Bayern Munich players celebrate after sealing their eighth consecutive Bundesliga title with a win over Werder Bremen.
Lots has happened over the past few months. Global economies have been upended. Global society has been upturned. Company has been sought and companies have been burnt. Everything you thought this decade would be about has been forced into a rethink. There is a global virus wreaking havoc on the planet, ignored, obscured for too long, but now out in the open. And humanity is done with it, protesting, calling out for change, in more ways than one. Then there is this other virus, that has created what is being referred to, as the ‘new normal’.
What this new normal is, no one really knows. What we do know is that Bayern Munich will be champions at the end of it.
In the end, its was a result much the same, the eight consecutive time of the last decade, and yet without any fanfare, and beer spilling and beer dousing, it felt very different. To put it simply, in the most competitive, most thrilling and most technically baffling league on the planet (Premier League fans can take a hike, this is inarguable. Complaints may be registered in your subconscious), Bayern Munich did what they have done many times over their history, sealing yet another Bundesliga title with a 1-0 win over Werder Bremen yesterday.
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This team has been dubbed the ‘Geister-Meister’, the ghost champions, although the reasons for this naming are unclear. What are the connotations here? Is this because this title was won by a team in an empty stadium devoid of fanfare, with players themselves applauding their own achievements? Or is it because this team was down and out as late as November, languishing in fourth place, beaten by Eintracht Frankfurt 5-1 and contemplating a mutiny within its ranks, with the ever effable Thomas Muller among those seeking a way out? Are they a ghost team because they celebrated an eighth consecutive title in an empty stadium, or one because they came back from the great beyond to clinch it?
"We have shown that we are the best team in Germany," Robert Lewandowski said yesterday. He had applied the cherry to this celebration, his single goal the difference between another week of speculative mathematics and the title itself. He wasn’t entirely right, but not too far from the truth either. Mathematics prove they are the best team in Germany. They have the title, wrested back over six months of extreme drama no one could have ever predicted.
When Hansi Flick took over in November, Bayern had won five of its opening ten games, losing two and drawing three -- a modest return for an immodest club. Since his appointment Bayern have won 26 of 29, beating out all challengers to their supremacy. They haven’t lost a competitive fixture since December and have dropped points once in 2020, a 0-0 draw against RB Leipzig in February.
“When Hansi took over the helm, he quickly got the ship going again,” Karl-Heinze Rummenigge said in the aftermath of the title. The ship with a crew that is the envy of an entire country.
Consider the changes Bayern made in the summer transfer window, to improve upon a squad that had won the domestic double the season prior. Out went a host of Bayern legends, Mats Hummels (back home to Dortmund), Franck Ribery (on a free to Fiorentina), Arjen Robben (back home to the Netherlands to hang his boots up and presumably watch the telly), Rafinha Alacantara…. This was possibly the changing of the guard, a moment to catch Bayern at their weakest, under a coach who had overseen a league and cup triumph but was green around the gills yet. In came, World Cup winners, Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard. Season long loan deals were secured for Ivan Perisic and Phillipe Coutinho. Well, so much for that.
Now, with the league secured Bayern’s attention will shift to the German Cup, where they face Bayer Leverkusen in a July 4 final. Then of course remains the little matter of the Champions League, which will finish in a tournament format in late August. What this means is that Bayern are likely to be left without competitive football a month after the German Cup final. But it rarely concerns anyone.
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“We’ve got enough time to get ready for it,” Lewandowski said referring to the Champions League. Enough time to get stronger. If you have been on the football social media grapevine you have seen the memes of Leon Goretzka -- skinny, lean and wiry pre coronavirus lockdown, muscular, beast, powerful post. Only Bayern Munich could have figured out a way to come out looking better without playing football.
On current form and status they will be favourites to lift the European trophy this summer.
There are bigger concerns that lie ahead though. Hansi Flick has attached ‘scintillating’ to the words ruthless and fearsome as part of Bayern’s repertoire, but this win is as much Bayern’s as it is the failure of LEipzig and Dortmund to maintain pressure.
This is the perennial problem of the Bundesliga then. Too much competition, very little finesse. If you look at the table in December and compare it to Europe’s top leagues, you’d be hard pressed to find a more competitive leaderboard. After the winter break, it becomes a different story. Bayern evidently are better on the home leg. And, be warned, punishingly muscular after a break.
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