The 2020-21 season across Europe’s big five leagues has been an interesting one, with more genuine title races than is usual on the continent. Many of the reigning champions – be they in the Premier League, Serie A, Ligue 1 or La Liga – have found that hanging on to the trophy has been a much harder task than they might have expected, and the same to a degree applies in the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich.
But, after some wobbles, die Roten found their feet and pulled away, with an unprecedented ninth consecutive title – and 31st overall – becoming an increasingly likely prospect as the rounds passed.
From a neutral, or anti-Bayern, perspective, that was a disappointing development. The Bundesliga is blessed with interesting coaches and talented player, but none have been able to maintain a challenge to Bayern’s dominance. For supporters of the Bavarian titans, business as usual is encouraging.
However, nothing lasts forever, and all good things must come to an end. Bayern fans could be forgiven for having a concern that key players such as Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller, Javi Martinez, Manuel Neuer and more are approaching the tail-ends of their careers, whether those final seasons are spent at the Allianz Arena or elsewhere.
In 2013, Bayern made history as the first German side to win the coveted treble. But unlike the period that followed, during which they struggled to replicate the same form – mostly in Europe, due to a lack of strong recruitment and failure to make replacements in key areas. Bayern’s hierarchy learned from the aftermath of the Champions League win in 2013 and moved to ensure the Champions League win of 2020 was a springboard, not a plateau.
Already, Bayern’s management has guaranteed that, by and large, the squad has a deputy who is more than ready to step into the regular XI as players age out or move on. That is why the club was able to call David Alaba’s bluff when the Austria star demanded a hefty increase on his annual wage packet in order to commit his future to Bayern – and why, for the first time in over a decade, he’ll be playing his football elsewhere. And it’s why die Roten will be saying auf wiedersehen to veteran defender Jerome Boateng, as opposed to extending his contract. The 32-year-old may not be the only old-timer on his way out either, as the summer transfer window opens shortly after the end of the season.
So, who are the players Bayern are entrusting to keep the trophy machine running smoothly, for next season and beyond? And it’s not just domestic success that’s on the agenda either. After a seven-year wait between European trophies, Bayern want Champions League dominance too.
High on the list is the player whose goal won the Champions League in 2020, Kingsley Coman. It was the France international who found the net and scratched that seven-year itch, ironically against his former club, Paris Saint-Germain.
Coman also spent time at Juventus prior to moving to Germany but it is at Bayern that he has found his footing and made clear his ambitions to be part of the Bayern attack for years to come. He’s part of a young group of exciting attack-minded players that also includes Leroy Sane, Serge Gnabry and the youngest of all, 18-year-old Jamal Musiala.
Musiala was not a household name prior to the start of the season but after his exploits against Lazio – when he became the youngest German and, by virtue of his dual citizenship, the youngest Englishman to score in the Champions League – he certainly is now. The 2020-21 season also saw Musiala become Bayern’s youngest-ever Bundesliga scorer and the club tie him down to a long-term contract, running until 2026.
It was Muller that Musiala replaced against Lazio, and, long-term, it is Muller that Musiala is expected to succeed in the Bayern set-up. Muller turns 32 in September, and provides the ideal role model for Stuttgart-born Musiala to follow.
Sane arrived at Bayern in 2020 after a productive spell at Manchester City, and reportedly cost €45m up front, potentially rising to €60m. He has had his ups and downs since returning to the Bundesliga four years after leaving Schalke for City, largely due to injury. And with the depth Bayern boast, that can make it exceedingly difficult for a player to nail down a consistent spot in the team.
The 25-year-old Sane has often been overshadowed by national team colleague and fellow former Premier League player Gnabry, but there is no denying his talent. He showed it in Manchester, winning back-to-back titles, and has been productive for Bayern in 2020-21. Only Joshua Kimmich and Muller have been more reliable creators than the winger.
Gnabry, who wears the No 7 previously held for more than a decade by the brilliant Franck Ribery, has gone from strength to strength is his time at Bayern. He quit German football for Arsenal in 2011, aged 16, struggled to make an impact at the Gunners and bounced around on loan. A return to German football with Werder Bremen was the making of him and after a single season, Bayern swooped. Gnabry was loaned to Hoffenheim for the 2017-18 season and made his Bayern breakthrough the following year, but it was in the successful 2019-20 Champions League campaign that he really came to the fore.
Returning to London to play Tottenham in October 2019, Gnabry hit four of Bayern’s seven goals. He later claimed a brace at Chelsea, setting a record for away goals by a player in a single Champions League season. This year, Gnabry’s goal tally has been bettered by only Muller and, of course, Lewandowski.
Speedster Alphonso Davies, who blew Barcelona way in Bayern’s 8-2 demolition of the Catalans in August 2020, is part of a Bayern defensive unit that will only get better. The versatile Kimmich, arguably more of a midfielder today but UEFA’s Champions League Defender of the Season in 2019-20, Tanguy Nianzou and Lucas Hernandez are already formidable. The addition of RB Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano to replace Boateng, feels almost unfair on opposing attackers.
Bayern are forming a production line, reinforcement upon reinforcement, for the years ahead. In all areas of the pitch, the Bayern machine should keep rolling forward. Can anyone slow it down?
Story by Soccer 360 Magazine’s Michelle Osei Bonsu