Bayern are setting a standard that Jens Lehmann says will be hard for Arsenal to match in their Champions League second-leg
Having accomplished a memorable treble last season, setting a new challenge for Bayern Munich seemed a little churlish. But the Germans have been in such imperious form they have managed to pursue an extra ambition. Jens Lehmann, a member of Arsenal's Invincibles who completed an undefeated season ten years ago, fully expects Bayern to become the first German team to complete an unblemished Bundesliga season.
An unbeaten league campaign is, according to Lehmann, the only way they could improve on last season's treble. "More than going unbeaten is not possible," he says. "That's the maximum. You can't do more. Actually sometimes that means more than winning the Champions League in terms of consistency. Consistency always tells you about the quality of a team. I think they will become unbeaten champions. They're playing a different football."
Pep Guardiola's team, runaway leaders in the Bundesliga, are enjoying an extraordinary sequence of victories. They have not even dropped a single league point in five months. During that time, the only game they did not win came against Manchester City in the Champions League when they had already qualified from the group stage, and that loss was fairly inconsequential as they remained group winners.
Lehmann believes their domestic opponents look psychologically beaten even before kick-off. Bayern's dominance sets them apart from everybody, especially since they are able to cherry-pick top players from the next-best teams, exemplified by the fact Robert Lewandowski is already signed up to follow Mario Götze from Borussia Dortmund.
"I have to say the challenges they are facing in the Bundesliga are not too high. Their opponents really don't know how to play them. They don't even find a way of trying," muses Lehmann. He cites the recent match at Schalke, who had been on a decent run themselves. "Schalke were down 4-0 after 30 minutes. That was a little bit embarrassing. I'd like to see a team scoring against them let say in the 80th minute and being 1-0 up. Then I would like to see how they respond. So far nobody has managed to take the lead."
He is not convinced they would get such an easy ride elsewhere. "Bayern wouldn't go unbeaten in the English league," he says. "The depth of the Premier League in terms of quality is higher, even if it is not at the top any more. Teams playing at the bottom of the Premier League have a higher standard than the Bundesliga. They have more money, bigger squads."
That said, he is impressed with the strategic choice Bayern made in recent seasons to beef up their own squad, which has given them an edge when it comes to competing at home and abroad. The domestic games they face on either side of Champions League matches are not compromised. As Lehmann explains: "They have made a clever and necessary move two years ago. They have broadened their squad and bought in more competition. Everyone is playing, they are always fresh, and that is an ingredient for them winning every game."
The lack of competition Bayern's supremacy generates, however, is not to Lehmann's liking. "Watching them is a little bit boring as well," he explains. "They start playing around the back just in case they are pressurised and then slightly go forwards. It's not a pacy game going forward. They step forward bit by bit until they are in the final third and then they have great quality players who can make the difference."
An unusually high level of motivation, and a winning mentality, is evident in Bayern's ranks – something Arsenal's class of 2004 also recognised as vital.
Lehmann is impressed with the way Bayern have refined their game under Guardiola, making another step in the development which evolved over the past few years. "They had a couple of coaches in recent years who made a big impact," he notes. "With Jürgen Klinsmann it started with a physical impact. Louis van Gaal came with his positional sense. Juup Heynckes brought the team on greatly, that's what they say. And now Guardiola seems to be a perfectionist and he is improving a lot of little details. That shows in the results right now. They have weaknesses but the opponents don't exploit them."
Lehmann, who has completed his pro-license and is considering a return as a manager, will be at the Allianz Arena when his old team Arsenal attempt to overcome a two goal deficit on Tuesday. He is not overly optimistic. The question of Arsenal's chances requires a long pause before answering. "You always have chances," he says, "but not a lot."
He expects the European champions to have absorbed the lesson of a surprise defeat on home soil last season meted out by Arsène Wenger's team. "Bayern has learned from last year's experience. They know they are facing some danger," he says. Bayern found it hard to get motivated on the back of a 3-1 advantage from the first leg away from home, but Lehmann believes they will be far more focused this time, and will not relax on the back of a 2-0 win at the Emirates last month. Besides, as well as tipping Bayern for an unbeaten season, he also backs them to become the first club to successfully retain the Champions League since Milan's 1989-90 vintage.
History, again, could be in the making.