While Hansi Flick’s Bayern Munich side became European champions by beating Paris Saint-Germain in the 2020 Champions League final, their 8-2 quarter-final mauling of Barcelona is widely remembered as the moment that essentially crowned the Bavarians as the continent’s best at that time.
Two years on and Bayern Munich once again asserted their dominance over Barca with a comfortable 3-0 win at the Camp Nou on Tuesday night. Since August 2020, the Catalans have conceded more goals (11) to Bayern Munich than to Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Sevilla and Villarreal combined (10).
Of course, the team that swatted aside Barcelona here is slightly different to the one that went all the way in the Champions League two seasons ago. Indeed, the Bundesliga champions faced something of a juncture at the end of last season, with Flick leaving to succeed Joachim Low as Germany manager.
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On top of this, David Alaba and Jerome Boateng were allowed to leave as free agents, signalling an intent within Bayern Munich to evolve a squad that had largely stayed the same for the best part of a decade. This came just 12 months after Thiago Alcantara was allowed to depart for Liverpool.
Julian Nagelsmann, himself younger than many of Bayern Munich’s key players, was hired to start a generational transition at the Allianz Arena and the early signs are that the 34-year-old has found some answers to the biggest questions posed of him. The Bavarians look strong.
Most notably, Nagelsmann has established a strong defensive basis with summer signing Dayot Upamecano quickly settling in his new surroundings. Lucas Hernandez has been favoured as the other half of an all-French partnership, but Niklas Sule has also stepped in when required, like for the win over Barcelona.
While Bayern have been open about their desire to rejuvenate a previously ageing squad, Nagelsmann has very quickly got the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller and Manuel Neuer on side. Indeed, there is a sense that all at the Allianz Arena have bought into the new manager’s new ideas.
Nagelsmann has been wise enough to hold back some of those new ideas. By and large, Bayern Munich are still operating in the 4-2-3-1 shape that has sustained them for so many years. They are still a team built around Lewandowski as their attacking apex with width provided by attacking full backs and control offered by a physical midfield duo.
In time, it’s possible Nagelsmann will feel emboldened to introduce some of his more tactically progressive concepts, the kind of which made RB Leipzig a case study in chalkboard innovation under the young coach. For now, though, he is tackling one problem at a time.
Leroy Sané in Barcelona
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Leroy Sane was arguably Bayern Munich’s biggest problem last season. Signed for a transfer fee of around £44m from Manchester City following a prolonged pursuit that lasted nearly two years, the German international struggled to find a role under Flick, prompting some to label the winger a flop.
This season, though, Sane is proving himself as an important member of Nagelsmann’s team. The 25-year-old has four goals and three assists in his last seven appearances for club and country, with Nagelsmann doing more to push Sane into positions where he can have a direct impact on the outcome of matches.
With so much talk about the strength of the Premier League’s four representatives, and Paris Saint-Germain following the landmark signing of Lionel Messi, Bayern Munich have flown under the radar as Champions League challengers, but life under Nagelsmann is going so well they must be taken seriously. They are capable of doing serious damage to more than just Barcelona.
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