Manuel Neuer confidently declared that Bayern Munich’s current crop is better than the treble-winning side of 2012-13 following Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final win over Lyon.
The Germany goalkeeper is better placed than most to offer such an opinion given he is one of the handful of figures remaining from Jupp Heynckes’ all-star cast, which defeated Borussia Dortmund in the European showpiece at Wembley in May 2013 to make history.
It is certainly a claim that has merits and one that will have even more credence should Bayern defeat Paris Saint-Germain in Sunday’s Champions League final in Lisbon to repeat the feat under Hansi Flick.
Ahead of the blockbuster clash at the Estadio da Luz, we have attempted to compare Bayern’s team now against their treble winners.
11- @FCBayernEN have reached their 11th European Cup/Champions League final, equalling AC Milan’s record. Only Real Madrid have reached the final more often (16 times). Finally. #OLFCB pic.twitter.com/CKkQwzJaok
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The only difference between the posts is that Neuer is seven years older than he was when lifting the Champions League at Wembley.
His brilliance and importance to Bayern cannot be doubted, with Neuer keeping 21 clean sheets in 50 matches this season – conceding just 49.
He had 26 clean sheets and only 33 shipped from the same number of matches in the 2012-13 campaign, though.
Philipp Lahm, one of the greatest full-backs to have played the game, had 17 assists from right-back in that season, while it was David Alaba providing speed, agility and creativity on the opposite side.
Alaba has converted successfully to centre-back this term, partly because Bayern had an injury crisis in that position but also due to the phenomenal breakout season enjoyed by Alphonso Davies.
Davies has three goals and eight assists, not bad for a 19-year-old and pretty good in comparison to the five and five achieved by Alaba in 12-13.
Jerome Boateng is still going strong at centre-back, with Dante starting the Wembley final and Alaba having partnered him for the most part this term.
The sensational Joshua Kimmich has been playing at right-back in Lisbon as Benjamin Pavard has been contending with an ankle injury, with the Germany star having largely featured in midfield under Flick.
Verdict: With three of the five still remaining it is probably fair to call this area of the pitch as a draw, though there are several young options in the 2019-20 team that can continue to scale new heights.
— David Alaba (@David_Alaba) August 20, 2020
Javi Martinez, still among Bayern’s ranks, and Bastian Schweinsteiger held down the midfield fort for the 2013 Champions League final, with Toni Kroos – who had broken into the first team – having enjoyed a prominent role only to have his campaign ended by an injury in the quarter-finals.
In this year’s knockout stages, Thiago Alcantara and Leon Goretzka have been the preferred two in central midfield but partly because Kimmich has been utilised elsewhere.
Schweinsteiger – a 2014 World Cup winner with Germany – is a legend at Bayern having won 18 trophies with Die Roten, with his nine goals and eight assists a very prominent return in the all-conquering Heynckes class.
Martinez has proven himself an extremely valuable squad player, not least due to his versatility, while Kroos has gone on to enjoy a legendary career with Real Madrid.
But the current crop oozes quality. Kimmich has mainly been used in midfield but is a world-class operator at full-back too.
Goretzka continues to grow in stature and has 15 goal involvements to his name this term, while his eye for a pass is crucial to exploiting Bayern’s strength out wide.
Thiago’s long-term future remains in doubt considering he is into the final year of his contract but few in world football are as good at setting the tempo or protecting the ball as the 29-year-old.
Verdict: There is no doubt the 2012-13 class can argue its own merits but the versatility, slickness and range of passing among this current Bayern side gives them the win.
Up front there can be only one winner. Lewandowski has been on a different level this season, producing numbers to rival Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo at the peak of their powers.
Lewandowski was playing for Dortmund the last time Bayern reached the final and will be their chief goalscoring threat against PSG.
The Poland star has 55 goals across all competitions, including 15 in the Champions League (only Ronaldo has ever scored as many in a single campaign).
It equates to a goal every 74 minutes, while Lewandowski has also contributed nine assists in all competitions this term.
2019/20 top scorers…#UCL
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Mario Mandzukic was admittedly influential for Bayern’s treble-winning team, including scoring in the Wembley final against Dortmund.
That term, the Croatian had 22 goals (one every 130 minutes) and two assists – extremely valuable but not at the same level as Lewandowski.
When it comes to the supporting cast, it becomes decidedly more difficult to make a judgement.
Thomas Muller is one of the few survivors from the 2013 team. The attacking midfielder has had a fine resurgence under Flick having looked destined for the exit door and has contributed 14 goals and 25 assists across all competitions, compared to 23 and 15 respectively in 12-13.
Out wide, Bayern had Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben – two of the finest wing artists of their generation. Right now, Serge Gnabry and Ivan Perisic have been holding those positions in the knockout rounds, while Kingsley Coman is a devastating option from the bench.
Ribery and Robben contributed 50 goal involvements between them, with Robben scoring the winner against Dortmund, during their treble season.
Gnabry alone has 36 goal involvements (more than either Robben or Ribery produced individually) during a campaign that has seen him break out as a world-class star. Perisic, a more workmanlike winger, has 15 and Coman 12.
Verdict: While Lewandowski is clearly an improvement in the striker position, the other forward roles are trickier to pick a winner. But the longevity of Robben and Ribery means they probably just about edge the argument, though Gnabry’s trajectory means this an answer that could easily be reviewed in years to come.
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