Created on 07-03-2008 at 00:00 AM
Somewhere high above the clouds on the return flight from Brussels to Munich, Uli Hoeneß strode to the front of the Lufthansa charter aircraft and held forth at the cabin microphone. “I’d like to warmly think the team for this magnificent performance,” declared the general manager, a man in seventh heaven after witnessing Bayern’s record-equalling 5-0 victory away to RSC Anderlecht in the UEFA Cup last sixteen. “It was thoroughly enjoyable, but that’s not all. It means we can make the quarter-finals next week with the minimum of fuss.“
Hoeneß then turned to the man who orchestrated a memorable evening in the Belgian capital. “I’d also like to thank Ottmar Hitzfeld,” he said. Bayern’s highest away win in Europe for 13 years “has handed us a few restful days before next Wednesday’s return. Not much can go wrong when you’re 5-0 up before the home leg,” the official reckoned, “and I’m sure Ottmar will set another new record with his rotation next week.“
Six new faces in Anderlecht
The manager’s praise for Hitzfeld’s squad shuffling was significant. The head coach’s frequent and numerous team changes of recent weeks reached a new highpoint in Anderlecht, where the General introduced six new faces to his starting line-up for the second time in a row. The policy brought a first victory at the Schalke Arena four days earlier, and was rewarded in Brussels with his side’s most commanding UEFA Cup display of the campaign.
“It wasn’t as easy as you’d think just by looking at the result,” a cautious Hitzfeld admonished. An even first half could have ended 1-1, the General pointedly remarked. Hamit Altintop blasted FCB into the lead on just nine minutes, but Thomas Chatelle came within the width of a post of equalising midway through the half. The match then turned in the five minutes before the break, when RSC defender Marcin Wasilewski saw two yellow cards in as many minutes, and Luca Toni doubled the advantage in first half stoppage time.
Rotation vital for trophy quest
“It was simple for us in the second half,” concluded Hitzfeld, as Lukas Podolski (57), Miroslav Klose (67) and Franck Ribéry (86) ran riot, conjuring up a series of moves “the like of which I’ve not seen for a while,“ Mark van Bommel smiled. Hitzfeld’s rotation even extended to the in-game situation, with two subs on at half-time and the third before the hour. “Everybody deserves praise,” commented Van Bommel, “the men who came on also played well.“
Rotation is proving a resounding success this term. “We’ve only lost once in 36 matches,” remarked Hitzfeld. The coach has yet to send out the same starting line-up in two consecutive games this season. “I don’t regard rotation as a risk, I see it as sensible,” the 59-year-old insisted. “Provided we remain in both Cup competitions, we’ll be playing twice a week until May 17 – and the most challenging games still lie ahead. We need everyone we have.“
The players themselves are fully lined up behind the policy. “We have 20, 22 men ready to perform. We’re completely relaxed about the situation,” explained Philipp Lahm. “I’ve made sure the players realise they’re a team,” Hitzfeld amplified, “we keep hearing this is the strongest Bayern squad of all time. It’s important they all get playing time and we deploy our resources to maximum effect. That’s my philosophy.“
The coach has no first-choice and second-string players as such. “They’re all as good as each other,” he confirmed. One potential new face has voluntarily put himself forward for the return against Anderlecht. “I’ll be training hard this week. Maybe Ottmar will give me a game,” Hoeneß joshed. High above the clouds between Brussels and Munich is as good a place as any to dream impossible dreams.