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Monday, July 20, 2020

Champions League Tips: Making the case for...Bayern Munich

Champions League Tips: Making the case for...Bayern Munich

Bayern Munich have already won the Bundesliga and the DFB Cup, and our Bundesliga expert Kevin Hatchard believes they can lift the Champions League trophy too.

Coach Flick and his players have excelled

You often learn more about how a coach is viewed by his players after he leaves, and Niko Kovac's departure as Bayern Munich boss after a a 5-1 hammering against Eintracht Frankfurt in November unleashed a range of comments from his charges that ranged from damnation by faint praise to outright criticism.
The influential Thomas Müller suggested that Kovac's tactical instructions left Bayern's players feeling like they were going to a supermarket without a shopping list, Joshua Kimmich's lavish and immediate praise of Kovac's successor Hansi Flick indirectly suggested that the Croatian's dealings with players had been less than clear, and skipper Manuel Neuer made the point that the team's disparate departments of defence, midfield and attack worked a lot more closely together after Kovac left.
I've already made a case for Bayern elsewhere on these pages but, in greater depth, this is why the Germans can win the Champions League.

Better at both ends and in between

Flick has improved Bayern's work with and without the ball, he has made them press with more intensity, and he has restored the fun factor and the artistic expression. His persistence with positional switches like David Alaba playing at centre-back, Joshua Kimmich orchestrating the midfield and the fleet-footed Alphonso Davies raiding from left-back has reaped rich rewards.
It helps that the spine of the team has been rock-solid. In addition to the excellence of Alaba and Kimmich, Neuer has been back to his wall-like best. Müller contributed a Bundesliga record of 21 assists, while Robert Lewandowski whacked in 34 league goals and scored ten times in the Champions League. That UCL haul included a Champions League record, as the Polish international scored four goals in under 15 minutes, the quickest quadruple in the competition's history.

Bavarian giants in razor-sharp form

At one stage early in Flick's reign, Bayern were seventh in the league table, seven points behind the leaders Borussia Mönchengladbach. Since that defeat at Borussia Park on December 7, they dropped just two points in 20 games, they won the DFB Cup and they moved to within touching distance of the Champions League quarter-finals with a 3-0 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. They ended up a whopping 17 points clear of Gladbach, and finished the Bundesliga campaign with the best defence (32 goals against) and the best attack (100 goals scored).
In 2020, Bayern have scored at least three goals in 14 of their 22 competitive matches. They racked up 12 clean sheets in the same period. Lewandowski scored ten goals in his final seven games of the season in all competitions, and just to underline his consistency, the former Borussia Dortmund marksman's longest goal drought this term was two matches. He has played 49 games for club and country since the start of August, and he has scored in 37 of them.

Strength-in-depth the key to Bayern push

Some have expressed concerns about Bayern's month-long competitive hiatus, but they are already 3-0 up from the first leg against Chelsea, and can use that game in Munich as a tune-up for the rest of the competition. Flick certainly doesn't seem concerned, and I believe that's because he knows he has a deep squad with plenty of options.
Niklas Süle is back after a serious knee injury, and will challenge Alaba, Jerome Boateng and Lucas Hernandez for a starting spot at centre-back. Thiago has recovered from groin surgery, so Flick can either ask him to orchestrate the midfield or select the more muscular and direct Leon Goretzka. Philippe Coutinho isn't a starter, but offers match-winning quality off the bench, and there is plenty of pace and skill in wide areas with Kingsley Coman, Serge Gnabry and Ivan Perisic. If the worst should happen and Lewandowski should be injured, Gnabry can step in - he has scored at least ten league goals in each of the last four seasons across three different clubs. Young Dutch goal-getter Joshua Zirkzee provides another attacking option, and he's already shown he has a knack for scoring important goals at important times.
Bayern are trading at 4.90 to win the Champions League, and 2.52 to reach the final. Only a total disaster against Chelsea would prevent them from reaching the quarter-finals, and although they are in the tougher half of the draw (Manchester City, Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid are all potential opponents before the final, I still believe they are currently the most settled and balanced team in the competition. They have an astute coach, a great goalkeeper, consistency in defence and midfield and a multitude of attacking weapons.
I believe Bayern will complete a glittering treble, just as they did in 2013.