Bayern’s quiet overhaul complete as Germans eye European crown
A year ago Bayern Munich had narrowly emerged as champions in one of the tightest Bundesliga title races, and ended up overhauling their ageing squad as veterans Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and Rafinha left.
Fast forward 12 months and a leaner, stronger and faster Bayern are not only German league and Cup winners again but they produced one of the most remarkable displays in European soccer on Friday as they obliterated five-time European champions Barcelona 8-2 to reach the Champions League semi-finals.
Fluid in their movements and with an indefatigable desire to attack, Hansi Flick’s team looks like it has been forged together over years of training.
Yet many of the elements of their success, including Flick, who took over a struggling Bayern in November, are new.
Following the departure of central defender Mats Hummels and serious early season injuries to defenders Niklas Suele and new signing Lucas Hernandez, defensive plans had to be redrawn.
Leftback David Alaba switched to the centre of the defence while teenager Alphonso Davies took control on the left.
Davies, playing his first full season at Bayern, was a sensation, terrorising attackers while also launching lightning-quick breaks.
One of those helped set up Bayern’s fifth goal as the 19-year-old Canadian befuddled Nelson Semedo and set up Joshua Kimmich for the goal.
Flick also restored Thomas Mueller back to his favourite position behind striker Robert Lewandowski, plucking the World Cup-winning attacking midfielder from the bench where he had been dropped by predecessor Niko Kovac.
Mueller delivered in style with eight goals and 21 assists in the Bundesliga and he added two more goals in their demolition of Barca on Friday.
Mueller has also been leading the charge for early pressing, as Flick demanded they win possession much earlier than under Kovac.
Instilling confidence was also key in keeping Jerome Boateng at Bayern and maintaining Philippe Coutinho, on loan from Barca, in top form despite playing only a substitute role throughout the season.
The gifted Brazilian has struggled to earn playing time but was on target twice after coming on against Barca, oozing confidence.
“The way my players played over 90 minutes, the intensity which they maintained was just top,” Flick said. “This is our mentality, that is what we stand for.
“Especially the way the players who came on adjusted seamlessly,” Flick said in a nod to Coutinho.
With Bayern looking nothing like the team that crashed out in the round of 16 last year, they are now favourites to emulate their 2013 treble-winning season at Lisbon’s Estadio da Luz next week and declare their project ‘overhaul’ completed.