Bayern’s 10th title prompts celebration and concern

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Bayern's 10th title prompts celebration and concern

Bayern Munich were crowned Bundesliga winners for the tenth year in a row, and German champions for the 32nd time in total, following a comfortable 3-1 win over Borussia Dortmund on Saturday.

For Julian Nagelsmann, it's his first major trophy as a coach.

It wasn't quite the thumping that Bayern have handed Dortmund in this fixture in recent years, but the manner of victory summed up the difference between the clubs. While Dortmund were the last team other than Bayern to win the title back in 2012, they now sit 12 points behind in second.

Even when Borussia Dortmund play relatively well, they still shoot themselves in the foot. Bayern's second goal was a case-in-point. Having recovered possession, Dan-Axel Zagadou tried to be positive by bringing the ball out and playing a pass forward rather than square. Predictably, he was caught on the ball by Joshua Kimmich, Thomas Müller immediately fed Robert Lewandowski and the Pole made no mistake.

Emre Can pulled a goal back from the penalty spot for injury-hit Dortmund, Marco Reus had chances to equalize, and Jude Bellingham thought he should have had a penalty, but Jamal Musiala's late goal wrapped up a Bayern victory which, like the Bundesliga title, was never seriously in doubt. They have, after all, led the league since matchday five.

Lewandowski and Musiala lead from the front

In particular in the first half of the season, Nagelsmann's side were nigh on unstoppable. Sure, there was the opening day draw away at Borussia Mönchengladbach and slip-ups against Eintracht Frankfurt and Augsburg, but they were more than canceled out by emphatic wins over Hertha Berlin (5-0), RB Leipzig (4-1), Bochum (7-0), Bayer Leverkusen (5-1), Hoffenheim (4-0), Union Berlin (5-2), Stuttgart (5-0) and Wolfsburg (4-0).

Lewandowski's goal on Saturday was his 27th goal in 26 games against his former club, his 33rd Bundesliga goal this season, and his 48th in all competitions this season. After breaking the legendary Gerd Müller's season goals record last year, he broke "Der Bomber's" record for goals in a calendar year in 2021. Whether he stays in Munich long enough to overtake Müller's all-time Bundesliga record of 365 goals remains to be seen. "Obviously, we want him to stay," said Nagelsmann.

Beyond Lewandowski, there were other personal highlights for Bayern, with the evergreen Thomas Müller making his 400th appearance for the club against Wolfsburg in December. He celebrated his 11th Bundesliga title on Saturday. For others, such as new signings Dayot Upamecano and Marcel Sabitzer who arrived with Nagelsmann from RB Lepizig, it was a first, as it was for 16-year-old Paul Wanner, who made his debut against Gladbach in December.

For Jamal Musiala, only three years older at 19, it was already his third. The Stuttgart-born forward who grew up in London and played for England's under-21s before opting for Germany and Bayern Munich, has established himself as a key part of this team – even filling in admirably in central midfield throughout December as COVID-19 swept through the squad. It was fitting that he netted the decisive goal.

Ten titles: scant consolation

Still, such are the circumstances and expectations in Munich that even a tenth consecutive domestic league title – the first time a German club has achieved such a feat since Stasi-backed BFC Dynamo in the former East German Oberliga – is considered scant consolation in a season which has otherwise not gone to plan.

A 5-0 thumping by Borussia Mönchengladbach in the German Cup in October exposed serious defensive flaws as Bayern were dumped out in the second round for the second year running. When 2022 began with a league defeat to Gladbach, this time in Munich, a raft of COVID-19 absentees offered mitigation. But when newly promoted Bochum put four past them a month later, there was no excuse as Bayern's season started to, if not unravel, certainly decelerate.

Having drawn 1-1 in the last-16 first leg against RB Salzburg, the emphatic 7-1 win in the return leg can be explained more by the Austrians' naively offensive approach than by a significant return to form from Bayern. That much was clear when Unai Emery's highly disciplined and clinical Villarreal deservedly dumped them out in the quarterfinal for the second year in a row.

"Getting knocked out by Villarreal does not reflect the expectations of Bayern Munich and its fans," criticized former chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, while his successor Oliver Kahn tried to remain objective and look to the future: "We have to learn the right lessons and set ourselves up for next season."

Rebuild required

How Kahn, Nagelsmann and sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic go about that will be the big question for Bayern this summer, with the squad needing work in several key positions.

Having let David Alaba go last summer, fellow defender Niklas Süle is also set to join Borussia Dortmund, despite being Bayern's best defender since the turn of the year. Of those who remain, Benjamin Pavard remains an auxiliary right back, Lucas Hernandez is injury-prone, Dayot Upamecano is liable to a mistake and Alphonso Davies' greatest strengths are going forward.

In midfield, the absences of Joshua Kimmich (long-lasting effects of a COVID-19 infection after initially declining to get vaccinated) and Leon Goretzka (hip injury) left a hole which was admirably filled by Jamal Musiala for a while but generally left Bayern light.

"I have my ideas about what decisions I would make and which players I would get and I've discussed that at length with [with Kahn]," said Nagelsmann after the Champions League exit.

Tumult off the field

For Bayern Munich's most hardcore fans, those active club members who organize the support at home and away games, the 2021/22 season is likely to be remembered less for a tenth Bundesliga title and more for a tumultuous AGM which former club president Uli Hoeness called "the worst event I've ever experienced at FC Bayern."

The internal issues symbolize the dilemma which Bayern – and indeed German football as a whole – is now facing.

Those supporters who have criticized their own club so heavily do so because they are more than just Bayern Munich fans; they are Bayern Munich members and, in accordance with German football's 50+1 ownership rule, they technically hold majority voting rights in their club.

The 50+1 model is often credited as being responsible for Germany's envied fan culture and for the absence of dubious owners seen elsewhere in Europe, but a tenth consecutive Bayern Munich title will only increase the calls to scrap the rule and open up the league to greater investment. Whether that would help Borussia Dortmund and others close the gap on Bayern, or merely see Bayern attract even greater investment, is debatable.

Other suggestions include format changes such as the introduction of playoffs or, as suggested by many fan groups, a fairer distribution of broadcast revenue, especially from the Champions League. Donata Hopfen, the new CEO of the German Football League (DFL), says she is open to ideas and that there can be "no sacred cows."

Ten Bundesliga titles in a row is an achievement which Bayern are right to celebrate, but also one which gives German football food for thought.

Bayern's 10th title prompts celebration and concern

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