It's been an astounding season for Bayern Munich, the ideal champions for the 50th Bundesliga campaign. Not only did everything come together, Bayern's new incarnation is itself a product of the league's revitalization.
The highest praise for Bayern Munich's players and staff probably came from club President Uli Hoeness himself: "In all the many years I have been with Bayern Munich, I can't remember us ever winning the title so clearly and commandingly," he told the press as the title was sealed this weekend. That's particularly lofty praise from a man who played for the Bayern squad that won the Bundesliga three times on the trot in the early 1970s.
It's hard to keep count of all the records that Bayern Munich broke on Saturday, when they took the Bundesliga title with six games to spare, thanks to a hard-fought 1-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt and a delightful backheeled finish from the talismanic Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Here are a couple of those records, just to illustrate just how dominant the Bavarians were:
- The Frankfurt victory was Bayern's 13th away win this season. No team has managed that before.
- Eighteen of Bayern 24 wins so far have come without conceding. The previous record of 17 to-nil victories was set up by Schalke in the 1971/2 campaign.
- Bayern have kept 12 clean sheets away from home this season so far - the previous record was nine.
- With an average age of 26.6, this is the youngest ever title-winning squad.
On top of this, there are the records Bayern are likely to beat in the next few weeks - all they have left to play for:
- Bayern's current goal difference is +66. If they defend that, they will beat their own 1972/3 record of +64.
- If they keep two more clean sheets this season, they will beat the Bundesliga record of 19, achieved twice by Bremen and once Bayern.
- Bayern have conceded 13 goals in total. The Bundesliga record is 21, which Bayern themselves set in 2007/2008.
There is also one record that has a slightly bittersweet taste: at 68, Jupp Heynckes is the oldest title-winning coach ever. Heynckes will be replaced by former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola at the end of the season, and his displeasure at his removal, and particularly how it was handled by the club hierarchy, has been one of the Bundesliga's worst kept secrets.
Heynckes has good reason to be disappointed. His leadership - both his tactical choices on the field and his wisdom in the transfer market - was a major element in Bayern's resurgence this season.
Heynckes achievement was to fuse defensive control with offensive flexibility. Drawing tactical inspiration from both Dortmund's dynamism and Barcelona's control of the ball, he introduced a much-needed flexibility that broke apart the stodgy, possession-based football Bayern plied under Louis van Gaal.
On top of that, Heynckes found the perfect balance of homegrown talent and fresh faces, bringing in crucial players like Dante and Mario Mandzukic last summer to augment an already imposing side.
The other factor that proved so important to this season's success was the misery of two title-free seasons, and the psychological damage inflicted by other teams. The trauma of losing at home to Chelsea in last May's Champions League final is obvious, but in retrospect the 5-2 defeat at the hands of Dortmund seven days earlier in the German Cup final looks just as crucial. That defeat taught Bayern how they had to play.
Those experiences were evident in games like last weekend's 9-2 devastation of Hamburg. Though it was already clear that Bayern could not win the title on that day, and effectively had little to play for, they came out against HSV like a team that still had a point to prove. It was this ruthlessness - the sense that just winning was not enough - that defined Bayern's season.
On a larger scale, you could also argue that this Bayern Munich team represents the Bundesliga's rapid growth. It's almost as if their re-invention is the inevitable product of a league that no longer wants to exist in the shadows of the English Premier League and Spain's La Liga, and has come of age both economically and in sporting terms in the last two or three seasons.
Bayern Munich's CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge defined the delicate balance like this: "You have to go into games with a shot of humility and greed." Those are qualities that are born of past defeats and respect for their opponents, and that's exactly how Bayern went into almost every game this season.
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