The results have kept on coming, but the differences between Josep Guardiola’s Bayern München and Carlo Ancelotti’s version have been clear for a while. It has felt like intense domination has given way to a more passive level of control.
However, in the UEFA Champions League any gulf between the two coaches’ regimes has not been quite so clear. Wednesday’s 5-1 round of 16 first-leg demolition of Arsenal was Bayern’s 16th straight home win in the competition, spanning the eras of both coaches. Whoever is in charge, it’s the same old Bayern in Europe. Off the leash, they’re fearsome and few teams can stop them.
With hindsight, Atlético Madrid’s escape from the Fußball Arena München with just a 2-1 defeat – and qualification for last season’s final on away goals – seems more and more like an achievement for the ages. Diego Simeone’s side somehow kept going despite suffocating pressure on that spring night; and, of course, they had a sublime display from goalkeeper Jan Oblak to thank for their ultimately safe passage to Milan.
It feels like Atleti are perhaps the only team in modern football who could hold back the Bayern tide at their home and even then, only just. Arsenal, and their overworked goalkeeper David Ospina, could probably relate to much of what the Rojiblancos went through, even if they couldn’t hold firm to the same extent.
What must frustrate opponents is that Bayern are not completely watertight. Just as Antoine Griezmann caught them on the hop last May for the crucial strike, Alexis Sánchez nipped in for an Arsenal equaliser that fleetingly looked a vital one, by simply being sharper than a whole host of red-clad defenders.
Yet there is always going to be a spell of endless waves of attacks, like at the beginning of the second half here, a period further complicated for Arsenal by the injury-enforced departure of captain Laurent Koscielny.
The options are myriad for Bayern. On this occasion, with Philipp Lahm rampaging down the right and Thiago Alcántara probing and prompting in the centre, David Alaba and Arturo Vidal could afford to take a relative backseat.
Bayern come at you from all angles. With Arsenal weary and already beaten, the entrance of Thomas Müller, who inevitably helped himself to a goal, appeared almost cruel. There are many sides who have been through this, though.
There will be many more, too. Even after a change of coach, this was proof that Bayern’s personality – certainly in the UEFA Champions League – remains intact: dominating, irresistible entertainers who know only one way to play. To attack. For the neutrals, long may it continue.