Bayern Munich coach Jupp Heynckes is determined that Pep Guardiola takes over a winning side in the summer, but can the German table-toppers succeed in Europe, asks Ben Lyttleton...
“We have to stop talking about things that will happen in the summer,” urged Bayern captain Philipp Lahm. “It does not help our current coach, or our future coach, or the team itself.”
The first thing that Pep Guardiola reportedly said to Bayern Munich chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge after his appointment as coach of the German club was, "How's Jupp?" The question points to Guardiola's diplomacy and respect for current boss Jupp Heynckes, but no-one asked to know the answer.
We found out last Friday before the Bundesliga returned to action post-winter break, when Heynckes was in feisty mood. "I would have been happier to have done this (made the announcement public) at the start of the winter break, but anyone who knows me knows that I'm the boss around here. That's the same wherever I've worked." Heynckes, who is 68, was also keen to stress that this was not the end of his career.
He knew about Bayern's plans to hire Guardiola as early as last September - "I am not only the president to Jupp, but also his friend," said Uli Hoeness - but the key now is for Heynckes to hand over a successful team to the Spaniard. "The team is more cohesive than ever before," he said.
But is that right? Was there a Pep hangover on Saturday, when Bayern beat bottom of the table Greuther Furth 2-0, the first coming from a goalkeeper error, the second from a corner? It was not a classic performance, but a sign of Bayern's dominance was the fact that six of their players made 100 successful touches of the ball. Mario Mandzukic, whose two goals take his season total to 11, has now scored as many goals this season as the whole Greuther Furth team.
That in itself makes it tricky to assess just how Bayern's players took the news, but they will be relieved to get this first game out of the way: "We have to stop talking about things that will happen in the summer," urged captain Philipp Lahm. "It does not help our current coach, or our future coach, or the team itself."
Bayern remain nine points clear at the top of the Bundesliga, though the two teams chasing them recorded impressive results: second-placed Bayer Leverkusen beat Eintracht Frankfurt 3-1 while Borussia Dortmund romped past Werder Bremen 5-0. The score-line should act as a warning-sign to Bayern, who are just [1.06] to win the Bundesliga, with Leverkusen [42.0] and Dortmund [19.0]. With eight wins in a row, Bayern had a record-breaking start to the season, but will their second half of the season be as impressive?
Dortmund remain 12 points back, and are counting the cost of a lack of squad-depth that hurt them in defeats to Hamburg and Schalke (something Klopp has tied to resolve with the loan signing of Nuri Sahin), though last month's loss to Wolfsburg was in part down to referee Wolfgang Stark's wrong decision to send of Marcel Schmelzer for handball. But they are only four points worse off than this stage last season, when they won the title, and in Marco Reus and Mario Gotze, who both scored on Saturday, they have a partnership that is one of the most dangerous in Europe.
"With Reus and Gotze, Dortmund have the strongest football pairing in the world," said Franz Beckenbauer last month. "At Barcelona Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi are building a triangle, but as a classic midfield duo there is nobody better than the prolific Reus and the strategist Gotze."
It's unlikely that Dortmund will be able to claw back the 12-point deficit from Bayern, but that might depend on how both teams cope in the Champions League: Bayern are [2.16] to get past Arsenal and [8.0] to win the Champions League, with Dortmund [1.34] to beat Shakhtar Donetsk and [10.0] to lift the European trophy. If Heynckes can hand over a Champions League-winning team to Guardiola, then he really will be a tough act to follow.