Football: Guardiola's Bayern aiming for repeat treble
BERLIN, Germany - With Pep Guardiola at the helm, Bayern Munich aim to continue European domination when the new Bundesliga season starts Friday with rivals Borussia Dortmund out to knock the Bavarians off top spot.
Having won 14 titles in four years at Barcelona, the 42-year-old Guardiola arrived in Munich to great fanfare in June, quickly making his mark on the team which won the treble of European, league and cup titles last season.
The 4-2-3-1 formation which won the Bundesliga by a 25-point margin has been abandoned for a 4-1-4-1 system while Guardiola has radically experimented with his line up.
The successful midfield partnership of Javi Martinez alongside Germany's Bastian Schweinsteiger looks set to be broken up with the German star playing the defensive midfielder role solo while the Spaniard drops into centre-back.
The signings of Barcelona's Spain Under-21 captain Thiago Alcantara and Germany's Mario Goetze from Borussia Dortmund means Guardiola has a plethora of midfielders with 10 full internationals.
Guardiola has already said he feels the pressure is on him to mirror the success that predecessor Jupp Heynckes enjoyed last season.
"It's not easy always having to win. People believe we'll win six or seven nil, but that's just not possible," said Guardiola.
"The supporters want more and more and more, but I have only been with the team for six to seven weeks, I need more time. I'm just a normal coach, I'm not some super trainer."
Director of sport Matthias Sammer has turned up the heat on Guardiola by saying Bayern wants to become the first team to retain the Champions League title.
"We want to create what has never been done in Europe," Sammer told German magazine Sport Bild.
"We want to attack the treble again and add to that the European Super Cup and the Club World Cup. We want to become even stronger."
Bayern suffered their first domestic defeat since October 2012 when they lost 4-2 at Dortmund in the German Super Cup on July 27, but were without goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and France star Franck Ribery.
"There might have been some sand in the gears, but the time for excuses is over," fumed Sammer afterwards.
Dortmund's charismatic coach Jurgen Klopp has evoked the spirit of Robin Hood, the famed outlaw of English folklore, by explaining his side's task for the season.
"We have a bow and arrow, and if we aim exactly right, we can strike," said Klopp.
"It feels like Bayern have a bazooka, so the chances of them striking are much higher. But still, that was how Robin Hood succeeded."
Whether Klopp can break Bayern's domination remains to be seen, but Dortmund have a point to make after losing May's Champions League final to Bayern, finishing second to Munich in the league and being knocked out of the German Cup by the Bavarians.
"You can't take anything away from what Bayern did last season," said Klopp.
"We won nothing last year, but perhaps there's a strength we can take from that."
Dortmund have certainly made some exciting investments over the summer.
Reported to be faster than sprint king Usain Bolt over 30 metres, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been signed from St Etienne, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been brought in from Shakhtar Donetsk.
Both are fleet-footed attacking midfielders and while Mkhitaryan is a play-maker, Aubameyang is just as home on the wing as he is up front.
Other challenges to Bayern's domestic domination come from the Bundesliga's other Champions League side Bayer Leverkusen who have put together a powerful squad despite the departures of Andre Schuerrle to Chelsea and Daniel Carvajal's return to Real Madrid.
South Korea striker Heung Min Son has been brought in from Hamburg and Australia winger Robbie Kruse has arrived from relegated Fortuna Duesseldorf.
Likewise, Schalke 04 could also be a force to be reckoned with after some astute signings in Germany Under-19 midfielder Leon Goretzka from VfL Bochum, Hungary striker Adam Szalai from Mainz 05 and Brazilian centre-back Felipe Santana from Dortmund.