Until November 3, 2019, Bayern Munich’s manager was a certain Niko Kovac but being fourth was not what the Bavarians had in mind when naming Kovac to the top seat. And so by mutual consent, Kovac was sacked and they made the switch to Hans-Dieter Flick.
When Flick assumed the reins, Bayern were fourth in the Bundesliga, after 10 rounds of matches, trailing first-placed Borussia Monchengladbach by four points and they had already lost thrice in the league. The switch paid immediate dividends as Bayern thrashed Borussia Dortmund 4-0 in Flick’s first league match, after beating Olympiacos 2-0 in the UEFA Champions League.
On Friday at the empty Estadio da Luz in Lisbon, Bayern inflicted a damaging 8-2 defeat on a Lionel Messi-led Barcelona. The only surprise was that Bayern scored only eight, it could have been 12 because Barcelona’s goalkeeper, Mark-Andre ter Stegen made five saves. What switch was flicked by Flick to turn this Bayern team that he took over last November into today’s juggernaut?
Barcelona defender, Gerard Pique, who does not suffer fools gladly labelled the defeat a ‘disgrace’, but this is not about Barcelona–that can wait. For emphasis, Bayern have played nine matches in the UCL this season and have scored 39 goals, conceding eight – they played seven of those games under Flick. Bayern had beaten Tottenham 7-2; Chelsea 7-1 before thrashing Barcelona 8-2.
After assisting Joachim Loew in winning the 2014 World Cup with Germany, being appointed as assistant manager to Kovac before the start of the 2019/20 season was the first time Flick was coaching a top tier club but what a find he has become for the perennial German league champions.
What did Flick do to transform the strugglers in November 2019 into potential treble winners? This is not about formations or tactics because Bayern play the basic 4-3-3 and did not add any new player last January. When Germany won the 2014 World Cup, there was no outsized superstar in the squad, but they had strength in depth and whoever they started or called off the bench got the job done.
Flick has recreated that exact squad harmony in Bavaria. Where Kovac was up in arms with the veterans in the team – Thomas Muller, Jerome Boateng, and Manuel Neuer – and also sanctioned the departure of Mats Hummels, Flick reintegrated his veterans into the team and supported them with young and dynamic football players. He also intensified their desire, and we all saw his example from the sideline on Friday – edging his players on, even when they were already 5-1 up. His has a relentless nature and has transported that desire into the entire team.
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His major decision was to get Muller into the first team and give a permanent midfield position to 25-year-old Leon Goretzka, whom they bought from Schalke 04 in 2018. Muller finished the last Bundesliga season with 21 assists. Alphonso Davies, a left-winger, converted into a left-back, has become an exceptional asset, providing and scoring goals. Just like Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid, Flick got his man-management skills on point and the whole Bayern squad agree with their manager. One can only wonder how good this Bayern team can become – having just added Leroy Sane to their already fearsome squad!
When the Bayern hierarchy sacked Kovac last November, they could not have foreseen they had mistakenly flicked the right switch to make their team almost unbeatable. Their last defeat was on December 7, 2019 – a 2-1 defeat to Borussia Monchengladbach. Since then, they have won 28 matches and drawn just once. The signs are ominous for any of Bayern’s opponents in this new dispensation. Bayern’s November Flick is shining brighter than anyone ever thought.