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Bayern's Van Buyten blossoming under Van Gaal

By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Louis van Gaal was still settling into his new job as Bayern's Munich coach in July when he made it clear Lucio, the captain of Brazil's national team and a five-year starter in Munich, did not fit into his plans.

Van Gaal won the Champions League with Ajax, had two successful coaching stops at Barcelona, and led the Netherlands national team, but his quick decision on Lucio stunned most in Munich.

Within weeks, Lucio was sold to Italy's Inter Milan, and a huge hole opened in central defense in Munich. And along with it, a huge bull's eye was planted on Van Gaal's odd decision.

Van Gaal insisted the vacated role was up for grabs, but Belgian international Daniel van Buyten was the obvious pick. Van Buyten appeared in just 18 matches - including four off the bench - the previous season, while Lucio led the team with 43 starts in all competitions.

Daniel Van Buyten has started all 21 of Bayern's games in the Bundesliga.
Van Buyten had proved his worth at Bayern after he signed in 2006, only to see his playing time dwindle. Van Buyten knew after Lucio's departure that his chances of starting got "a little bit bigger."

Now, just 21 games into Van Gaal's tenure, nobody is questioning his decision.

Van Buyten, who just turned 32 on Sunday, has started all 21 of Bayern's games in the Bundesliga. He's started five of six games in the Champions League - he was suspended for the one he missed - and has seven total goals, or as many as Lucio notched in his five seasons at Bayern.

"I've definitely improved under this coach," Van Buyten said on the club's web site. "He's getting things out of me which I didn't necessarily think I had."

Van Gaal obviously believed he had a suitable replacement in Van Buyten, or he would not have been so quick to part with Lucio.

Although Lucio's transfer was unexpected, a look inside the numbers proved that Van Gaal wasn't crazy. Sure, Bayern looked horrible when Lucio sat out a 4-0 loss against Barcelona last season. Bayern also played poorly against Werder Bremen and Wolfsburg, losing by a combined score of 10-3, when Lucio was in the starting lineup.

Van Gaal obviously felt like a change was necessary.

Van Buyten has been as strong as Lucio in central defense, helping Bayern give up the third-fewest goals (18) in the Bundesliga. Offensively, he's added such a huge weapon and is tied for third on the team in league goals.

"He's really blossomed," Bayern's Mario Gomez said. "He clears everything at the back, and he's scoring vital goals at the other end. I think he's taken a big step forward, even at his age."

Van Buyten has scored in Bayern's last two games, has three goals in his last five, and has been a major factor during Bayern's current eight-match winning streak and its rise to the top of the Bundesliga after a slow start.

He has one less goal than Arjen Robben, who was acquired from Real Madrid for $33 million early this season, and is just three off the pace of Gomez for the team lead.

Last Thursday, Bayern rewarded Van Buyten with a two-year contract extension. Van Buyten, a towering presence at 6-foot-5, deserved it. He has rewarded Van Gaal, and Bayern, all season.

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