Some may describe Bayern Munich’s latest Bundesliga triumph as “boring” or “sad.”
Those were the exact words used by Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno – previously of Bayer Leverkusen – on the Steil podcast (via Metro) following Bayern’s emphatic 4-2 win against Leno’s former side on June 6.
It may not be exciting for neutrals or Bundesliga fans, but there have been opportunities to knock Bayern off its perch.
Niko Kovac’s appointment as coach in the summer of 2018 was as uninspiring as the Bundesliga title race. But that decision reinvigorated the fight atop the table.
Borussia Dortmund was six points clear of Bayern at the winter break of the 2018-19 season. Then, as has often been the case for Lucien Favre-coached teams, Dortmund failed to win matches against the likes of Eintracht Frankfurt, Hoffenheim, Nurnberg and Augsburg from February to March.
Those nine dropped points from Feb. 2 to March 1 proved decisive, and Bayern won the league in 2018-19 by just two points.
Even as Kovac was sacked last November, there was a glimmer of hope that Dortmund, Leverkusen, RB Leipzig or Borussia Monchengladbach could finally end Bayern’s dominance.
That didn’t happen, thanks to Hansi Flick.
Bayern’s starting lineup in their title-clinching win over Werder Bremen on Tuesday only features one summer signing in right-back Benjamin Pavard. That’s truly astonishing considering the likes of Dietmar Hamann wrote that his former club needed “five or six” new players in a column for Sky Germany in March 2019.
Veteran wingers Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben walked out the door, as did defender Mats Hummels, who was sold back to Dortmund. The “five or six” referenced by Hamann eventually followed.
Pavard, Michael Cuisance and Lucas Hernandez — signed for a club-record €80 million ($122 million) — were the primary permanent transfers. Philippe Coutinho and Ivan Perisic joined on loan, but have accumulated only 18 starts under Flick, be it through injury or tactical reasons. Hernandez also missed time due to a ruptured ankle ligament.
But those injuries were a blessing in disguise for Bayern. David Alaba played across the back line without any hitches. He partnered Jerome Boateng in the centre of defence, who was once thought to be past his best but ended up reclaiming his form of old.
Then there is Thomas Müller, who has registered a record-tying 20 Bundesliga assists this season. Like Boateng, Müller was exiled by Germany coach Joachim Löw, but had Euro 2020 been played this summer, there would’ve been a strong argument to include both players in the final squad.
Kingsley Coman seems to have shaken off his recurring injury problems. His pace, off-the-ball movement and eye for goal helped Bayern come from behind to defeat Leverkusen.
Serge Gnabry was integral to that victory, too, along with several others. The German international has racked up a solid 12 goals and 10 assists this season, surpassing his single-season highs in both categories.
But perhaps the shining example of Bayern’s resurgence is Alphonso Davies. The 19-year-old Canadian was playing for the club’s reserves as recently as November. Yet, until this past weekend against Gladbach, Davies had started 27 straight matches under Flick, the only player to do so.
Considering he had minimal experience at left-back, it’s all the more astonishing how rapidly Davies has grown in the position.
That’s also a testament to Flick’s tactical revolution at the club. He’s highlighted every player’s best attributes and masked their weaknesses, Davies included.
Davies’ influence and areas of improvement have been repeatedly highlighted, but even those defensive deficiencies are slowly eroding.
“[Speed’s] a factor in my game that I use very well but I think over the years going forward with this team I will definitely learn more about better positioning so it doesn’t look like I’m out of position just running back as fast as I can to catch up,” Davies said after Bayern’s win over Dortmund on May 26.
Flick’s high-pressing system certainly benefits Davies. He can push forward regularly thanks to Pavard’s more reserved positioning at right-back, plus one of Joshua Kimmich or Thiago sits back to ensure there are always three or four players to defend counter-attacks.
Because the high press limits the back line’s work, it behooves Davies to roam forward. No other team has attempted more pressures in the attacking third than Bayern, per FBRef.com, so the Bavarians are regularly attempting to recover possession close to goal, thus easing the burden on the defenders.
Flick’s tweaks have also showcased Davies as one of the top pressing full-backs in the Bundesliga this season, as the statistical radar below from StatsBomb highlights.
The competition will be fierce next season at the back. Hernandez, provided he stays at the club amid interest from Paris Saint-Germain, can play left-back or centre-back, as can Alaba. Boateng’s renaissance will give him confidence of staying this summer, while Niklas Süle will be hoping that he can recover from his ACL tear to reclaim a spot at centre-back for himself.
Davies has the upper hand given his familiarity of Flick’s system and how vital he is to the team’s build-up, but for the first time since the Pep Guardiola years, Bayern has the depth in quality to continue ruling the Bundesliga.