Bayern Munich is a European giant. A perennial Champions League title contender. A club that represents the pinnacle of the sport. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that the minimum expectation from the players and the coach is a domestic double, something that would be a dream come true for 99.99% of clubs across Europe in their respective football associations.
However, over the past decade, there has been a huge emphasis on winning the Champions League. Granted, this is a competition with loads of other parameters, and of course luck, that need to be factored in, but despite all that, Die Roten are expected to deliver on Europe’s biggest stage season in, season out. So imagine what the management and the fanbase felt like when the club lost its most potent offensive weapon who also happened to be the world’s best footballer at the time to FC Barcelona. Yes, we are talking about Robert Lewandowski here.
Everyone knew that the Pole was going to be a massive loss and one that would require multiple signings to replace at the very least. The man contributed to around 40% of Bayern’s goals every season, and he’s had a blistering start to his career at Barcelona, scoring 14 and assisting 3 in just 13 appearances across all competitions. Sadio Mané, for all his offensive prowess, isn’t remotely close to the complete footballer Lewa is. Mathys Tel, while talented, is super young and inexperienced. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, while a solid understudy, is no game-changer.
So, Lewandowski’s output would be impossible to replace, right?
Bayern Munich’s moves in the transfer market raised many an eyebrow. The club didn’t go for a like-for-like striker replacement and instead fortified multiple positions. In hindsight, this feels like a masterclass.
After the introduction of Nagelsmann’s 4-2-2-2/4-2-3-1 hybrid system, we have been witnessing a level of offensive fluidity hitherto unseen. Jamal Musiala and Leroy Sané have been having blistering seasons as winger-playmakers. Sadio Mané and Serge Gnabry have delivered sporadically, and when they’re having a cold day, Kingsley Coman and Choupo-Moting step up.
Bayern Munich has a whopping goal total of 58 in just 17(!!!) games across all competitions this season. The team registers 20 shots a game. Those are insane numbers, and yes, despite sitting second in the league at the moment, the Bavarians are favorites to win the Pokal and are in imperious form in the UCL. The club has long depended on Lewandowski to do the hard carrying, which also brought its own problem in cup competitions: Lewandowski being marked out of the game.
When a team becomes over-reliant on one player for most of the attacking contributions, the player being marked out of the game, or worse still, an injury to the player can be enough to derail the attack. Cases in point: The Champions League exit vs PSG in 2021, or this season’s UCL exit vs Villarreal when Lewandowski was marked by 3 defenders all the time. After Lewandowski’s departure though, yes, there was a period of difficulty, but right now, the Bayern attack looks incredible.
Julian Nagelsmann’s attacking style involves many players. The midfielders, the fullbacks, and of course, the attackers all get to play a role in chance creation and goalscoring. With the focus no longer on one single player, the onus is on multiple players to get involved, step up, and score, which is paying huge dividends. Gone are the days when you had to cross into the box and pray for Lewandowski to slot it in.
Leroy Sané will make defenders eat grass and release Musiala along the left flank. Mané will drift centrally from out wide and set up Serge Gnabry. Alphonso Davies will make blistering runs and fancy a shot or two. Thomas Müller will always roam around the opposition third, always a goal threat to keep in mind. Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka will be ready to pounce on low crosses or through balls to send in powerful shots. Marcel Sabitzer is always a goal threat from outside the box. I could go on.
The team might be struggling in the Bundesliga per normal standards, but they are ready for cup competitions, especially the UCL. You simply cannot shut the attack down by targeting a couple of players anymore. Wave after wave of Bayern attacks will keep coming, and since there are so many parts to this multidimensional goal machine, teams like Augsburg will face the wrath of this formation and learn the hard way that this isn’t the Bayern of old.
This isn’t a Bayern side that can be stifled with a simple low block and man-to-man defense. This team hasn’t even hit full stride, and they’re already churning out great results across all competitions. It is still too early to beat the drum and proclaim the club favorites for the UCL, but things are looking quite good.
Nagelsmann has a lot of beautiful ingredients in his spice box. It is now up to him to blend them together in the right proportions for the right occasions to cook the best dishes.
Watch out, Europe. They’re coming for the crown.