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Miserly rearguard

‘Strikers win matches, defenders win titles’

“Strikers win matches, defenders win titles“, according to a German football saying. Indeed, Bayern’s 20 championship-winning seasons to date have frequently featured the best goals-against record in the section. “The trophy won’t go to the team which scores the most goals, it’ll go to the team with the best-organised defence,” Ottmar Hitzfeld confirmed at the start of the campaign. The seasoned coach is very likely to be proved right yet again, as his defenders lay a rock-solid foundation for this term’s assault on the title.

Bayern have conceded just 11 goals in 23 Bundesliga matches to date, the lowest total in the club’s history at this stage of a season. The midpoint of the current campaign saw a new club record of eight goals against, and a league record of just two conceded at home. Munich are well on course to challenge Werder Bremen’s fabulous effort of 22 goals against in 1987-8. “I’m still ambitious enough to want this record,” declared Oliver Kahn, praising his team-mates in the strongest terms: “This season’s defence is the best I’ve ever played behind at Bayern.“

Team effort

A grinning Marcell Jansen said he was delighted at this “huge praise” from the skipper, “although obviously that’s put us under pressure now.“ However, the rearguard looks unlikely to cave in any time soon. “We’re consistent, we make hardly any mistakes, and we communicate well,” reasoned Kahn, pleased with the men guarding his goal in his last season as a pro. The keeper and his deputy Michael Rensing have kept clean sheets in 14 out of 23 matches, although there is some way to go to match the league record of 19 games without conceding set by Bremen (1987-8) and Bayern themselves (2001-2).

“We’re doing well because we take a fundamentally aggressive approach, and the strikers think defensively too,” reasoned Jansen, praising the effort of the collective. Even Franck Ribéry and Luca Toni contribute, explained Mark van Bommel: “Everyone leaves his ego in the dressing room.“ The almost impregnable defence creates a solid platform for attack. “You need to rely on your defenders,” continued Van Bommel, “we know we’ll take a point, even on days we don’t score.“

Unaffected by rotation

This was not entirely the case last term. “We simply conceded too many goals,” recalled Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. The Reds only kept eight clean sheets last season, a performance they have already bettered this year. “But it’s not just down to the back four,” Rummenigge continued, “we’re working hard in midfield too.“ Added Jansen: “The players in the holding positions keep it very tight and tackle brilliantly.“

Hitzfeld has generally favoured two holding midfielders this season, although he has recently tried out a variant with just one man in front of the back four, without any negative effects so far. The General’s rotation policy, with three changes to the back four against Karlsruhe, has also done nothing to undermine the team’s solidity at the back: the Bavarians have negotiated the last four matches without conceding.

Better than before Christmas

“We’re working hard in training, and we all know our jobs,” explained Daniel Van Buyten, praising the defenders’ excellent mutual understanding. “It’s all about communication, we all try and help each other,” agreed Jansen. Hitzfeld feels his players have come on since the first half of the season, and are even more consistent than before Christmas. “We have more class, more stability in our organisation, and we’re better equipped to win European matches now.“ Not to mention a decent chance of winning the league.