Flying wingers, clinical finishers and no-nonsense defending. That is the Bayern way.
As Serge Gnabry had his back towards goal in the 87th minute, a quick shuffle of the body and a hammer of a swing from his right foot set the tone for the headlines. Bayern Munich has just put seven past Tottenham in their own backyard.
In recent years, Europe have started questioning if Bayern are still a powerhouse. Do teams still fear visiting the Allianz arena, or drawing Bayern in the business end of the UEFA Champions League? Probably not.
Between 2011 and 2016, with legendary wing wizards Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry at their peak, Bayern reached two Champions League finals, winning one, and three semi-finals. A golden era in the club’s history, firmly embodied in the squads they produced and the automatic assumption that they’d reach the last four of Europe’s premier club competition at the bare minimum every year.
Since then, in the three Champions league campaigns that have followed, they’ve managed a round of 16, quarter final and also a semi-final defeat. The signs were clear. The power of Bayern Munich had begun to wane and the rest of Europe had strengthened considerably.
Club president Uli Hoeneß, always a man of such high expectations and optimism, had accepted that change was needed.
So, who are the Bayern Munich team going into the pivotal Christmas break?
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The defence: Reliable yet rugged
The combined €120 million signings of French World Cup winning defenders Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez, both still at such tender age of 23, represented a real signal of intent from Hoeneß and club manager Niko Kovač in a bid to rejuvenate an aging back line.
Thus far, those signings in conjunction with the previous capture of Niklas Sule, has certainly freshened up the backline and from here, their talent and experience will only grow.
Manuel Neuer and David Alaba are the other players who, when fit, make up the rest of the backline and remain two of the strongest players in the world in their respective positions.
The midfield: Commanding but classy
Bayern prefer to play with a flat double pivot, or two defensive midfielders, consisting of Corentin Tolisso and Joshua Kimmich. In them, the Bavarians have found the perfect blend of steel, tenacity and flare.
Tolisso has been under the radar for some time now and he is finally growing into the player many had pictured him to be. Offering brilliant recycling of the ball when Bayern are in possession and an ever-combative presence to screen the defence when they aren’t.
Joshua Kimmich’s talent has been heralded since he broke into Bayern’s team four seasons ago. As Philipp Lahm, perhaps Germany’s greatest ever right back, retired, in stepped a young Kimmich. He boasts extremely similar qualities to that of Lahm and this is now epitomised by Niko Kovač’s decision to play him in a more central position from time to time.
Lahm is often talked about as having a “total football brain’’. Current Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola once claimed he was the “most intelligent footballer” he’s coached, and if the first few years of Kimmich’s career is anything to go by, come retirement, his name will be up in lights alongside Die Mannschaft’s greats.
Sat in front of both is the €144 million diamond that’s somewhat lost his shine: Philippe Coutinho.
Now, reverted back to the playmaker position which found him so much success in the red of Liverpool, the twinkle toed Brazilian is once more splitting open banks of defences with ease and using his 100-page book of tricks and skills, which has audiences applauding his brilliance again.
Coutinho has got his mojo back and rest assured, the needle eyed passes, silky touches, intricate dribbles and thirty-yard thunderbolts have returned with it.
If either of those three do have an off day, Kovač need not worry. Queue the samba, and in steps Thiago Alcantara. He’s sometimes criticised for his lack of consistency but he is undoubtedly one of the world’s top five midfielders on a good day.
With technical guise in abundance, he combines Brazilian flare with Spanish authority, representative of his dual nationality.
In much the same manner as Paul Pogba, Thiago plays football with a hint of swagger about his step and with a wide range of flicks and feints up his sleeve. His ability to drop a man and float the perfect 30-yard pass is uncanny.
This goes without saying then, that when his team plays well, he is usually at the forefront of it. With the sparkling form that Bayern are currently operating at, Thiago will only go from red to hot.
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The forwards: Ruthless and clinical
Then there’s Serge Gnabry. Is there anyone right now in world football oozing confidence quite like Arsenal’s former academy graduate? Four goals against Tottenham Hotspur signals not just a seasonal achievement, but a historic one.
On the counter, few players possess the devastatingly direct dribbling that Gnabry does, and to top that off, he has no troubles going all the way and finishing the move all by himself. He’s no stranger to scoring goals and assisting teammates but this season he’s taken his game to a whole new level.
With 12 goals and 4 assists in 20 appearances this season and an average ‘whoscored’ rating of 7.26 per game, Gnabry has started clicking into fifth gear, and come the end of the season, you can bet he’ll be operating in sixth.
Kingsley Coman has won fifteen trophies at the unbelievable age of 23. Those medals are headlined by seven league titles in each of the last seven years. It’s simple, wherever Kingsley goes, he wins.
He’s not just been a bystander in these campaigns either, he’s far from a player like Manchester United’s former player Anderson. Coman has an unbelievable ability to sprint away on the counter and hug the touchline for the duration of a match, constantly challenging fullbacks and getting balls into the box.
Although he isn’t quite at the level of someone like Leroy Sane, Coman has his own set of attributes which compliment tall, powerful runners into the box well. As we know, Bayern have those in abundance.
Finally, bringing me onto a certain Robert Lewandowski. The Polish hitman needs no introduction and embodies the perfect number nine to cap off the ten fine players that are scheming behind him.
Since the turn of the decade, ‘Lewy’ has scored over 300 goals. There’s only two players in the world who’ve ousted that figure, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Currently, he’s sitting on top of the European scoring charts and in the same vain as Zlatan Ibrahimović, his game only seems to improve with age.
The bench: Experience is key
Bayern also have a wealth of talent and experience keeping their bench warm. Thomas Müller’s powers have started to dwindle, but he isn’t a half bad goal scorer to bring into the fray when you need a goal or two.
Javi Martinez has proven his consistency as a destroyer of the highest order over the last decade, and proves that Bayern have yet another Mr Dependable waiting to be called upon when the situation or match requires.
It almost feels inevitable that the marauding runs of Leroy Sane, be it in January or next summer, will be brought in. Sane would be the final piece to the puzzle and it would mean Bayern’s front 6 go toe to toe with any team Europe can conjure up.
The verdict: Is this the year for 6 Champions League Titles?
There are teams with slightly stronger 11s, perhaps Juventus and Barcelona. But no team has gelled together quite like Bayern, and as we’ve seen before in the Champions League, the strongest teams aren’t always the winners.
Nico Kovač has required a settling period, like most managers would when taking the reins at a club with the stature of Bayern Munich.
You get the feeling, however, that his ideas are now starting to embed themselves and his tactics are being deployed to suit his players strengths (as opposed to players having to completely accept his tactics), which is how it should be.
After all, you can only work with what you’ve got.
International Success for Germany?
The general thought is that if Bayern do well, so does the German national team. The winners of the 2014 World Cup had Bayern DNA heavily incorporated into their tactics and game plans. As did the winners of the 1990, 1974 and 1954 tournaments.
Euro 2020 represents a good assessment for Die Mannschaft’s new school and if Bayern’s German contingent can make significant strides this season, it’s almost an assurance that next year’s Euros, and perhaps even the 2022 World Cup, will be fought tooth and nail between the French and the Germans.
The template upon which this team is formed bares startling similarities with that of the 2013 treble winners. Fast flowing football with ruthless German efficiency: this well and truly could be the year of 6 Champions League titles for Bayern Munich.