Bayern Munich are once again top of the table in the Bundesliga, but what has their journey been to get there?
bundesliga.com looks back on the defending champions’ season so far.
Who they signed: Bayern made a major statement of intent early in the year by recruiting French World Cup winners Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard from Atletico Madrid and VfB Stuttgart respectively.
While those players offered both stability and flexibility in defence, Philippe Coutinho and Ivan Perisic arrived from Barcelona and Inter Milan to bolster the attack, along with Hamburg’s teenage striker Fiete Arp.
The signings were needed to rejuvenate a Bayern squad that had lost some club legends over the summer. Wily winger Arjen Robben retired, while his partner-in-crime Franck Ribery left for Fiorentina after over a decade of devastating service. Mats Hummels rejoined Dortmund, and Rafinha, another defender, returned to Brazil with Flamengo. Coutinho joined on loan after Bayern allowed fellow attacking midfielder James Rodriguez to return to Real Madrid.
What they expected: Niko Kovac’s team came roaring back in the second half of the 2018/19 campaign, finishing on a 14-game unbeaten run to edge Borussia Dortmund by two points. Being crowned German champions for the seventh time in succession brings a demand for further success, though, and winning the league was once again the goal this season.
With iconic players like Ribery and Robben leaving, a transitional period was expected. The early signs were good, however, as Pavard bedded in during wins over AC Milan and Real Madrid in the pre-season International Champions Cup. A 2-0 defeat in Dortmund in the curtain-raising DFL Supercup was a setback, but – with Coutinho and Perisic set to join in August – confidence would still have been high.
How it played out: The champions almost suffered a shock home loss against Hertha Berlin on the opening weekend, but – as has often been the case – a double from Robert Lewandowski saved them. That 2-2 draw was followed by a run of four wins and a draw – away to title rivals RB Leipzig – to leave Bayern sitting pretty on top of the standings after Matchday 6. A stunning 7-2 win at Tottenham Hotspur in the UEFA Champions League, however, was immediately followed by a 2-1 home loss against Hoffenheim in Bundesliga.
Bayern were pegged back by an injury-time equaliser against fellow Bavarians Augsburg in their next league game, and a 5-1 thumping at Eintracht Frankfurt in November left the champions in fourth and meant the end for Kovac. With Bayern four points behind leaders Borussia Mönchengladbach, Hansi Flick was tasked with getting things back on track.
The former Bayern midfielder’s first game in charge was a memorable one – a 4-0 hammering of Dortmund – and his side backed that up by beating Fortuna Düsseldorf by the same scoreline. Back-to-back defeats followed, however, at home to Bayer Leverkusen and away to leaders Gladbach – when Bayern once again conceded in stoppage time.
Those reversals put the champions seventh in the standings after Matchday 14 – a sizeable seven points off top spot. Bayern, though, had been here before. Another win over Spurs in the Champions League and a dazzling Coutinho performance in a 6-1 win over Werder Bremen – the Brazilian scored a hat-trick and made two more – seemed to get the Bavarians motoring again.
Watch: Check out Coutinho's masterclass against Bremen
Bayern had cut the deficit at the top to four points at the halfway stage, with Leipzig the new pacesetters and the title holders in third. The players had been consistent in their praise of Flick, and his approach became even clearer to them over the winter break.
The defending champions started 2020 by scoring nine goals without reply against Hertha and Schalke. After six wins and a draw – 0-0 against Leipzig – since the resumption, they are now four points clear of Dortmund at the top of the table. Into the DFB Cup semi-finals and with one foot in the last eight of the Champions League, Bayern have been in ominous form.
Key player: Who else but Robert Lewandowski? Bayern’s brilliant striker started the season in astonishing fashion, adding to his two goals against Hertha with a hat-trick in a Matchday 2 win at Schalke.
The Poland captain then created history in November, becoming the first Bundesliga player ever to score in the opening nine games of a campaign. The record-breaking goal – which came in a 2-1 success against Union Berlin – took his league tally for the year to 13.
Watch: Look back on all of Lewandowski's league goals this season
The 31-year-old has shown few signs of letting up since, rising to third place in the Bundesliga’s all-time goalscoring charts with 227 goals in 313 career appearances. In November he netted four times in Bayern’s 6-0 Champions League victory over Red Star Belgrade, and by March he had 39 goals in all competitions for the season.
The former Dortmund striker is one of the few players who could benefit from the unexpected interruption to football, as it gives him time to recover from an injury he picked up in late February. The four-time Bundesliga top goalscorer leads the charts again on 25, and he could threaten a long-standing league record. Another Bayern legend, Gerd Müller, scored 40 Bundesliga goals during the 1971/72 campaign.
Best game: The devastating display against Spurs is an obvious highlight across all competitions, but in the Bundesliga there are – as usual – quite a few matches to choose from. Bayern have netted a whopping 73 goals in 25 games, scoring four or more times in nine of their 17 wins to date.
Watch: See how Bayern dismantled Dortmund in Munich
The turning point, though, came against Dortmund in November. Flick’s first league game in charge saw the Bavarians send a warning to any doubters, with Lewandowski getting a double against his former team to bring his tally to 16 goals in the first 11 games. His scoring streak would briefly stop after that game, but – with Serge Gnabry and a Hummels own goal padding out the scoreline – Bayern believed again after a sixth successive Klassiker success in Munich.
Biggest surprise: There are several strong contenders in this category. Surprise is maybe the wrong word for Thomas Müller – given that he’s already an eight-time Bundesliga winner – but his sensational form this term has silenced plenty of critics. With a league-high 16 assists, the 30-year-old has played a key role in Lewandowski’s success, and he has also scored six league goals himself since coming back into favour once Flick stepped up from assistant manager.
Eighteen-year-old Joshua Zirkzee also deserves a mention, having come on to net with his first touch for a late lead goal in Bayern’s 3-1 win at Freiburg on Matchday 16. The Dutch attacker proved it was no fluke by repeating the trick a week later against Wolfsburg, before starting and scoring in the 6-0 rout of Hoffenheim on Matchday 24.
As surprises go, though, look no further than Alphonso Davies. It’s not that the Canadian hadn’t been expected to make his mark – Bayern wouldn’t have signed him if that was the case. It’s more been the manner of his breakthrough season.
Injuries to the likes of Hernandez and Niklas Süle have resulted in plenty of reorganising in the Bayern backline. Davies – signed as a winger – was asked to fill in at left-back, and he has not only plugged the gap – he has excelled. The 19-year-old has made 17 league starts, scored once, made four more goals, and boasts a pass completion rate of almost 90 percent.
A standout performance in the 3-0 Champions League last-16 win over Chelsea brought more praise Davies’ way, with Flick describing his development as “phenomenal.” Put simply, the former Vancouver Whitecaps youngster is a big reason why Bayern are where they are this season.