Best team of the decade #5: Bayern Munich 2013-16

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Lewis Ambrose

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The 2011/12 season was the most painful in the history of Bayern Munich.

Runners up in the Bundesliga and in the DFB Pokal, missing out on both to Borussia Dortmund, was bad enough.

Losing the Champions League final on penalties in their own stadium was about as painful an experience as any football fan could imagine.

The club responded by revamping their style of play, taking inspiration from the frenetic pressing employed by Jürgen Klopp’s Dortmund side, and smashed their transfer record to sign Javi Martínez for €40m.

It was a masterstroke.

Twelve months on from heartbreak, they were treble winners.

Jupp Heynckes’ men won the Bundesliga with a record 91 points, obliterating the 81-point record set by Dortmund the previous year.

They then beat their German rivals in the Champions League final, before sealing the treble with a dramatic cup final win over Stuttgart the following week.

But it was to be Heynckes’ final season at the club – Bayern had appointed Pep Guardiola, who they wanted to instil true philosophy of play. A so-called Bayern way.

For Guardiola to come in and sustain results while completely transforming the team’s approach was sensational. There was not a single player who didn’t improve under Pep.

Manuel Neuer became the undisputed best goalkeeper in the world, roaming far outside his area to give Bayern an extra player and sweep up behind an extraordinarily high defensive line.

Philipp Lahm was reimagined as a central midfielder. He and David Alaba would tuck inside, protecting Bayern from counter attacks and dominating possession from full-back, an approach previously unseen. Jérôme Boateng’s game reached another level, with dominant defensive work paired with deadly, raking passes.

A Bayern way was indeed forged. Midfield consisted of typically Spanish control and technique – Thiago, Xabi Alonso – and typically German grit, work-rate, class – Bastian Schweinsteiger, Arturo Vidal.

Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry continued to terrorise defences (when fit). Their incredible width, speed and directness transform how Guardiola himself saw football and how to use players in these positions.

Robert Lewandowski, the ultimate striker, arrived in 2014. After taking some time to settle in, he only improved an already near-perfect side.

From the start of 2012/13 to the end of 2015/16, including only games where the title wasn’t yet clinched, Bayern lost five of 117 Bundesliga matches.

With their four title wins in these four years, they racked up the best (2013), second best (2014) and third best (2016) points tallies ever in a Bundesliga season.

A treble under Heynckes. Domestic dominance and a true pushing of the boundaries under Guardiola. A reimagined version of how football could be played – the goalkeeper sweeping, the fullbacks moving inside – was truly revolutionary.

If they had one problem, it was that the team would often take their foot off the gas at the end of each season during this spell. After 2013, riding the wave of making up for the previous season, they struggled to maintain their intensity in April and May.

Sealing the Bundesliga early continuously cost them in Europe as they reached Champions League semi-finals in 2014, 2015 and 2016 but failed to progress further. They entered those semi-finals cold, having not played a competitive match for weeks.

Margins are tight in Europe; Bayern only missed out on the 2016 final because of a missed Thomas Müller penalty. Domination on the continent would have been sensational but, because of the nature of knockout competition, it should never be seen as the benchmark.

A second Champions League trophy would, of course, have been a crowning glory, the proof that the mid-2010s belonged to Bayern Munich.

But make no mistake, they achieved greatness even without it.