Expectations were high when Julian Nagelsmann replaced Hansi Flick as head coach of Bayern Munich ahead of the 2021/21 season. The 34-year-old certainly delivered in the Bundesliga, with the title holders becoming German champions for a record-extending 10th consecutive time.
bundesliga.com reviews the season that was for Nagelsmann and his swashbuckling team.
Bayern won the title by 13 points in 2020/21, with Nagelsmann guiding Leipzig to the runners-up spot. When Flick left to take over as head coach of Germany over the summer, his successor sought to become a Bundesliga winner for the first time.
A Bavarian who grew up supporting Bayern, Nagelsmann had proven his coaching credentials with Hoffenheim and Leipzig. It’s a different challenge to manage the champions, though, where second best is unacceptable.
The new Bayern man got his first real taste of life in the hotseat on Matchday 1, as the defending champions were thankful for Robert Lewandowski’s equaliser that earned them a 1-1 draw at Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Watch: Gladbach 1-1 Bayern - highlights
Nagelsmann might have been getting a little nervous in his first home match in charge, when Bayern scored twice after half-time only to see Cologne respond in kind. Serge Gnabry was on hand, though, to hand his new boss a maiden league victory in Munich.
“It’s always interesting as a coach when you’ve got a lot to do,” Nagelsmann said afterwards. “And we’ve still got a lot to do.”
There was no panic in the 34-year-old’s comments - more a recognition that his team could and would soon get better.
A 5-0 win over Hertha Berlin – marked by a Robert Lewandowski hat-trick – and a 4-1 success at RB Leipzig suggested that his ideas were starting to get through to his players. A 3-0 away win over Barcelona was further evidence, as was the crushing 7-0 success against Bochum on Matchday 4.
“We just love playing football,” midfielder Leon Goretzka said after his former side were swept aside. “We want to develop more from game to game and absorb our new coach’s philosophy more and more.”
Watch: Bayern crush Bochum
Nagelsmann had often played a three-man backline at his other clubs, but with Bayern he largely stuck with the 4-2-3-1 formation that worked so well for Flick.
It worked for him, too, despite a surprise 2-1 home loss against Eintracht Frankfurt on Matchday 7. Bayern responded the following week with a devastating 5-1 victory in a top-of-the-table clash at Bayer Leverkusen. All the visitors’ goals - with two apiece from Lewandowski and Gnabry - came inside the opening 37 minutes.
A 4-0 humbling of Hoffenheim followed before Bayern were stunned themselves in losing 5-0 at Gladbach in the DFB Cup. But Nagelsmann got another positive reaction to that setback, condemning Union Berlin to their first Bundesliga home defeat since September 2020. The champions ran riot in a 5-2 win, with Lewandowski scoring twice and Thomas Müller playing a part in four goals. It was the first time a team had hit 38 goals after 10 Matchdays.
There was another blip on Matchday 12 when Bayern lost 2-1 at Augsburg, but a crucial winner from Leroy Sane meant they still led Dortmund by one point going into the Matchday 14 Klassiker. Bayern had already won the DFL Supercup in Dortmund earlier in the season, and once again they came out on top in a pulsating encounter. The home side led and their star man Erling Haaland did get them level in the second half, but ultimately it was – who else? – Lewandowski who swung the game Bayern’s way. He got his second goal of the game with a late penalty to give the champions a hard-fought 3-2 win.
Watch: Klassiker highlights
Bayern then made it five league wins in a row to finish 2021 by reeling off further victories against Mainz (2-1), Stuttgart (0-5) and Wolfsburg (4-0). Heading into the winter break they had a nine-point advantage at the top, with Lewandowski registered got 19 of their 56 goals.
“In general, we always performed well against the top sides in the first half of the season,” club captain Manuel Neuer said after the Wolfsburg win. “That’s why we can look forward to the business end of the season.”
That optimism took a knock in Bayern’s first game of 2022 as bogey team Gladbach once again did a number on them, coming away from the Allianz Arena with a 2-1 win.
They bounced back with three consecutive Bundesliga wins, including a Lewandowski hat-trick away to Cologne (4-0), a 4-1 success at Hertha and a statement 3-2 victory at home to Leipzig.
Watch: Lewandowski's 2021/22 goal collection
It was not all plain sailing, however, as Nagelsmann’s side suffered a shock 4-2 reverse in Bochum on Matchday 22, which preceded a below-par showing in a 1-1 draw in Salzburg in the first leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie, where only a last-gasp Kingsley Coman strike earned them a draw.
After the match, Nagelsmann admitted his side was still a work in progress. “We were too error-prone in the opponent's half,” he said. “We lost the ball a lot of the time and our defending wasn't great.”
In typical Nagelsmann fashion, he swiftly set about correcting the course. Bayern subsequently breezed past bottom club Fürth (4-1), overcame Frankfurt away (1-0), drew 1-1 with Bayer Leverkusen and showed their true colours in the home leg against Salzburg with four goals in a furious first-half showing paving the way for a 7-1 triumph on the night.
The matches kept coming thick and fast but a 1-1 draw in Hoffenheim on Matchday 26 in a game in which Bayern had three goals disallowed left them just four points ahead of Dortmund.
Watch: Bayern held by Hoffenheim
Not only that, the fact that the defending champions had taken just eight points from a possible 15 from their last five league outings gave BVB a glimmer of hope that a late title charge might be possible.
Bayern were not going to stand for that – and have not dropped a point in the Bundesliga since. Although edged out by Villarreal across two legs in the Champions League quarter-finals, subsequent league victories over Union Berlin (4-0), Freiburg (4-1), Augsburg (1-0) and Bielefeld (3-0) opened up a nine-point gap at the league summit.
Not only that, but it presented the reigning champions with a unique opportunity ahead of their Matchday 31 meeting with Dortmund: a win would seal the title, something that had never before been decided in a Klassiker fixture.
Watch: Bayern's title celebrations
“You don't have that situation very often, to win the championship against your direct rivals in a home game,” said Thomas Müller in the build-up. “We can still create something historic, so we're really excited about it; we want to give [that] to the supporters.”
They duly did just that, rubberstamping a record-breaking 10th consecutive league title with a 3-1 victory.
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