From fourth position in the league table after 10 matchdays in the Bundesliga to winning the Champions League, Bundesliga, German Cup and UEFA Super Cup -- Bayern Munich have made history in the longest season of the footballing calendar, 2019-20.
Today we look into Bayern manager Hansi Flick's drawing board on which he drew a tactical masterclass with the flick of his magic wand, turning the Bavarians into the most lethal side in Europe.
Flick, assistant to previous coach Niko Kovac, took over a side struggling in fourth position after 10 matchdays.
With the experience of being the deputy to Joachim Low when Germany won their fourth World Cup title in 2014, Flick already had the respect of the German contingent. With his philosophy of free-flowing attacking football like those of Jorgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, Bayern experienced a rapid rise improvement in performance, with more points, more goals scored and fewer goals conceded per game. Formation-wise, Flick, however, didn't change too much as he decided to stick with the 4-2-3-1.
One of the major changes he made was moving Joshua Kimmich into midfield from right-back position -- a decision partly enforced by Javi Matinez's injury and partly tactical. In addition, Thomas Muller appeared more in the game and got more minutes than he got during Kovac's tenure.
Build Up and Attack:
Under Flick, Bayern have been more dominant and lethal with the ball and the possession percentage also increased. But more pertinently, the number of passes completed before losing the ball in the opposition's half has increased, showing a more controlled style of play.
When starting deep, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer would look to find one of the centre-backs whilst the fullbacks advance higher up. If the opposition tries to press up with two men, both Kimmich and Thiago are comfortable with the ball and have the mobility to drop back to form a back three against the two-man attack. And the No. 10 (often Coutinho) also drops deeper to provide the extra passing option.
Verticality is also a key element of Flick's side, wanting to be forward-thinking in their play. So they try to open up their passing play to get the ball higher up the pitch. Often, the attacking midfielders will drive higher to push the opposition midfielders deeper before dropping down to receive the ball and to play a wall pass into the lateral regions. But the attacking midfielders are marked tightly, leading to free a passing lane for Robert Lewandowski, who would drop deep and look to find his teammates.
Lewandowski has been more involved in the build-up plays since Flick's arrival as his xG (expected goals) and xA (expected assists) increased per 90 minutes.
Similar to Liverpool fullbacks Andy Roberson and Trenth-Alexander Arnold, if the centre-backs instead go wide immediately during build-up, the team work to provide fullbacks with multiple passing options. With spaces in the middle, the central midfielder could also move higher up to make himself an option alongside the wingers. Having Benjamin Pavard and Alphonso Davies wide as opposed to Kimmich and David Alaba -- although at times they still invert -- is also a feature of Flick's side.
As a result, the fullbacks tend to utilise the width more effectively, and often Thomas Muller and Serge Gnabry tuck in which leads to Bayern having several men in the centre and stagger themselves to create numbers and angles between the lines. Gnabry and Muller can be lethal from these regions. With Pavard often providing the width, Muller is able to get on the ball more often in the central regions and have runners ahead of him.
Muller's impact on build-up play has skyrocketed under Flick with his key passes, assists and xA improving greatly. Having so many players centrally also means they can drag the opposition central and can easily shift them to one side of the pitch, leaving a man spare on the far side. If they hug the touchline, the switch will allow them to be 1v1 with the fullback.
But usually, the free man makes a diagonal run and receives the ball where he can easily square it for a tap-in or go for goal himself.
The fluidity amongst the top three has also improved, as Lewandowski now pops up across the frontline as opposed to playing between the width of the 18m-area. Under Flick, other attackers alongside Lewa get into danger areas more often which in turn helps increase their xG per game. The wingers in the half-space are often an option for the 1-2-1 passes with the advancing full-back, who can get across the overloaded box -- something we've seen in the past from MSN (Messi-Suarez-Neymar) and BBC (Benzema-Bale-Cristiano).
But if the winger gets time on the ball, this can drag out a centre-back and often allow the ball to be slipped into the box for an unmarked Lewandowski.
And these tactics perfectly connect the dots against their historic 8-2 victory over FC Barcelona in the Champions League quarterfinal last season.
Defensively Flick has also fine-tuned the team's tactics. Their first instinct is to press when they lose the ball. Their front three look to cut off the wide options as they use the wingers to cover shadow to shut down that option whilst the midfield at the same time look to support this.
They can push the backline high, confident of winning any potential long balls as they have the pace of Davies and Alaba and sweeper-keeper Neuer to cover for any mistakes.
When defending deep, Bayern shift into a 4-1-4-1 or a 4-2-3-1 with a compact midfield three to clog up the centre while balancing the wide numbers as well, making them hard to break down, something similar to Zidane's Real Madrid side last season.
As the ball progresses, they look to press triggers on a poor pass or touch in order to win back the ball.
Respect from the German contingent coupled with brilliant man-management skills meant most of the squad was happy seeing his contract extended. The football world can certainly expect more of Flick's magic in the coming seasons.