By Andreas Alf
With a 4-0 win against AFC Ajax on Matchday 2, FC Bayern München not only announced their return to top form in the UEFA Champions League, they also opened a new chapter in their history as a stylish, attack-minded team.
'Just too good'
Before the game, coach Felix Magath had gone out of his way to praise Ajax, saying: "Their free-flowing football is my ideal." By the end of the game, it was Ajax coach Ronald Koeman who was singing Bayern's praises. "They were just too good for my team," he said.
"It was a night which boasted much to celebrate," was Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge's post-match verdict. "We performed excellently," added Magath. And having helped add unfamiliar words like attacking, attractive and free-flowing to the usually dour Bayern lexicon, both men had reason to be pleased.
In the days when Stefan Effenberg and Jens Jeremies helped win the 2000/01 Champions League for Bayern, discipline and an unforgiving defence were their main weapons. However, the performance against Ajax- enlivened by a Roy Makaay hat-trick - was anything but negative.
Michael Ballack and Zé Roberto proved to be excellent entertainers as well as brilliant players, and Makaay's devastating finishing showed that Bayern have the cutting edge to match their flair. "This display has given us confidence," Ballack explained. "
We finally proved we can play like this against big names."
After two seasons of unalloyed misery and premature exits in the Champions League, it seems like two key figures have finally helped Bayern to rise up from the doldrums. Firstly, Makaay has fulfilled all the club' s expectations since Bayern broke their transfer record to sign him from RC Deportivo La Coruña for €18.75m in the summer of 2003, scoring ten of the club's last 12 European goals. "Whenever he takes a shot, he scores," said Ballack. "We know that and it is very positive for us."
Secondly, former VfB Stuttgart coach Magath, who replaced Ottmar Hitzfeld this summer, has brought new ideas to the Olympiastadion. "I admire Hitzfeld, but the past does not interest me," said Magath at the start of the season as he made the break with club tradition.
The 51-year-old has proved to be something of an iconoclast, even daring to clash with Oliver Kahn. The Bayern goalkeeper said: "Our strength has always been to play slowly and defend strongly." Magath countered: "Our play is too static. I want my team to play quicker and with more courage."
Such a philosophy is a godsend to creative players like Ballack, Zé Roberto and Sebastian Deisler. Hitzfeld preferred a conventional midfield formation with two attacking midfielders and two defensive ones, but Magath prefers a playmaking trio with Owen Hargreaves thriving in the role of midfield anchor.
However, while Bayern have been able to show their flair in Europe, the Bundesliga is a different matter. As Ballack said: "It's easier for us to attack against top teams, because domestically everyone just sits back and defends against us."
'Bayern are back'
None the less, the 4-0 win against Ajax has shown what Bayern are capable of. "We have proved that Bayern are back again," said Magath. Once they can adjust their tactics to turn on the style against the likes of SC Freiburg and DSC Arminia Bielefeld, few will have any reason to disagree.
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