Readers of a certain vintage might just remember the old Scooby Doo cartoons that were typically on TV during the early evenings.
If you didn’t see them, you weren’t missing much. Essentially, every episode was the same, with Scoob and the gang stumbling upon some kind of crime that needed solving.
They did, inevitably, and the baddie that they shopped to the police always had the same closing line: “I’d have gotten away for it too but for those meddlin’ kids!”
The story may have changed, but the ending was always the same.
And that brings to mind the German Bundesliga title race, which is taking on a sort of Scooby Doo feel of its own right now.
Having won the Bundesliga title for seven seasons in a row, they have the pedigree and the know-how to get the job done. The rest of the chasing pack have to find a way to stop them, and right now that looks to be an unlikelihood of the highest order.
From the opening day of the season to December 7, Bayern’s formline in the Bundesliga read W7 D3 L4 – wholly unbecoming for the reigning champions and a team that has appeared invincible at times in recent years.
His replacement is Hans-Dieter Flick, a name that was greeted with a deafening ‘who?’ when his appointment was announced.
But fans of German football know that Flick has been a key figure in Joachim Low’s war cabinet with the Germany national team, and together they enjoyed unparalleled success in major tournaments.
It took a while for his methods to get through to his players, but almost straight away the rumours of rifts among the players and coaching staff dissipated.
For context, here is how the German Bundesliga table looks based upon results from December 8 to the time of writing:
As you can see, the title race appears to have become something of a no-brainer, and while this is only a small sample size the old adage ‘it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish that counts’ certainly springs to mind.
So can anyone stop Bayern Munich from making it a great eight Bundesliga titles in a row?
Flick the Magician
Occasionally, the renaissance of a great team from the doldrums is a simple and straightforward affair: fantastic footballers often have a habit of delivering their best when they have a new manager that they respect.
But with Bayern in 2019/20, it’s as if Hans-Dieter Flick has waved a magic wand and completely transformed their fortunes.
The Munich outfit played 14 league games under Niko Kovac this term, scoring 35 times (2.50 per 90 minutes) and conceding 20 (1.43 per 90 minutes). Those are impressive numbers still, but clearly to be truly dominant you can’t be conceding at such an alarming rate.
And so in came Flick to overhaul the team tactically, and the results speak for themselves. In his seven outings as head coach, Bayern have scored 23 times (3.29 per 90 minutes) and conceded three (0.43 per game).
In short, Bayern have improved on average to the tune of two goals per game – one more scored and one fewer conceded. That’s the kind of magic trick that supporters around the world would love their new manager to be able to pull off!
How has he achieved the feat? Well, Flick really hasn’t reinvented the wheel.
He’s simply started playing his men in arguably their best positions. So David Alaba has shuffled inside to centre back, with the exciting Alphonso Davies coming in on the left. Benjamin Pavard has been given licence to roam from right back, with Jerome Boateng brought in from the cold in the middle to replace the Frenchman.
Further forward, Joshua Kimmich has been pushed into midfield where he is undoubtedly at his best, and that has allowed Thomas Muller to move forward into a more attacking role on the right-hand side where he made his name.
Put square pegs in square holes and it’s amazing what they can achieve….
A Runaway Train
You suspect that there are two ways in which Bayern won’t win the title now: their wheels well and truly fall off or one of the other contenders has an unstoppable ten-game run or so.
We’ve seen already how Flick has steadied the ship, and so the onus is very much on one of the other sides to take care of their end of the bargain.
Red Bull Leipzig are in prime position to contend, but do they have the consistency and the class to hang on to Bayern’s coat tails? There are some tremendously talented players in their ranks, but they don’t have the profile of a side that might go on a ten-match winning streak.
Borussia Dortmund are a more likely adversary heading into the final throes of the campaign. Erling Braut Haaland could be the missing piece of their jigsaw by blasting in goals left, right and centre, and with the likes of Jadon Sancho, Marco Reus and Thorgan Hazard around him he won’t be short of opportunities.
Alas, there are still question marks about Dortmund defensively – evidenced perfectly by their 3-4 defeat at Leverkusen last time out, where they let a 3-2 lead slip inside the last ten minutes.
Can anybody stop this Bayern runaway train? The jury is out on that right now.