“We’ll make the odd change,” said Hansi Flick when he was named Bayern München’s interim coach in November. Though a 2014 FIFA World Cup winner as assistant to Joachim Löw, he was taking on his first senior coaching role since trying (and failing) to take Hoffenheim into Germany’s second division at the start of the millennium. No one saw what was coming.
When Niko Kovač was removed in November with Bayern fourth in the Bundesliga, Flick was a quick fix from the backroom staff he had joined as an assistant only that summer. Bayern were going to headhunt a bigger name; by early April that hunt was over when Flick signed a three-year contract. “For many years now Bayern have stood for possession, dominance on the ball, a strong positional game and lots of goals,” explained club CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. “Hansi Flick has brought that philosophy back.”
It is an ethos that has already delivered an eighth successive Bundesliga title and the DFB-Pokal, putting Flick within a game of emulating Jupp Heynckes, who orchestrated the unprecedented 2012/13 treble. “He makes all of his players feel important,” said Heynckes, a two-time Champions League winner who coached Flick as a Bayern player in the late 1980s. “Even superstars need a bit of love and a coach needs high levels of empathy for that kind of thing, Flick has that in abundance. He is a gem of a coach. ”
The semi-final win against Lyon was Bayern’s 20th successive victory in all competitions, meaning Flick has won his first seven UEFA Champions League matches. That puts him ahead of ex-AC Milan boss Fabio Capello and former Paris coach Luis Fernandez as the only man to have enjoyed such a streak.
And then there are the goals. Bayern have struck 42 in their ten ties so far, an average of 4.2 per game that overshadows the previous record of 3.38 set by Paris in 2017/18. Only Barcelona have ever scored more in a single Champions League season, taking 16 games to hit 45 in 1999/2000.
Over a third of the German champions’ haul has come from Robert Lewandowski. The Poland international turned 32 on Friday, yet is playing the best football of his career. After hitting 34 goals in 31 league games — a record for a non-German Bundesliga player — he is now just two goals shy of Cristiano Ronaldo’s 2013/14 European Cup season record of 17.
Should Bayern triumph in Lisbon, Serge Gnabry will surely play a fundamental part. The ex-Arsenal prodigy has come a long way since being unable to get a game at West Bromwich Albion in 2015/16. His double against Lyon, including a show-stopping opener with his supposedly weaker left foot, took him to nine goals in Europe this season. That means he and Lewandowski have – with 24 strikes between them – eclipsed Ronaldo and Gareth Bale’s competition record as a scoring duo.
While these players stuttered under Kovač, they have flourished spectacularly under his successor. If you’re a Paris Saint-Germain fan you might want to look away now: the statistics are terrifying.
Four of Gnabry’s tally came in the astonishing 7-2 win at Tottenham Hotspur on Matchday 2. It was Bayern’s campaign-defining triumph – until they added one more to that scoreline against Barcelona in a jaw-dropping quarter-final for the ages.
That victory was kick-started by Thomas Müller’s brace in the first half. He was cast aside by Löw on the international stage last season and by Kovač at club level this term. He was drifting towards the fringes of the only club he has ever played for. But Flick brought him back and played him behind Lewandowski; Müller promptly set a new Bundesliga assist record with 21 in 2019/20, and was involved in a career-high 29 league goals.
“What Hansi’s done for this team is brilliant,” said Müller. “The last time we were so well drilled was under Pep Guardiola. Every player was allowed to add their own touch to their position, but the role was always clear. Hansi gives us clear guidelines – not options but specifics.”
The comparison with Guardiola – Bayern coach between 2013 and 2016 – is a fair one, with Flick’s side putting much of their energy into pressing to win the ball back before they burst forward devastatingly, just as they did under the Spaniard. With one crucial exception: Guardiola never made it beyond the Champions League semi-final with Bayern.
Not that Flick, nor his squad, will settle for simply outdoing Guardiola’s achievements. Beat Paris and Bayern will have a sixth continental crown from 11 finals, drawing them level with Liverpool at third on the all-time winners’ list. It’s a history they are living up to.
“In the dressing room there were no cries of joy, no scenes of jubilation – we’re already focused on the final,” said Joshua Kimmich, who could help his team become the first club to win every Champions League game in a single season. “We don’t want to rest on our laurels. It’s not the time for that.”