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Next up, Champions League – why Bundesliga kings Bayern are favourites to conquer Europe
Bayern Munich celebrate winning the Bundesliga title
by Joe Wright
16 Jun 2020, 21:15

One down, two to go.

For the eighth time in a row, Bayern Munich are Bundesliga champions. For the seventh time in nine years, they are in the DFB-Pokal final. And yet, as it has been for the best part of a decade, their season will mostly be defined by how well they do in the Champions League.

They are surely favourites to win that, too.

Bayern's Bundesliga triumphs often feel like processions, but 2019-20 has been a real fight. They suffered five defeats in the first half of the season, two of which came after a 5-1 November thrashing by Eintracht Frankfurt that cost head coach Niko Kovac his job. They have been winter champions seven times since 2009 but were four points behind leaders RB Leipzig at the turn of the year, with free-scoring Borussia Dortmund also threatening to pull away.

They turned to Hansi Flick more out of desperation than a long-term vision, handing the former assistant a temporary deal to steady the ship while high-profile names were courted, but his record in 2020 would be the envy of every coach in the world and proves why his new full-time contract was wholly deserved.

Since December 14, Bayern have won 17 of 18 Bundesliga matches, the sole blot coming in a goalless home draw with Leipzig in February. They have scored at least twice in all but three games. They have scored five goals in a game three times and twice hit six, keeping 10 clean sheets in the process. Even the two-month coronavirus lay-off has done nothing to shake them from their stride. A 1-0 win at Dortmund on May 26 gave them a seven-point cushion at the top, and that, realistically, was that.

In all competitions, Flick won 24 of his first 27 games in charge, beating Pep Guardiola's mark of 22. Bayern became the first team to score 90 Bundesliga goals in the first 30 rounds and have hit 132 in all matches this term, a record for a German team.

Flick has found the Midas touch with his players, both the rising stars and the established elite. He has turned 19-year-old Alphonso Davies into a devastating attacking full-back and helped Leon Goretzka find his feet in midfield. Manuel Neuer and Jerome Boateng look full of renewed vigour, having had their Bayern futures questioned last year.

In attack, Thomas Muller has equalled Kevin De Bruyne's record of 20 assists for a season - a spectacular tally for a number 10 who does not take set-pieces. Robert Lewandowski is on 31 league goals for the season and 46 in all competitions, a personal record.

In fact, you would struggle to find an out-of-form Bayern player from among their fully fit options. Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry are a menace, particularly with Joshua Kimmich pulling the midfield strings, his old right-back role firmly in Benjamin Pavard's hands. Thiago's latest muscle injury has been offset by Goretzka's rise to prominence. With Lucas Hernandez and Ivan Perisic fit again and Philippe Coutinho to come back, there is a depth to Bayern that is hard to beat.

It all means Bayern will be the best-prepared team once the Champions League returns, most likely in August. Their domestic league started earlier and finished quicker than their rivals, save Paris Saint-Germain, who will not have kicked a ball in anger for five months when the competition resumes. They have had the strongest 2020 of any of the remaining sides in the last 16 and, presently, have the fewest injury concerns.

They also boast a commanding 3-0 first-leg lead over Chelsea ahead of the return game at the Allianz Arena, easing the pressure ahead of the restart. Meanwhile, Real Madrid and Manchester City face a tense battle at the Etihad Stadium, Barcelona are level at 1-1 with Napoli, Juventus are a goal down to Lyon and Liverpool were knocked out by Atletico Madrid, who have only won four matches since January 9. What's more, they have a DFB-Pokal final against Bayer Leverkusen to come on July 4 - a perfect chance to raise spirits further before three weeks of intensive training for the continental games to come against opponents who are well short of Bayern's present standards.

Bayern's last European triumph came when they won the treble under Jupp Heynckes in 2012-13. If the Champions League really does define their season, there is every chance 2019-20 will be one to remember.