It seemed Bayern were at a crossroads under Niko Kovać, and the team needed a fresh approach in the market and on the pitch. How did things turn around so fast for this side?
Bayern Munich always had the tools to play like this, the problem under Niko Kovać is that his philosophy simply did not fit the squad he was given. In Hansi Flick, the club have found a manager that fits us like a glove, and the results have turned around accordingly.
The main changes under Hansi have been two-fold:
* implementation of a high-pressing, offensive style of football that focuses on dominating the opposition and creating quality scoring chances, utilizing the technical and physical capabilities of the squad to its fullest extent.
* reintegration of Thomas Müller and making him a key part of the lineup. The Raumdeuter, as he’s known, is Hansi’s right hand man and a second coach on the pitch. He has elevated Bayern’s pressing and positional play to a level beyond anything we’ve seen before, and it’s down to the fact that the two men knew each other from their days with Germany. It might sound odd to pin so much success on a single player, but Kovać never had this connection with Müller, and Bayern suffered for it.
Does this team have any real weaknesses?
Like any system, the one implemented by Flick can be beaten. If you want a blueprint, look no further than the UEFA Super Cup against Sevilla. The keys to beating Bayern include one-touch passing to beat the counter-press, and heavily defending the wings to keep Müller and Robert Lewandowski isolated from the service that they need.
If Simeone wants to go as far as possible, he will also want to press Bayern high up the pitch to keep us from pushing up our backline. This prevents Bayern from their signature “narrowing” of the field, which is critical to the gegenpress and caused Barcelona so many problems in that 8-2 defeat. Of course, this is easier said than done - you’ll have to deal with the tradeoffs, which include a greater susceptibility to counterattacks.
What concerns you most about facing Atlético Madrid early on in this competition?
Don’t take this the wrong way, but Atlético have a bit of a reputation, if you know what I mean. Bayern fans know that beating you guys will be a tough, tough prospect - our main concern is just making it through the Hinrunde (the first half of the season) with our key players intact. We just hope for a clean game - it’s not a knockout, so the result doesn’t matter too much. Though I doubt Hansi Flick sees it that way.
Atlético supporters have watched 22-year-old Renan Lodi make the left back position all his own one year after his arrival from Brazil. Bayern supporters have watched Alphonso Davies morph into an elite player at 19. Who or what is responsible for his emergence into a star?
Part of it is Davies’ insane talent, and part of it is the mentoring and guidance he’s received from David Alaba. Everyone already knows how quick the Canadian is, but people forget that he’s stronger than grown men as a teenager. The kid has a unique blend of physicality, technique, and mentality that makes him a joy to have on the team.
However, he wouldn’t be the player he is today without continuous guidance from Alaba, who’s played LB at Bayern for close to a decade now. The Austrian is constantly seen shouting orders at Phonzie from the CB position, often helping cover for him, giving him passing solutions in dangerous situations, and keeping him focused on the game at hand. Alaba’s basically been an on-pitch mentor for the lad, which he probably picked up from Franck Ribery - the Frenchman took Alaba under his wing when he was similarly starting out.
How has our old pal Lucas Hernández progressed following his injuries over the past year?
Lucas had a bad time last season, with injuries keeping him out and eventually losing his position to Alaba. He also got caught up in a nonsense salary controversy drummed up by the German media which I won’t repeat here.
However, he seems to have moved on from his injuries and looks like the man we paid €80m for. Now it remains to be seen how he fares against the big boys - you guys, for instance.
Finally, your prediction?
Man, you’re kinda putting me on the spot today. I’ll say...2-1 to Bayern, but only because it’s at home.