On the face of it, Bayern Munich sealing their eighth straight Bundesliga title on Tuesday does not seem that noteworthy.
Die Roten’s stranglehold on German football is so strong, so all-encompassing that anything less than lifting that famous trophy – that looks more like a live action role player’s shield than a football prize – would have been an abject failure.
Bayern seemed to be flirting with that prospect earlier on in the season though, with Niko Kovac ultimately paying with his job following a humiliating 5-1 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt in November. The side’s transformation under his replacement, Hansi Flick, has been nothing short of sensational and they are now in with a real chance of securing a historic treble.
Not bad for a fella whose previous management roles were at minnows Victoria Bammental and Hoffenheim – pre-Dietmar Hopp cash injection.
Kovac’s departure was not at all surprising. Not only due to the manner of the Frankfurt defeat but also because he never seemed to fit in at the Allianz Arena.
The Bayern job is a precarious role at the best of times – unless you’re Jupp Heynckes of course – and Kovac did not managed to get the senior members of the squad on side, thanks mainly to his conservative tactical approach and bizarre post-match musings.
The double may have been clinched during the 2018/2019 season but that wasn’t enough to save him this campaign, with dressing room unrest cited as one of the main reasons for his departure.
Flick stepped in as caretaker in what was a surprising appointment. The former Germany assistant manager had been brought into the club by Kovac in the summer and did not seem like managerial material. He rarely, if ever, spoke to the media and had taken a five year break from day-to-day football operation roles after the 2014 World Cup.
Despite these concerns, Flick got off to a winning start – leading Bayern to a 2-0 win over Olympiacos in the Champions League. It was in his first league game that the seeds of the Flick revolution would be planted however, with Die Roten clinching a famous 4-0 Der Klassiker win over Borussia Dortmund.
All of the hallmarks of Bayern’s resurgence were present that evening. Thomas Muller – who endured a frosty relationship with Kovac – was afforded a central creative role and repaid his new manager’s faith by registering two assists.
The explosive Alphonso Davies, another player who’s pushed on remarkably under Flick, caused all manner of problems to the league’s best right-back Achraf Hakimi, while David Alaba impressed at left centre-back.
Admittedly, Kovac had also been partial to using the Austrian in this way. However, the 27-year-old has enjoyed his most consistent spell in central defence since Flick took the reins and what a spell it’s been.
Collectively, subtle but effectual tweaks in Bayern’s tactics were evident against Dortmund. Under Kovac, they had often look laboured, happy to probe the opposition patiently and keep things tight at the back. It was a far cry from the pulsating verticality that made them the envy of the world in the 2010s.
Flick has ushered in a return to this high octane style, pushing the defensive line higher up and encouraging both full-backs to bomb forward. Buoyed by these new freedoms, Bayern were devastating in transition against BVB as evidence by their second and third goals.
Back-to-back loses to Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Monchengladbach aside – both games that Flick’s side dominated anyway – the tropes witnessed against Dortmund have continued without exception throughout the season.
That defeat against Gladbach back in November in the last time that Bayern lost a competitive game In fact in the 23 matches that have followed, they’ve drawn once and won 22. A truly remarkable record.
So what’s next for Flick’s rejuvenated Reds?
Well, they will be looking to defend the DFB-Pokal against Leverkusen on 4 July 2020 before turning their attentions to once again putting Chelsea to the sword in the Champions League. Bayern’s 3-0 victory at Stamford Bridge in the first leg of the round of 16 was Flick’s finest hour in charge and, barring a minor miracle, they will surely repeat the trick against the Blues.
After that…who knows, but the sky’s the limit.
At the time of writing no side looks equipped to be crowned European champions in August. A quite remarkable feat, considering they sat seventh in the Bundesliga as recently as November, and much of the credit has to go to the understated Flick who has proved his doubters wrong and restored Bayern’s position as the kings of Germany.