BEFORE anyone had time to wonder if Bayern Munich could continue their unprecedented run of success, the Bavarians answered in style, scoring eight goals (again!) without reply against a very poor Schalke 04 team in their opening fixture of the 2020-21 season.
It took the European champions just four minutes to open the scoring, effectively putting the first letter of their name on the Bundesliga trophy. Yes, folks, a ninth title for Bayern is surely on the way.
Put simply, Bayern are too strong, too wealthy, too professional and too experienced for the rest of the Bundesliga. Nobody likes monopolies, but Bayern should trademark the word, for they have a stranglehold on German football like never before. It really is a question of how many points will the margin of success be at the end of 2020-21?
We would like to think that the German league will have a highly competitive title race, but increasingly, there’s no such thing – the same scenario exists in France, Italy (although that may change) and Spain. But you also have to admire Bayern for the way they just keep going, evolving their team, changing managers when a hint of crisis emerges and playing riveting football. How do German clubs motivate themselves when they know the most they can achieve is a Champions League place? And why doesn’t Bayern’s overwhelming superiority have a negative impact on spectator interest – the Bundesliga still draws the best crowds in Europe (when crowds were allowed in the stadium, that is)?.
Not too long ago, people were starting to wonder if Bayern were losing their grip. They had some older players that needed replacing and they went out of the Champions League unusually early. Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery both departed, but Bayern have replaced them with younger talent that has yet to reach its peak, such as exciting Canadian defender/ winger Alphonso Davies. And let’s not forget they now have Leroy Sane, who made an impressive debut after joining from Manchester City.
In 2018-19, they topped the table by just two points, some 19 less than 2017-18. But last season, after replacing coach Niko Kovač with Hansi Flick, they recovered from a tricky start to end up 13 points clear of Borussia Dortmund.
If Bayern were to crack – and that is very unlikely – could Borussia Dortmund or RB Leipzig snatch the title? With Dortmund possibly selling Jadon Sancho (the Manchester United defeat against Palace may accelerate that) and Leipzig already without Timo Werner, the dilemma of Bundesliga clubs is clear – they have to periodically sell their talent. At least Werner didn’t end up at Bayern, although he could be an ideal longer-term replacement for Lewandowski when his teeth get too long.
Dortmund, meanwhile, underlined their speculative approach to the development of young players, signing 17 year-old Jude Bellingham from Birmingham City for € 25 million. If Sancho leaves, Bellingham and the likes of Erling Haaland (20) and Giovanni Reyna (17) represent valuable assets that could be sold in the market in the future.
Leipzig haven’t been very active in the market this summer and their main signing has been an inter-group transfer involving Hwang Hee-Chan of Red Bull Salzburg.
Bayer Leverkusen, who finished fifth last season, may have signed an exciting addition to the Bundesliga in Roma’s Patrick Schick, a 24 year-old Czech forward, for € 26.5 million. There’s also considerable expectation around 17 year-old attacking midfielder Florian Wirtz.
Schalke are currently in some financial disarray and have amassed debts of around € 200 million. Their chairman resigned earlier this year and their financial problems, caused by failure to be Champions League regulars and the pandemic, led to them seeking a € 40 million guarantee from the North-Rhine Westphalia state.
They are not the only German club with financial issues to solve. Just after lockdown, it was suggested in the media that as many as 13 clubs across Bundesliga 1 and 2 could be facing economic problems. Borussia Mönchengladbach, who topped the Bundesliga in the early months of 2019-20, were among those affected and despite high revenue generation, made a loss for the year. But Gladbach have some interesting talent, notably French striker Marcus Thuram, Yann Sommer and Florian Neuhaus and could also put pressure on Bayern.
Four of the leading clubs, Bayern, Dortmund, Leverkusen and Leipzig have pledged € 20 million to help clubs in difficulty. The absence of matchday revenues hit some clubs harder than others. The big guns in Europe, such as Bayern, are less reliant on match income which means their position has arguably been strengthened during the pandemic.
Bayern may have entered a new period of European dominance. With Barcelona in turmoil, Real Madrid far from spectacular, Juventus unable to make the breakthrough and Paris Saint-Germain falling short of success, Bayern are undoubtedly the best team in Europe.
And inevitably, they will remain the major force in Germany for the foreseeable future. The 2020-21 season will surely be another notch on Bayern’s bedpost.