After two seasons without a trophy and the heartache of losing a 'home' final on penalties to Chelsea FC in May, FC Bayern München reacted the only way they know how. Never a club to feel sorry for themselves, the Bavarian giants strengthened wisely over the summer and set the standard in both the Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League Group F.
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There was an eerie atmosphere about the Fußball Arena München as fans returned to the scene of perhaps the biggest disappointment in Bayern's history for September's UEFA Champions League opener against Valencia CF. However, as soon as the game was under way, it became clear that last term's beaten finalists had renewed intention. Die Roten got straight back in the groove with a 2-1 victory, and though they slipped up at FC BATE Borisov in their next fixture, Jupp Heynckes' side bounced back in style to top the section.
The 3-1 defeat by BATE in Minsk served as a timely wake-up call. Sporting director Matthias Sammer was unreserved in his criticism of the team and Heynckes said his men "may have underestimated" the Belarusian champions. Bayern recovered from the setback impressively, though, with no such complacency on show as they stayed unbeaten throughout the remainder of the group stage, clinching first place with a ruthless 4-1 home win against BATE on matchday six.
Franck Ribéry managed just one goal in the group stage, yet Bayern are a different proposition with him in the side. The France winger provides pace and penetration on the left, constantly probing for an opening. Bayern dominate possession against most teams, but it is Ribéry, 29, who gives them the edge. "Whether it's Messi at Barcelona, Ronaldo at Real or Rooney at Man United – every great team has a key player they rely on, and ours is Ribéry," said chairman of the Bayern board Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
Ever since he became the youngest Bayern player to appear in the UEFA Champions League when making his competition debut aged 17 against ACF Fiorentina in March 2010, David Alaba's development has been remarkable. Having been converted from midfielder to left-back midway through last season, the 2011 Austrian footballer of the year has gone on to make the position his own and, with good friend Ribéry, forms arguably the best left flank on the continent.
Not counting last May's final, which was officially played on neutral territory, Bayern boast a formidable home record at the Fußball Arena München. The four-time European champions have won 17 of their last 18 home matches in the UEFA Champions League, the exception being a 3-2 reverse at the hands of FC Internazionale Milano in the last 16 of the 2010/11 campaign.
"All three German teams deserved to win their groups. It's nice to see the Bundesliga is alive and catching up with the very best leagues. In terms of strength across the board, I'd even say it's the best at the moment. The top teams are all performing strongly in Europe."
Bayern forward Mario Gomez underlines the quality of the Bundesliga.
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