No team has scored more goals in this season’s Champions League than Bayern Munich.
Indeed, the Bavarians are arguably the strongest attacking outfit in European football right now, netting 23 times in just seven continental fixtures. It’s this final third prowess that has made them one of the competition’s frontrunners.
Of course, Bayern Munich aren’t alone in this standing. Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City have also been widely tipped as potential Champions League winners this season. This comes after an all-English final last season and another all-English final in 2019. The Premier League is threatening a continental takeover.
Bayern Munich stand the best chance of stopping another season of English dominance. Paris Saint-Germain have the individual talent to be considered challengers, but Mauricio Pochettino’s side have so far lacked the cohesion and structure needed to go all the way in the Champions League. Bayern Munich have these two things in abundance.
Best young coach
The departure of Hansi Flick at the end of last season could have shaken the German champions, but Julian Nagelsmann, considered the best young coach in the sport right now, has built on the foundations that were left for him at the Allianz Arena. Bayern Munich are maybe even stronger now than they were when they last won the Champions League two years ago.
Renowned for being a tactical pioneer during his time at both Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig, Nagelsmann has largely stuck with the 4-2-3-1 shape that has supported Bayern Munich for the best part of the last decade. Many expected the 34-year-old to lead a revolution in Bavaria. Instead, he has opted for evolution.
Nagelsmann’s team play a high-tempo game. They press high up the pitch and force mistakes from their opponents as close to goal as possible. Bayern Munich might still play in a familiar shape, but there is greater intensity to their play under Nagelsmann, particularly out of possession. This is where the biggest difference between the 34-year-old’s team and Flick’s can be found.
Recent reports claim Nagelsmann wants to implement a back three next season. This is a system that worked well for him at RB Leipzig where attacking wing backs held the ball and provided creativity high up the pitch. On the left side, Bayern Munich have Alphonso Davies who could make this approach work. On the right side, though, they don’t have a full back so comfortable in attacking so freely.
Even if Nagelsmann doesn’t adopt a back three, Bayern Munich will also need to replenish their central defensive ranks this summer with Niklas Sule having already signed a pre-contract to join Borussia Dortmund. This comes after David Alaba and Jerome Boateng left the club as free agents last summer.
Dayot Upamecano, signed to be Bayern Munich’s next great centre back, has struggled to find his feet in new surroundings. The Frenchman, who followed Nagelsmann to the Allianz Arena from RB Leipzig, didn’t even feature in the Champions League last 16 first leg draw against Red Bull Salzburg following a series of shaky performance – he watched from the bench.
The planned switch to a back three might be designed with Upamecano in mind. The 23-year-old has all the physical and technical attributes to succeed at the top of the German and European game and could still reclaim his place in the Bayern Munich back four between now and the end of the season.
Leon Goretzka’s return from injury would help Bayern Munich shore up their defensive line heading into the final third of the 2021/22 campaign. As a double pivot, Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich give Nagelsmann a platform to build upon in the centre of the pitch. Without one of the two, Bayern Munich lose a dimension.
Now back in training, Bayern Munich hope Goretzka will be available again from April. Until then, Nagelsmann will shape his team to be as attack-minded as possible. The Bavarians might have been defensively vulnerable in recent weeks, but their final third quality means they can out-fire any opponent.
Robert Lewandowski has scored 28 times in just 24 Bundesliga appearances this season as well as nine goals in seven Champions League games. Bayern Munich play to the Polish striker’s strengths with Lewandowski the perfect attacking apex for a system that puts wingers on either side of him and Thomas Muller in behind him.
Muller embodies the practicality of Nagelsmann’s approach. The 32-year-old cannot be typecast in any particular way. He certainly isn’t a number 10 in the traditional sense, nor is he a centre forward. Instead, Muller exploits space whenever he sees it, averaging a team-high 3.0 key passes so far this season.
After struggling at times under Flick, Leroy Sane has flourished. He is now the direct and sharp wide forward Bayern Munich signed him from Manchester City to be. The 26-year-old has averaged 2.3 dribbles per 90 minutes this season and has been Bayern Munich’s top shot-taker behind Lewandowski, firing off 3.3 efforts per minutes.
Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry are nearly as productive in the wide forward positions. The latter is in double figures for Bundesliga goals this season. The days of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben might merely be a memory for Bayern Munich, but they remain a team with some of the best wide options in the sport.
Bayern Munich’s statistics illustrate the team’s vertical threat. No Champions League team has made more dribbles per 90 minutes this season (15.9) than the Bavarians. Gnabry is in the 91st percentile among attacking midfielders and wingers in Europe’s ‘Big Five’ leagues for progressive carries per 90 minutes. Sane is in the 86th percentile.
Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City, as well as the rest of this season’s Champions League field, have plenty to fear in the Bavarians. It’s not just that they boast world class players and a world class manager. The German champions also have the structure and intelligence to make the most of this talent. With Bayern Munich still on the scene, the Premier League contingent might not have it all their own way.