Bayern Munich opened the new Bundesliga season with a devastating win over Eintracht Frankfurt. Sadio Mane and Jamal Musiala look set to play key roles as Julian Nagelsmann takes Bayern into the post-Lewandowski era.
Sadio Mane started his Bundesliga debut with a goal in a 6-1 rout of Eintracht Frankfurt — and ended it on the terraces, celebrating with Bayern Munich's ultras.
The Senegalese is already a crucial figure in the reinvention of the serial winners.
It's only been one competitive game, but it's as if Robert Lewandowski — Bayern's greatest ever goalscorer — never existed.
His 238 goals in 252 league games are historic numbers, but all good things must come to an end, and the challenge of reinventing this team without the Pole was always going to be a tough one. At least that was the assumption.
A new playing style, tactical system and fresh personnel tailored to coach Julian Nagelsmann's precise specifications is the strategy being used to turn 10 straight league titles into 11 — and ultimately target Champions League success.
Same old Bayern, you might think. Yet very different.
Sadio on the fence
Mane couldn't have wished for a better debut.
The Bundesliga's marquee summer signing won it all with Liverpool and is now a key component of a Bayern side that look set to play in a very different style to what went before, as Nagelsmann stamps his philosophy on the club.
"Obviously, when you first arrive somewhere new, you try to adjust and fit in and work well together," the 35-year-old said before the game.
"The players were used to doing certain things a certain way," he said. "But now we want to try to bring our own DNA onto the pitch."
And did they.
As if freed from the specter of Lewandowski, Bayern produced an extraordinary display of attacking potency in a devastating first half, characterized by a relentless desire to swarm the opposition at every opportunity like angry hornets.
Mane operates at the apex and delivers the sting, but the system is fluid, the midfield a hive of activity. Mane, Serge Gnabry and Thomas Müller all know each other's roles, and when one of them can't break through, Alphonso Davies will from deep.
But, in Frankfurt at least, Jamal Musiala was the queen bee.
Musiala free to roam
The 19-year-old scored twice himself in Frankfurt, a first-half tap-in after neat buildup play from Mane and Müller, and a late low drive to make it six.
But of greater significance is his new, more expansive role — another direct consequence of Lewandowski's departure.
With Müller pushing up higher behind Mane and Gnabry, Musiala now doesn't have to feel like he's stepping on the German's toes, and looked completely at home orchestrating the game, with the security of Marcel Sabitzer and Joshua Kimmich anchoring the midfield behind him.
Musiala's ability to see and execute a pass belies his years. His potential is beyond doubt but, in this system, in a World Cup year, with Hansi Flick watching on from the stands, this could be the year he converts his promise into something genuinely world class.
"We're all technically strong so we're all trying to combine with each other up front, Musiala explained at full-time. "We did the same with Robert Lewandowski, but now we just have to find other ways."
They're certainly doing that, and it's very much a team effort.
It was telling that, after the first two goals — Kimmich's free kick, which caught Eintracht goalkeeper Kevin Trapp off guard, and Benjamin Pavard's drive home from a corner unmarked — both goalscorers ran to celebrate with Bayern's set-piece coach, Dino Topmöller, on the touchline.
"Dino mentioned in the week that Trappo tends to stand a bit further off his line, so maybe give it a go," Kimmich told DAZN post-match.
"The free kick was probably a bit far out for it, to be honest," Nagelsmann said. "But he hit it well, so compliments to all involved."
Smoke and mirrors in the land of the kings
There are two sides to every story though.
Hosts Frankfurt came into the season opener still very much riding the wave of euphoria, which reached its crescendo with Europa League glory in Seville.
"Europapokalsieger 2022," read the huge banner unfurled across the Nordwestkurve: European Cup winners, a proud statement of how far the club has come. They travel to Helsinki, Finland, on Wednesday to face Champions League winners Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup — "in the land of the kings," as the local Frankfurter Rundschau headlined pre-match.
But, against Bayern, from the moment that the billows of white smoke from the Frankfurt ultras' flares appeared to impair Trapp's vision when facing Kimmich's fifth-minute free kick, Frankfurt were their own worst enemies.
Austrian head coach Oliver Glasner had brought combative captain Sebastian Rode back into the team in place of Daichi Kamada, despite the Japanese playmaker's scoring two goals in the cup against Magdeburg on Monday, with the specific aim of tightening up the midfield.
But his plans backfired spectacularly.
Rode and midfield partner Djibril Sow were hopelessly outfought, wingbacks Filip Kostic and Ansgar Knauff barely got a kick, new signing Mario Götze might well have still been in Eindhoven and, when they got the chance to pull a goal back, Jesper Lindstrom missed from close range.
It was a shocking performance and proof that you can't beat a team of Bayern's caliber on a wave of emotion alone.
"We were too wild: We wanted too much," Glasner said. "We didn't actually want to play the fast, but the two quick set-piece goals gave the game a different dynamic. The wingbacks got too high, we were trying to pressurize Bayern, but that opened up space in behind, and you saw what happened: too many chances, too many goals."
Bayern Munich doing their job
A skeptic might suggest that the title race lasted 45 minutes; a cynic would say it never started. But both have a point, because the freshly-crowned Europa League winners being punch drunk in their own back yard on the opening night of the new season isn't a great look for the Bundesliga.
But that's not Bayern's fault.
From the reshuffles in the boardroom, to their activities in the transfer market, to Musiala blossoming in Nagelsmann's 4-2-2-2 formation, to Mane on the fence with the megaphone at full-time, the serial winners are doing their job.
They may look different and play different, but that can only be a good thing. And, in the end, the result is the same.