Bayern Munich have been crowned Bundesliga champions for a record eighth season in a row. Head coach Hansi Flick must take much of the credit after providing a calming influence and shrewd guidance since taking over in November.
bundesliga.com examines the impact the former Bayern midfielder has had…
When Bayern turned to Flick, the defending champions were – by their lofty standards – in something of a crisis. Days after labouring past second-tier Bochum in the DFB Cup – thanks to a late Serge Gnabry equaliser and winner from substitute Thomas Müller – the club parted ways with head coach Niko Kovac.
The Croatian’s last game in charge was a 5-1 defeat at Eintracht Frankfurt on 2 November 2019, a match in which Bayern had defender Jerome Boateng sent off after nine minutes. Kovac might have survived if that result were a one-off, but it had followed a 2-1 home loss to Hoffenheim and a 2-2 draw at Augsburg the previous month.
Not only were Bayern fourth in the table after 10 games, but they were also four points behind leaders Borussia Mönchengladbach. The man who led the Bavarians to a league and cup double in 2018/19 would not get the chance to turn things around.
With a packed schedule before Christmas, Bayern needed an experienced replacement to steady the ship. Flick had returned to the club as assistant to Kovac that summer, and – as right-hand man to Joachim Löw when Germany won the 2014 FIFA World Cup – he seemed an obvious short-term choice.
A more aggressive Bayern
Flick had to interrupt his dinner the day after Kovac was dismissed. After answering a call from sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic and driving to the training ground for talks, he decided that – “out of loyalty to the club” – he should answer Bayern’s plea for help.
“We’ll make the odd change,” Flick promised following his appointment as interim head coach. “The goals we’ve been conceding were not Bayern-like.
“For me, it’s important the team are proactive. We need to defend from the front and try to win the ball back as quickly as possible. They’re the points we want to address.”
Three days after Flick’s appointment, Bayern dug out a 2-0 win over Olympiakos in the UEFA Champions League group stage. A much bigger examination awaited that weekend, though, as they hosted title rivals Borussia Dortmund. Thanks to two goals from former BVB striker Robert Lewandowski, the champions swept the challengers aside in a 4-0 Klassiker success.
Watch: How Hansi Flick masterminded Bayern's Klassiker victory
Tactics and understanding
Bayern’s board had seen enough, and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge announced that Flick would remain in charge until at least the winter break. The club’s CEO said he was impressed by the former Hoffenheim coach’s training, tactics and handling of the players.
“His tactical and footballing knowledge are at a high level,” the Polish striker said.
“We have a very good understanding with the coach,” Pavard told bundesliga.com. “Everyone is convinced by his vision.”
Bumps on the road
Bayern’s next game was in Serbia, where Lewandowski plundered four second-half goals in a 6-0 thumping of Red Star Belgrade. It gave Flick a record of four wins from four, with 16 goals scored and none conceded.
If the record champions thought they would cruise to the top of the Bundesliga table, however, they were soon brought back down to earth. A Leon Bailey double gave Bayer Leverkusen a 2-1 win in Munich, and seven days later Gladbach scored a dramatic comeback victory on Matchday 14 thanks to an injury-time Ramy Bensebaini penalty.
Those two defeats were food for thought, leaving Bayern seventh in the standings and seven points behind leaders Gladbach. They were not a cause for panic, however, as Joshua Kimmich felt his team had played well in both matches. Flick agreed.
“It’s important, on the one hand, that we’re playing good football,” the 55-year-old said.
Bayern’s resolve would have been tested when Werder Bremen led 1-0 approaching half-time on Matchday 15, but Philippe Coutinho – with three goals and two assists – drove the champions to a 6-1 win. Flick then had Joshua Zirkzee to thank for victories over Freiburg and Wolfsburg, with the Dutch youngster coming off the bench to score decisive late goals in his first two Bundesliga matches.
A "gem" of a coach
Earlier that month Jupp Heynckes, who guided Bayern to a glorious treble in 2012/13, had urged his old club to tie down what he termed both the “ideal man” for the job as well as “a gem of a coach.”
“Within a short time, he has made the team look completely different – playing attractive and team football,” he wrote in kicker.
“He makes all of his players feel important… even superstars need a bit of love, and a coach needs high levels of empathy for that kind of thing – which Flick has in abundance.”
Bayern were still four points off the top at the halfway stage – RB Leipzig were nominal autumn champions – but the club announced that Flick would stay at the helm for the remainder of the campaign.
“The on-field development has been outstanding, both in terms of the quality of our play and the results achieved,” Rummenigge declared.
With his job secure and the league taking a break, Flick had more time to get across his ideas during the winter training camp.
One of many players already flourishing on his watch was 2014 World Cup winner Müller. The 30-year-old seemed to have fallen out of favour under Kovac, but Flick had already highlighted – in his first press conference – how highly he rated the soon-to-be nine-time Bundesliga winner.
“Thomas is important for the club,” he said. “He’s won everything there is to win here. He’s an important identity figure for Bayern Munich. On the pitch, he’s very intelligent – he can carry players along with him and lead.”
The Bayern legend, who had made his 500th appearance in the defeat in Frankfurt, was now a key player again, and would continue his resurgence in the new year.
Bayern started 2020 with a 4-0 success at Hertha Berlin, and followed up with a 5-0 victory over Schalke and a 3-1 win over Mainz. Müller scored in each of those games, and would go on to break the Bundesliga record for assists in a single campaign. Playing in behind Lewandowski, eight of the 20 goals Müller created were netted by the league’s leading scorer.
Bayern were top of the table three weeks after the restart, and a 0-0 draw with second-placed Leipzig in Munich on Matchday 21 kept them there. There followed further wins over Cologne and Paderborn, during which time Lewandowski and the impressive Gnabry both got three goals in two games.
Then came a stunning Champions League demolition of Chelsea in London. Having helped himself to four goals there against Tottenham in the group stage, former Arsenal player Gnabry netted another two and Lewandowski added another in a 3-0 first-leg win.
Davies the roadrunner, Alaba the ideal centre-back
Another player who stood out in that game was Alphonso Davies. The 19-year-old Canadian had begun his repositioning from winger to left-back shortly before Kovac departed, but he thrived under Flick and was handed a new, long-term contract in April.
“He’s our get-out-of-jail-free card with his pace and strength to recover his position, and he’s a great passer of the ball,” Davies’ coach explained.
Watch: Bayern's much-improved defence under Flick
“He takes the initiative – takes charge,” Flick said of the Austrian. “You can hear him talking to the players… he’s just a very intelligent player, and his development as a centre-back has been phenomenal.”
The five-time European champions had significant injuries in defence, but with the experienced Boateng alongside Alaba – and Pavard chipping in with goals and assists from right-back – you would hardly have noticed.
“He’s a coach that’s very close to the players – whether they’re in the starting eleven or among the substitutes,” Pavard said of Flick’s impact on the squad.
Flick for the long haul
The wins kept coming: 6-0 at Hoffenheim, 1-0 at Schalke in the DFB Cup quarter-final, and 2-0 against Augsburg. When the coronavirus pandemic halted proceedings, Bayern were four points clear with nine games to play. They had scored 27 goals in eight league matches since the winter break, and conceded just four.
Rewarded for sterling work, Flick was given the Bayern job on a permanent basis, with his new contract lasting until June 2023.
Rummenigge said Bayern were "very satisfied" with Flick, while Salihamidzic stated that his results "speak for themselves." Former club goalkeeper and current board member Oliver Kahn was also impressed.
"It's important for FC Bayern that a coach understands the club's philosophy," said Kahn, who will succeed Rummenigge as CEO in 2022. "We're heading in a good direction."
Scoring for fun
Bayern resumed with a 2-0 win at Union Berlin, meaning they had registered a Bundesliga record 50 goals in a coach’s first 16 matches in charge.
The enforced break had worked in the champions’ favour, as Lewandowski – who had 25 league goals by that stage – was able to recover from a knee injury. The 31-year-old scored five times in Bayern’s first five games after the resumption.
It was Kimmich, however, who stole the headlines in the pivotal Matchday 28 meeting with Dortmund. Excelling in central midfield now that Pavard has taken over his old position at full-back, the Germany international’s delightful chip gave Bayern a massive seven-point lead at the summit.
Watch: Bayern's title-deciding win in Dortmund
As a result of the 5-0 win against Fortuna four days later, Flick’s Bayern set another record – no team had scored 86 goals by Matchday 29 before. Gnabry said his side were so successful because their coach had demanded they be more aggressive, win the ball high up the pitch, and to play it forward as often as possible.
Flick, though, was not keeping track of any milestones.
“Statistics and records don’t interest me at the moment,” he said after the home win against Fortuna.
“All I care about is concluding a successful season.”
At Bayern, he said, you had to be champions. After a Matchday 32 win in Bremen, that’s what they have become. A four-time Bundesliga winner as a Bayern player, Flick has claimed his first title as a coach in style.
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