'll get rid of "the problem"

If you toss in Raphael Varane, we'll give you his left testicle. You could use that to make an army of Toni Kroos' in your Galactico laboratory.

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