In a strange final courtesy an unexpected tournament format in an unprecedented year, Bayern Munich winning the Champions League almost felt like a foregone conclusion.
Bayern Munich completed only the second treble in their history by beating first-time finalists Paris Saint Germain 1-0 in Sunday’s final to underline their status as Germany’s super club.
Bayern, who had cruised to the final in Lisbon, lifted their sixth trophy with a new record – becoming the first club to win all their 11 matches in the Champions League.
They scored 43 goals in that time, included a 7-2 win at Tottenham Hotspur and the stunning 8-2 demolition of Barcelona in the quarter-finals in Lisbon. The dominant win over Barca was the Spanish club’s worst defeat in decades and yet it looked like Bayern were not done.
Of course, this year’s Champions League will always have an asterisk on it, given the change in format to knock-out matches due to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s this change from two-leg matches that helped PSG reach the summit clash given their history in knock-outs. But the way Bayern went about clinically winning against the top European clubs, it’s hard to cast any aspersions on their achievement.
Their tally of six victories puts them back level with Liverpool, winners last year. Only Real Madrid and AC Milan have won more.
Since the turn of the century, Bayern have made the knock-out stages of the Champions League 19 times, reaching five finals and winning three of them, in 2001 and 2013 and now in 2020. But the seven years since their triumph has seen a lot of changes.
The Flick effect
A year ago Bayern were dumped out by Liverpool, the eventual winners, in the last 16, and under Niko Kovac looked a long way off being contenders to win the trophy again.
But Hasni Flick replaced Kovac in November, initially as caretaker, and their deserved success is the result of the remarkable job done by him. Flick is the third coach in the last decade to win the Champions League having being appointed during a campaign, after Roberto di Matteo with Chelsea in 2011/12 and Zinedine Zidane with Real Madrid in 2015/16.
This is the 55-year-old Flick’s first job in Germany’s top flight yet in his first season he has steered Bayern to an eighth Bundesliga title, lifted the German Cup and now the Champions League.
He has emulated legendary Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes who landed the only other treble in the club’s history in 2013. Having been assistant coach to Joachim Loew when Germany won the 2014 World Cup, Flick has now achieved the pinnacle of domestic football.
“Our game hasn’t been so well organised since Pep Guardiola (coached Bayern from 2013-16),” said Thomas Mueller, a player reborn under Flick. Mueller, often benched under Kovac, rewarded Flick’s faith with a record 21 assists in the 2019/20 Bundesliga after returning to the starting side.
A team rebuilt
In Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, David Alaba and Mueller, Bayern’s line-up featured four survivors from their last final victory, against Borussia Dortmund in 2013. But this was also about the new faces, such as 19-year-old left-back Alphonso Davies.
While veteran goalkeeper Neuer proved he still is one of the best men between the post, keeping a clean sheet against the French side’s formidable attack of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Angel Di Maria, Canadian teen Davies ended an incredible breakout season by getting his hands on the Champions League trophy after playing only his eighth game in the competition.
Born in a Ghanaian refugee camp before his parents emigrated to Canada, Davies joined Bayern in 2018 and has made the left-back position his own since making his first Bundesliga start in October.
In all competitions, they are on a 20-game winning streak stretching back to early February
Bayern last failed to win the German league in 2011/12, when Jurgen Klopp led Dortmund to the second of back-to-back titles. They responded in 2012/13 with the first treble in club history - Bundesliga, German Cup and Champions League titles.
Such is their grip on German football that Dortmund, Bundesliga runners-up for the last two seasons, have given up promising to end Bayern’s domination.
“We don’t have to say anything more about Bayern Munich, because their opponents will no longer be beaten but destroyed,” grumbled Dortmund chief execurive Hans-Joachim Watzke in the wake of the 8-2 quarter-final drubbing of Barcelona.
Through a transfer policy of cherry-picking - sometimes ruthlessly - from other German clubs and adding affordable foreign imports, Bayern have dominated the Bundesliga since the 1970s.
After Dortmund routed Bayern 5-2 in the 2012 German Cup final, the losers took note. Bayern bought Dortmund’s rising star Mario Goetze in 2013.
They then added the striker who scored a hat-trick in the final, Lewandowski in 2014 and centre back Mats Hummels in 2016, as their Dortmund contracts expired. They have already signed rising Germany stars goalkeeper Alexander Nuebel, on a free transfer, from Schalke and Leroy Sane from Manchester City for next season.
Bayern players are expected to show the same self-confidence exuded in the club’s Bavarian motto ‘Mia San Mia’, meaning “We are who we are”.
Lewandowski the star
A big part of the Bayern success has been the prolific form of striker Robert Lewandowski. While he didn’t score in the final, he finished the season as the tournament’s top scorer with 15 goals. In 2013, he was on the losing Dortmund side but after joining Bayern in 2014, has become an integral part of their successes.
He was close to 16 when a first-half attempt came back off the post but he Polish star ended the season with 55 goals in all competitions.
Cristiano Ronaldo, with 17 goals in 2013-2014, holds the record for the highest number of Champions League goals in one season. However, it should be noted that because of the change in the two-leg knock-out format, Lewandowski played fewer games this season.
Most goals in single UCL season
|5||Ruud van Nistelrooy||2002–03||12|
In a year that won’t see the Ballon d’or being awarded, such has been his performance that there have been petitions to reinstate it just to give Lewandowski the award for the best footballer of the year.
It remains to be seen how Bayern and Lewandowski will fare next season, which is just around the corner, with the Bundesliga starting on September 18 and the Champions League group stage in October. But for now, both can enjoy the trophy that proves that they are indeed the kings of Europe.
With AFP Inputs