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Reflections on a 33rd title for Bayern Munich and the 2022/23 Bundesliga season

Whether it was Jonas Hector’s goodbye or Jamal Musiala’s winner that you were focused on, it was an emotionally draining Bundesliga season.

1. FC Köln v FC Bayern München - Bundesliga
And Jamal Musiala grows up.....
Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

Bayern Munich, as you know by now, won their 33rd German championship over the weekend. Lots more happened around the Bundesliga; I have had time to process and just wanted to put together a list of thoughts.

Classless classless classless

  • While messy breakups are not uncommon in Bayern, one thing the club manages to do is to be a picture of class. Over the last few months, the club managed to fire Julian Nagelsmann when he was on holiday and fire two club legends in Hasan Salihamidzic and Oliver Kahn right after winning the title. Kahn allegedly was not allowed to attend the game. There are more classy ways to fire people. This sure wasn’t it.

Clueless clueless clueless

  • If Bayern’s handling of internal affairs this season was classless, then Borussia Dortmund’s defending was absolutely clueless. They always have goals in them but my word, they conceded two in quick fashion against Mainz, three against a Stuttgart side down a man, three in six minutes against Werder Bremen, four against Thomas Tuchel’s Bayern who have struggled for goals and even two against a struggling Chelsea side who pretty much everyone got the better of this season.

There are only so many times Gregor Kobel can get them out of trouble. Dortmund have to learn how to defend — they have good defenders but just never set up to defend properly. Go back to the Borussia Mönchengladbach game — after Lars Stindl scored his second, he had another attempt that almost went in; at 4-3, you could be certain that Dortmund would have dropped points. There is an old adage about how goals win you games but defenses win you championships — this applies to BVB.

The Nagelsmann firing in hindsight

  • In hindsight, the sacking of Julian Nagelsmann seems to be a poor decision. That being said, I do think Bayern was put in a tough position there. Since the departure of Hansi Flick, Bayern has not been able to land on the right coach. Thomas Tuchel does not seem to be the answer but neither was Nagelsmann with the constant changes, no matter how big or small they were and the highly inconsistent results with and without Robert Lewandowski. These inconsistencies reflected in the team’s performances.

Ultimately, the World Cup and injuries did not help Nagelsmann’s cause. It is a shame he got sacked as he was beginning to get it right; Bayern had just beaten PSG but had unfortunately lost to a very good Bayer Leverkusen side. Nagelsmann got tactically outclassed by Xabi Alonso that day; nonetheless, I am left to wonder whether he would continue to change things or stick with a single approach for the remainder of the season.

1. FC Köln v FC Bayern München - Bundesliga
Leroy Sané a picture of concentration
Photo by Rene Nijhuis/BSR Agency/Getty Images

Notes on Leroy Sané, Kingsley Coman and Jamal Musiala

  • It is not too long ago that Sané was subbed on and off the pitch by Flick as well as booed by his own fans. In the next game, some fans appeared with a banner to tell Sané to keep his head up. I hear sometimes that his heart is left behind in Manchester; however, performances on the pitch say otherwise. He has bad days but he tries his best every single game; he tracks back continuously and is a team player. It seems to me that Sané has reached his ceiling and this is as good as he will ever be but he is not wanting for effort. His transfer destroyed Bayern’s wage structure but it is the likes of Brazzo who set up negotiations there and decided to break that structure, not Sané.
  • When Jamal Musiala scored in the 89th minute against FC Köln, he wrote his name forever into Bayern folklore; the beauty of the goal deserved it and it felt, in many ways, that Musiala grew up in front of our eyes during the match and became a leader who can push the team forward in times of need.
  • Kingsley Coman quietly puts his head down and produces big goals. Again he tracks back continuously and his effort levels are always immense. I would have loved to see Coman become captain after Manuel Neuer and Thomas Müller; alas, Joshua Kimmich’s loud voice will always be the loudest and he will inevitably be the captain one day unless of course, he goes off and joins Real Madrid to fill Toni Kroos’ shoes — this of course would make sense in my eyes as Kroos was never the most press resistant and was a bit of a defensive reliability at Bayern despite his immense talents.

A word on Joshua Kimmich

  • All would be right in the world if he stayed at right-back! I know that moving full-backs or right-backs to midfield is fashionable for Bayern but I always thought Philipp Lahm was a better full-back than a midfielder and Kimmich was a better right-back than midfielder. After all, Bayern won it all with Kimmich deputizing at right back when Benjamin Pavard got injured.

Heartwarming moments all over the Bundesliga

  • There are so many but I would like to start with Nils Petersen. He decided to end his career at Freiburg, scored a goal in his last game, made Christian Streich (and me) cry and he will be missed. He was a miracle worker off the bench, and, at one time, a good squad member of Bayern. He leaves as Freiburg’s highest ever Bundesliga scorer.
  • Jonas Hector stepping down from his role as Köln captain and Timo Horn leaving Köln were emotional moments as well. Hector, such a talented player and a pleasure to watch, spent 13 years at Köln between the junior and senior sides, decided to stay at the club when they went down, won promotion with them and brought respect and tears in Köln.
  • While the Ruhr region will be a very sad place after those events, there will be some relieved and happy supporters there — those of VfL Bochum. Bochum managed to beat Leverkusen 3-0 and stayed up. Had Frankfurt scored a few more goals, Leverkusen would have been knocked out of a European spot.
  • Sebastian Haller’s season will be a bright spot for the Bundesliga; I didn’t expect him to return this season following his cancer diagnosis but return he did and he became an integral part of Borussia Dortmund. Despite what happened against Mainz 05, his story seems nothing short of a miracle. Marco Richter of Hertha Berlin and Timo Baumgartl of Union Berlin made similarly miraculous returns and were greeted with warm applause in their return matches.
  • Christopher Nkunku, in possibly his last season at Leipzig, and Niklas Füllkrug shared the Torjägerkanone. Nkunku’s play deserved it and Leipzig will be kicking themselves for not being more consistent and not challenging for the title this season. It is also telling that the award was won with only 16 goals this season — Robert Lewandowski would have laughed at that number and easily doubled that total; Lewa’s relationship with Bayern was quite transactional throughout his time here but he is dearly missed.
1. FC Union Berlin v SV Werder Bremen - Bundesliga
Union Berlin about to win the Champions League?
Photo by Selim Sudheimer/Getty Images

On Niklas Füllkrug, Union Berlin and Yann Sommer

  • Union Berlin, four years after being promoted to the top flight and becoming one of a handful of 2.Bundesliga sides to win the promotion/relegation playoff, qualified for the UEFA Champions League. They did it without an investor, with a small budget, with smart decisions and smart coaching. They beat almost impossible odds to get there. The likes of much bigger Wolfsburg, Eintracht Frankfurt, Bayer Leverkusen and Gladbach all finished below them. Moreover, Union didn’t lose a single game at home on the way there.

At times this season, it seemed like they might win the title. Union will need a bigger squad next season but they will tell you again perhaps that their goal is simply to survive in the Bundesliga. They did what they had to do — when Freiburg were leading against Frankfurt, Union knew they needed a goal and found one. Jointly with Bayern, they conceded the fewest goals this season. They scored only 51, tied lowest with Freiburg in the top ten. That’s the way to do it.

  • If Union as a club could be represented by a player, it would be Niklas Füllkrug; he has a similarly low profile and is somewhat of a journeyman. However, his talents saw him go to the World Cup with Germany, not be trusted due to his low profile by Hansi Flick, go on to score goals anyway and then become top scorer despite being injured for much of the latter part of the season, becoming the first Werder Bremen player since Miroslav Klose (2005/06) to win the award.
  • Yann Sommer, a humble character and a Gladbach hero, came to Bayern and deputized brilliantly for six months. I wish he never left Gladbach; his role there has been fulfilled really well by Jonas Omlin and a return seems unlikely. However, if one member of the Bayern squad really deserved this title, it was him. Critics were constantly on his case simply because he isn’t Manuel Neuer, but, he pulled off multiple brilliant saves including one in the season’s final match. I wonder where he will go next.

A word on squad building

  • There is a lot of debate about Leon Goretzka currently despite the fact that he has had only one average season. There are so many other players including Joshua Kimmich who have had average seasons but Goretzka’s role has really come into the question to the point that complainer-in-chief, Ryan Gravenberch, started vs. FC Köln. I feel he adds a lot to the team and it would be a shame to see him go. I also think Bayern will have to sell plenty of players to fulfill Kimmich’s wishes of playing further forward. It remains to be seen how things work out this summer.

Schalke...oh Schalke

  • Due to Schalke’s resurgence in the second half of the season, I had become highly invested in their relegation fight. At the end, it wasn’t enough to stay up but they put up a fight for the ages in the second half of the season. When Schalke goes down, the Bundesliga loses. I hope Schalke comes right back up in 2024/25.
Borussia Mönchengladbach v FC Augsburg - Bundesliga
Stindl takes it all in on his last day at Gladbach
Photo by Christian Verheyen/Borussia Moenchengladbach via Getty Images

On a personal note....

  • If there was one moment that deeply touched me during the season’s final weekend, it was Lars Stindl’s Borussia Mönchengladbach goodbye. He has long been my favorite player in the league, a playmaker who plays as a forward and interchanges with Jonas Hofmann and Marcus Thuram. In his last performance, he put on a show against Augsburg and gave us all a reminder of what he can do. He was a Gladbach player for eight years and captain for seven years. The players all had T-shirts with his face on it at the final whistle. He went up to the crowd to speak to them after the final whistle and they took him in.

Players like Stindl are rare; I will miss him a lot. Other departures from Gladbach include Ramy Bensebaini and Thuram. But nobody’s shoes will be more difficult to fill than Stindl’s not simply positionally but because of who he was for them. He goes down a division to play for his hometown club, Karslruher SC, a club whose youth academy once produced a goalkeeper who played for the senior side for four years and then moved on to bigger and better things....his name was Oliver Kahn.

So, there you have it. The final matchday of the season felt bittersweet. Leave us your thoughts on the campaign that was and I hope my incoherent musings were worth a read. As always, thank you for reading.

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