How Hansi Flick’s Bavarian Revolution turned a season nearing disaster into one of complete European conquest…
Bayern Munich are champions of Europe for the sixth time in their history. It was never really in doubt, was it?
Aside from a few scares against Lyon in the semifinal and a tense first half against PSG in the final, it seemed as if Bayern coasted to the Champions League title. They demolished Tottenham, Chelsea, and Barcelona on their way to the final, and looked fairly comfortable against PSG when they got there. They won the league by 13 points and demolished Bayer Leverkusen in the DFB-Pokal Final. They cruised all the way to a European treble, only the second in Bayern’s storied history, but was there ever really a doubt?
Well, yes there was.
In what seems like a lifetime ago, Bayern’s title defense once looked like it was going off the rails. On November 2, 2019, Bayern were demolished 5-1 by Eintracht Frankfurt. The Bavarians were fourth, their manager, Niko Kovač, had just resigned, and it looked like their season was on the brink of collapse. We were only 10 matches into the league season, but this just felt different. Bayern were very unconvincing throughout the whole season, Leipzig and Gladbach looked like genuine title threats, and this Eintracht loss seemed to indicate that this would be the year that a team not named Bayern went home with the Meisterschale.
Appointed to replace Kovač was his assistant, Hans-Dieter “Hansi” Flick. The long-time Germany assistant arrived in Bavaria before the season, intended on acting as the number two to Kovač. When things were falling apart, he was thrusted in to act as an interim, righting the ship until Bayern could find a more permanent replacement. Flick was always well-regarded in Germany but lacked major first team managerial experience, and while no one opposed the move, he was working under the assumption that he would only be there temporarily while the club worked to find their next big-name manager. Flick impressed in his interim spell, and while Bayern did lose twice, they strung together enough positive results to get their season back on track, and, with a 4-0 win over Dortmund, showed they still had the quality to win the league. He was given the managerial job until the end of the season, seemingly to give the club more time to find a suitable replacement.
Those two games Bayern lost during Flick’s interim period would be the last two games they would lose the whole season. They would fail to win only once more, a 0-0 draw against Leipzig in February. They won every single other competitive match they played (I am not counting the friendly they lost to Nürnberg), and they averaged scoring about three goals per game during that run. When Kovač was sacked, they had scored 25 league goals through 10 games, and by the end of the season, they had reached 100 league goals. They became the first team to win all of their Champions League matches, a trend that started under Kovač but was accelerated under Flick. A eight-month run that can only be described as absurd has ended with Bayern winning everything under the sun. A season teetering on the brink of disaster has ended with maybe the best Bayern team of the last decade being crowned champions of Europe and completing their second-ever European treble. How did this transformation happen?
This Bavarian revolution revolves around Flick and the incredible changes he was able to make in the short time he has been manager at Bayern. Under previous regimes, there were always seeds of discontent in the Bayern changing room. Veteran players were consistently unhappy with the tactics, changes, and mentality of several previous managers. Specifically under Kovač, many inside and outside of the club were upset with the defensive, reactive style of football the Croatian had been utilizing. Many managers had under-utilized, or completely dropped, Thomas Müller within the team, and they were struggling to replace the departed Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry. Flick arrived in a tumultuous changing room and seemed to smooth things over. The veterans in the team seemed to lock in step with him, and the rest of the team followed suit. Manuel Neuer, David Alaba, and Jérôme Boateng enjoyed revitalizations in defense, and Thiago Alcântara has emerged as one of the best midfielders in the world, but the main key of this man-management turnaround was the un-shackling of Thomas Müller. The Bavarian-born Müller was taken from an afterthought and made the life-blood of the attack, returning to his Raumdeuter roots and being able to make a difference in all areas of the attack. While Robert Lewandowski got the (deserved) praise for his incredible goalscoring season, Müller glued everything together, with his positioning, intelligent runs, and creative ability on full display. Müller became the Bundesliga’s assist king for the season and broke the league’s single-season assist record, just one of the several records Bayern broke this season.
Flick also passed a significant amount of trust and responsibility onto non-veteran players this season, and they have repaid that trust with some incredible performances. Everyone by now knows the story of Alphonso Davies, the young Canadian who has gone on an incredible journey from Liberian refugee to young stud MLS winger to arguably the best left back in the world before he even turned 20. Davies is genuinely that good, marauding up and down the left side, terrifying opposition defenses while being able to cover his own position exceptionally well, which is truly remarkable for someone who was turned into a left back a few years ago. The “FC Bayern Road Runner”, as Thomas Müller affectionately called him, was so good in such a short amount of time that he displaced former club stalwart left back David Alaba, though the Austrian is currently thriving in a center back role. Further forward, Serge Gnabry has truly emerged as a world-class winger, firing in 12 goals and 10 assists in 31 league matches, as well as 9 goals in only 10 matches in the Champions League. His pace, ability on the ball, cleverness, and underrated ability to pass and shoot with both feet make him such an incredibly deadly attacking player. He has begun to fill the void left by Robben. Joshua Kimmich has emerged as one of the best utility players in the world, able to function incredibly well either as a right back, holding midfielder, or even as a center back if needed. He is a crucial cog in the Bavarian machine, able to link things together between defense, midfield, and attack. When combined, Flick has been able to get the whole team locked into his management and philosophy, creating a motivated and terrifying Bayern team.
Calling this a success story of man management does not give enough credit to Flick, however. He has put together a tactical philosophy that is able to get the best out of his team and play a fluid attacking style and high-press system that forces mistakes, creates plenty of chances, and scores plenty of goals. Flick was always regarded as an intelligent tactical mind in the Germany set-up, and he was able to put that to good use in this role. Bayern attack by utilizing the space in wide areas to create overloads and space for their attacking front four. This space created opportunities for their forwards, which mostly fell to the brutally lethal Robert Lewandowski, but they also found goals from Gnabry, Müller, and others. Defensively, their remaining back three of (usually) Alaba, Boateng, and either Kimmich or Benjamin Pavard were able to hold the line at the back when Davies ventured forward, and the inverse was true of Davies and the other two staying back when the right back ventured forward. Their two holding midfielders also did their fair share of defensive work. Their high press is also a crucial part of how they play, as Barcelona unfortunately learned the hard way. They use their front four to aggressively pursue opposition defenders when they play out of the back, initiating the press when the ball is ushered toward wide areas or toward the goalkeeper. This rapid, fierce pressure in these areas often led to mistakes, creating easy chances and goals. It was not by chance or fluke that Flick’s Bayern scored this ridiculous amount of goals in a short space of time; they are a team designed to play at a quick tempo and score frequently.
Flick also demonstrated at times, namely in the second half against PSG, that he can craft a team that can slow the game down and see out a result. He is able to utilize those center midfielders to slow the pace down by having them get their foot on the ball and slow down the build up play. They are not rapidly looking to fire passes into space in the wide areas, but looking to maintain control and play easier, more methodical passes. Their defensive block was able to limit the chances of the opposition and ensure that, even in close games, it would not be too nervy of a finish. This was done very successfully against the Parisians, as their fearsome front three of Neymar, Mbappé, and Di María hardly got many good looks in attack during that second half. All great teams can play in different ways when situations called for different methods, and all great teams are able to dictate the match to their opponent and force the opposition manager to adapt to their style of play. It only took Bayern about eight months to reach this point under Flick, and they are still able to get so much better.
Bayern being this successful was no accident, but it was also no guarantee. We have seen plenty of talented teams underachieve over the last several years; it really takes the right blend of talent and management for good teams to become great. Bayern’s season was on the brink of disaster back in November, but in only a few months, Hansi Flick has led a revolution, turning an underachieving team into conquerors. The Bavarians are deserved champions of Europe, and Flick has laid the groundwork for a dominant Bayern Munich team on the domestic and continental stages for years to come.
Oh, and this team is adding Leroy Sané next season…
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