So there we have it. FC Bayern München have clinched another Bundesliga crown. Their 28th German championship in all, and sixth in a row. Again, with plenty of games to spare. Second-placed Schalke 04 had kept the mathematicians busy by winning on matchdays 27 and 28, but by matchday 29 it was all in Bayern’s hands.
The requirement: victory against nearby FC Augsburg.
Comical start, clinical finish
There were a number of changes to Bayern’s starting eleven at the WWK-Arena, and it looked as though any plan had all gone to pot when the home side took the lead in the 18th minute. It was not only avoidable but comical in the extreme. After more faffing about at the back, an absent-minded Jérôme Boateng was robbed by Sergio Cordova. The Venezuelan’s shot was well blocked by Sven Ulreich, only for Niklas Süle to execute the perfect slide-in finish on the rebound. With his face.
Not to worry. The visitors immediately upped the tempo and were 2:1 in front by the break. First an easy headed chance taken by Corentin Tolisso, followed by a just as calm James Rodríguez finish after some (surprisingly) neat play from Juan Bernat.
Just after the hour mark, all three points were safely in the bag. Arjen Robben beat Augsburg ‘keeper Marwin Hitz at his near post to extend the lead, putting some breathing space between the two teams. It was left to Sandro Wagner to add the finishing touch, heading home with three minutes remaining.
If the start had been comical, the finish was nothing less than clinical. Augsburg have proved this season that they are no mugs, but Bayern were not going to let anybody spoil their party.
A story that will never get old
Since the turn of the year, Die Roten have been dominant in domestic competition. By early February, it was a fait accompli. It was Bayern’s title to lose, with only a complete and unprecedented end of season meltdown separating Jupp Heynckes side from having to buy another year’s worth of silver polish.
It was not always like this, of course. Back in September last year, the wheels were coming off in Bavaria. Meanwhile, rivals Borussia Dortmund were talking up their title ambitions. It was going to be like 2011-12 all over again, and Dutchman Peter Bosz was going to be the man to deliver it.
This story has popped up frequently during my rambles this season, and it is one that will never get old.
After an indifferent start, the Bavarians finally showed the door to their beleaguered Italian coach Carlo Ancelotti. Pre-season had been risible, Ancelotti had been given a footballing lesson by young upstart Julian Nagelsmann in Hoffenheim, and a two-goal lead was thrown away against lowly VfL Wolfsburg. Bavarian faces would then match the colour of their famous shirts as they were given a pummelling by Paris Saint-Germain.
By matchday seven, Carletto was saying arrivederci, Monaco. (Fun fact: Munich is Monaco in Italian). Caretaker Willy Sagnol did not last long, matching the two-goal giveaway in Berlin against Hertha BSC before he too was ushered out.
Within a fortnight, the miracle had begun. Somehow, Uli Hoeneß and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge were able to lure treble-winning coach Jupp Heynckes out of retirement and back to the Bavarian capital. The ship was rightened, the team re-energised, and all hands were put to the pumps. The result is where we are today.
Of course, we cannot tell this story without talking about Dortmund. Which is what makes the story such a memorable one.
As Bayern recovered, BVB stagnated. Bayern had staved off the meltdown, but the early pace-setters went into freefall. From being lauded as the man who would finally wrest the silver salad dish from Bavarian hands, Bosz was back out on the job market, replaced by a man given the boot by winless table-proppers 1. FC Köln.
Yes, we can all laugh now.
A week before Bayern’s title-clinching win in Augsburg, Dortmund were at the Allianz. Billed by many as Der Klassiker, it quickly turned into Das Massaker. Dortmund were dismal, but Bayern tore into them with gusto. Five goals had been put past poor Roman Bürki by halftime, and it was only the need to keep the team in shape for more important things ahead that prevented the Bavarians from repeating the dose in the second half and hitting double figures. In the end, one more was fine. Dortmund were just as bad as Hamburger SV.
Scare in Seville
Midweek saw a slightly more fraught Champions League encounter in Seville, where Bayern finally overcame their painful Spanish hoodoo with a come-from-behind win against a battling Sevilla FC. Heynckes’ side were not at their best and there were plenty of errors, but two rather lucky deflected goals ensured that they came away from Spain with a win.
The last time a Bayern team won in Spain? May 2013. The coach? Jupp Heynckes. We all know what happened after that.
Statistics and omens are one thing. Reality is another. The truth right now is that we still do not know just how good this Bayern team really is.
Back in 2013, subjecting Dortmund to a 6:0 hammering would have meant something. Not so much today. A win in Spain would have also carried weight, but the reality is that Sevilla are pretty poor by their own domestic standards. Try switching things around, pitting Bundesliga seventh-placers Hoffenheim at the Camp Nou against La Liga leaders Barcelona. It would not finish at 2:1, that is for sure.
Bayern have won the Bundesliga. The odds suggest that they will claim another DFB-Pokal too. They should, having done the hard work, see off Sevilla at the Allianz. The real key here is how this is achieved. We really do not want to see another struggle where not everybody is hitting their straps. For we all know that this will simply not be good enough against the likes of Barca and that perennial bad smell, Real Madrid.
Coach hunt update
As we close in on the final chapter of the ongoing who-is-going-to-follow-Jupp story, the speculators continue to churn out the claims and counterclaims. Former Bayern man Niko Kovač was in the running last week, but has supposedly not even been approached by Uli and Kalle. Jürgen Klopp, never one of my favourites as a potential Bayern coach, is happy enough in Liverpool. Ralph Hasenhüttl is seemingly committed to his project in Leipzig.
Others have also dropped away, such as unrealistic outside hope Jogi Löw and one-time good bet Thomas Tuchel, who has been linked with Arsenal, PSG and Wormatia Worms.
Every coach has at some point been linked with the Arsenal job. There has been a bit of a fever about the plastic Parisians, where Unai Emery has been living on the edge since their Champions League exit. As for Wormatia Worms, I just wanted to shoehorn them into one of these rambles. I would have thrown in BSG Stahl Eisenhüttenstadt, were they not defunct.
The Milky Bar kid
After seeing his stock rise and fall as haphazardly as the craziest cryptocurrency, Julian Nagelsmann is seemingly back in the running again. The price of a Nagelcoin (NGC) was at its peak in September, died away over the winter, but bounced back up again after the Hoff put six past doomed Köln.
6:0 against the lame Billy Goats. Wahey. Not exactly earth-shattering stuff, but enough to turn eyes back towards the 30-year-old from Landsberg am Lech.
I have already shared my two Pfennigs worth on Nagelsmann. He has the talent – well, from what can judge from one good season and one indifferent one at Hoffenheim, at least. But does he have the experience? Can we really believe that a 30-year-old can amble into a dressing room full of established stars and get them to do his bidding? Will the senior pros be happy being ordered around on the training ground by the Milky Bar kid?
OK, I am exaggerating a little here to make a point. But the fact remains that there is a point here, and a pretty sharp one at that. It is also worth noting that Nagelsmann has also been linked with… Arsenal.