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International Soccer
Heynckes deserves credit for Bayern's resurgence

By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Carlos Tevez may have been on to something when he refused to play against Bayern Munich last week. Should the Manchester City man, valued at around $75 million, waste his time when he wouldn't score?

But this isn't about Tevez, who wouldn't have scored. This is about Bayern and new manager Jupp Heynckes, who has proven that $50 million in transfers is not nearly as valuable as a coach's philosophy.

While it would be easy to point to Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng and Rafinha, a trio of defensive reinforcements, as the reasons behind Bayern's 11 successive shutouts, that reasoning is just too simple and off target.

Obviously the presence of Neuer, Germany's No. 1 goalkeeper (arguably the best in the world), adds an intangible that has been missing since Oliver Kahn hung up his boots in 2008.

But Neuer hasn't had to earn his paycheck this season, averaging less than two saves per game through eight Bundesliga matches. On those 15 saves, it's hard to imagine backup and ex-German international Hans-Jorg Butt faring any worse.

Sure, the 23-year-old Boateng (acquired from City this offseason) gives Bayern a potential anchor in defense for years to come, but he still has to prove his worth in Munich and for Germany's national team.

Rafinha proved he was a qualify Bundesliga fullback with Schalke, but the tiny Brazilian (5-foot-7) is an afterthought with his national squad (he has played one time for Brazil).

On more than one occasion this season, Bayern used a lineup including Philipp Lahm, Daniel van Buyten and Holger Badstuber - regulars for former coach Louis van Gaal's defense.

Other than fullback and German captain Lahm, Bayern's defense was blamed for a lot of its woes last season when it struggled to claim third in the Bundesliga to qualify for the Champions League.

The cause wasn't Van Buyten or Badstuber, but instead Van Gaal. There is not a criticism to put on Van Gaal, just a basic difference in tactics. Bayern's run to the 2010 Champions League final under Van Gaal was because it outscored its opponents (or at least scored enough on the road to advance on away goals).

It did not matter if Van Buyten and Badstuber, the center backs, leaked a pair of goals because on most occasions, Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller or Ivica Olic, among others, would rattle the opposite net more often.

That was just Van Gaal's philosophy.

Heynckes has been the beneficiary of the offensive tactics Van Gaal taught and turned the defense into one of Europe's best to form a top team. No longer are Van Buyten and Badstuber left to fend for themselves.

Under Van Gaal, all of Bayern's defenders were victimized in one-on-one plays, a scenario that often leaves even the top players in the world looking foolish.

Don't forget, Badstuber has earned a regular role for Germany's national team, and Van Buyten is a longtime stalwart for Belgium. Alone, they were vulnerable - together with the rest of the team - so far, impenetrable.

With 12 shutouts in 13 games in all competitions, and just miscommunication to blame for the lone goal allowed against Monchengladbach, there is no doubt the credit goes to Heynckes. And with the shutouts including matches at Villarreal and against City in the Champions League, the run gains more validity.

He has made Bayern defend as a team, even making Bundesliga leading scorer and German striker Mario Gomez contribute on defense, not just chip in on occasion when it's convenient. Same goes for Franck Ribery, and every other player.

Bayern leaked 40 goals last season and 31 the season before. But Heynckes - in his third stay in Munich (his first was from 1987-91 and the second on a short interim basis late in 2009) - has made sure those numbers are history.

Just like Tevez's career at City? Sorry, it was just impossible to resist. But unlike Tevez and his absurd refusal to play, Bayern's defense - and outlook in both in Germany and Europe - is no joke under Heynckes.

Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Brian Westfall at bwestfall@sportsnetwork.com.

Follow Brian Westfall on Twitter and Facebook.

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