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- Robert Lewandowski fires Bayern Munich to eighth straight Bundesliga title
For a long time, this did not seem like the likely outcome. In the early stages of the season, it appeared that their run of Bundesliga championships would finish at seven as the Bayern made an appalling start to the season.
Borussia Monchengladbach were riding high for a long time, Borussia Dortmund were not far behind, hindered by some disappointing results but promising much for the rest of the season, and Timo Werner was scoring for fun for RB Leipzig. All the while, Bayern were suffering, dropping points they would not have usually to the likes of Hertha Berlin, Augsburg and Hoffenheim. The nadir of their season was also a turning point – a 5-1 away humbling at Eintracht Frankfurt.
That result prompted the sacking of Niko Kovac and the appointment of Hansi Flick, whose interim role was made permanent due to a sensational run of form. Since the winter break, Bayern have dropped just two points and have now clinched the title with time to spare.
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It didn't seem possible during the grim autumn months and all credit should go not only to Flick for transforming Bayern's fortunes, but also to the players for their resolve. Not even a two-month break from playing because of a global pandemic has chipped away at their momentum.
The Champions League will provide a better barometer of Bayern's progress when the competition restarts in August. A brilliant 3-0 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge before football was suspended has all but assured a quarter-final spot and with Real Madrid struggling after the first leg of their tie with Manchester City and Liverpool eliminated, two of their most recent foes could have been eliminated before they even meet Bayern.
It has been seven years since they reached the Champions League final having reached three of the previous four. There is unfinished business for this team in Europe.
And in the longer term in Germany, their future looks assured. Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller may be the wrong side of 30, but in Serge Gnabry, Kingsley Coman and Joshua Zirkzee, their attacking prowess can continue for years to come.
Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich have all the quality to continue being the heartbeat of their midfield and are just 25 years old and Alphono Davies is currently the most exciting full-back in the world. Manuel Neuer may be 34, but Alexander Nubel, set to arrive in the summer from Schalke, is every bit his successor, not least in the path he has trodden from Gelsenkirchen to Bavaria.
Furthermore, their competition is set to suffer. This is arguably the best side Borussia Dortmund have had since the Jurgen Klopp era but the same fate as the team who won back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012 will inevitably befall them. Jadon Sancho will surely leave sooner rather than later and Erling Haaland shortly after him. Achraf Hakimi and Emre Can are both on loan and will cost a pretty penny to keep permanently. Dortmund will be forced into yet another rebuilding job.
RB Leipzig, set to finish third, are in a similar position. Timo Werner has all but left the club already and Dayot Upamecano is one of the most sought-after defenders in world football, with Bayern rumoured to be one of the clubs interested in his services.
Where their rivals lack the consistent success and cash to attract and (vitally) retain talent, Bayern have no such problems. Leroy Sane is a mooted summer arrival and will cost the sort of money the likes of Dortmund could only dream of spending.
They do have headaches of their own. David Alaba is yet to sign a new contract, with just a year left on his current deal. Any manager would miss his experience and versatility. And there are rumours that Muller is less than impressed with the proposed acquisition of Sane, who would challenge his place in the team.
But their stability and succession plan on the field is matched in the club's hierarchy, with Oliver Kahn being groomed to take a leading role from Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in the board.
The Kovac era will go down as a grim period in Bayern's history which they have survived and from which they have emerged stronger. But Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig will be wondering whether their time will ever come if they cannot take advantage of the sort of collapse we saw at the start of this season.