Stopping Hansi Flick's rejuvenated Bayern Munich will be no easy task

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Bayern Munich have long had a plan for how they would seize their sixth European Cup. It would be overseen by an up-and-coming manager.

The football would be daring, the response to pressure nerveless. The team would have its German core and be strong on the wings, as many of the best Bayern sides have been.

The visionary coach was supposed to be Pep Guardiola, appointed when Bayern were last the holders of the Champions League, having won it in 2013 under their favourite, ageing caretaker Jupp Heynckes.

Guardiola led them to three semi-finals, but never beyond. Niko Kovac became their next bright up-and-coming candidate, after Heynckes had taken on a firefighter role again and his Bayern weathered another semi-final loss, in 2018.

Then, last November, the club’s high command, populated by former champion players, lost faith in Kovac.

The problems seemed grave, and even Bayern’s grip on a domestic league they have won every year since 2012 looked threatened.

“I was reading headlines back in November,” noted a member of the club’s backroom staff. “They said ‘Bayern have lost their fear-factor’, ‘The respect has gone’.

The speaker? Hansi Flick. In November, with Kovac sacked after a 5-1 loss at Eintracht Frankfurt, he was promoted to temporary head coach.

Thirty-six matches later – just two of them defeats and one a draw – Flick’s Bayern are European champions and owners of a Treble.

It is not to flatter the 55-year-old tactician, a former Bayern player whose coaching career has been spent largely as an assistant, to call them ‘Flick’s Bayern’, because apart from the uplift he has clearly stimulated, he has also left a clear imprint on how the team win.

Flick’s shrewdness in team selection now has a gleaming trophy moment – the Kingsley Coman header that defeated Paris Saint-Germain 1-0 in Lisbon.

Coman, a Parisian who came through the PSG youth ranks, had started neither the quarter-final, the 8-2 win over Barcelona, nor the semi-final, 3-0 against Lyon.

Ivan Perisic, the experienced Croatian, was entitled to feel that in both those matches, he had performed more than well enough to retain his position on the left wing for the final. Flick instead backed Coman to apply a little more acceleration and trickery.

He may not have explicitly backed Coman to win the match with a header. Coman is accomplished in the air, but dominating the far post is not what he is best known for.

But the goal that won the Cup said much about the virtues Flick has finessed across a set of players he knows intimately, from his period as second-in-command to Kovac and, indeed, some of whom he knew well from when he was No 2 to Jogi Low with the German national team.

The move for the goal was neat, and stylish, from Thiago Alcantara’s driven, precise through-ball, to Serge Gnabry's cut-back, to Thomas Muller’s speed of thought, to the trusted crossing of Joshua Kimmich.

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Arrests in Paris

Paris Saint-Germain supporters near Le Parc des Princes stadium. EPA

Firefighters extinguish a burning car near the Champs-Elysees in Paris. AFP

Paris Saint-Germain supporters outside Le Parc des Princes. EPA

PSG supporters invade the Champs-Elysee after the Champions League defeat. AP

Paris Saint-Germain supporters near Le Parc des Princes stadium after the final defeat. EPA

Paris Saint-Germain supporters near Le Parc des Princes stadium. EPA

Paris Saint-Germain supporters react near Le Parc des Princes stadium after defeat by Bayern. EPA

French Riot police face PSG fans during confrontation outside Parc de Princes stadium. Getty

A Paris Saint-Germain fan taunts French riot police outside the Parc de Princes stadium. Getty

A Paris Saint-Germain fan picks up a tear gas canister. Getty

A flare lands near French riot police outside PSG's Parc de Princes stadium. Getty

Paris Saint-Germain fans at Parc des Princes. Getty

A Paris Saint-Germain fan throws a tear gas shell towards French riot police. Getty

Paris Saint-Germain fans taunt French riot police outside PSG's Parc des Princes. Getty

French riot police stand in clouds of tear gas outside the Parc des Princes. Getty

PSG supporters at Parc des Princes. Getty

A Paris Saint-Germain fan taunts French riot police. Getty

PSG supporters gather on the Champs-Elysees. AP

PSG fans try to avoid tear gas on the Champs-Elysees. Reuters

Paris Saint-Germain supporters kick tear gas canisters on the Champs-Elysees. AFP

Riot police stand on the Champs-Elysees. EPA

Paris Saint-Germain supporters wave a PSG flag on the Champs-Elysees in Paris. AFP

Riot police stand on the Champs-Elysees. EPA

Paris Saint-Germain supporters leave the Champs-Elysees. EPA

PSG fans on the Champs-Elysees after the match. Reuters

Paris Saint-Germain supporters running on the Champs-Elysees. AFP

A woman walks covered as PSG supporters flee tear gas canisters on the Champs-Elysees. AFP

PSG supporters run through tear gas. AP

Paris Saint-Germain supporters walk on the Champs-Elysees and set off fireworks in Paris. AFP

A Paris Saint-Germain supporter on the Champs-Elysees. EPA

French police officers watch a car burning near the Champs-Elysee. AP

Paris Saint-Germain supporters outside Le Parc des Princes stadium before the final. EPA

French riot police officers stand next to firefighters putting out a fire near the Champs-Elysees. AFP

A turned-over car near the Champs-Elysees in Paris. AFP

A Paris Saint Germain supporter walks through a cloud of teargas on the Champs Elysees. EPA

PSG supporters walk on the Champs-Elysees in Paris. AFP

PSG fans run through tear gas during confrontations with police outside Parc de Princes. Getty

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Importantly, Bayern very swiftly provided Kimmich with a number of possible targets, and PSG’s defenders with too many distractions.

Robert Lewandowski, the predatory goalscorer par excellence this season, was in the PSG penalty box, and so were Leon Goretzka and Muller, two masters of the late run into positions of threat.

And there was Coman, the unlikely target man, a winger moonlighting in a different role.

Like Goretzka, the midfielder who can ghost into scoring positions as capably as he anchors in front of back four. Or 19-year-old Alphonso Davies, the natural left-winger fast-tracked into a role as left-back.

Or David Alaba, the left-back given a new lease of life as a centre-half. Or Kimmich, as commanding in central midfield as at right-back. Or Manuel Neuer, the goalkeeper who sprints out his box to turn into a libero.

Part of Bayern’s strength is in their individual versatility. It takes a sharp-eyed, confident coach to see fresh, extra assets in his players and to exploit them.

Bayern have a formidable squad, witnessed by the fact that, when Coman’s goal settled the final, an entire back four of World Cup winners were on their bench, Jerome Boateng (Germany, 2014) having limped off to take a seat close to Javi Martinez (Spain 2010), Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez (both France, 2018).

And beware, that strength-in-depth is about to become deeper in certain areas of the pitch, notably Coman’s left flank, where Leroy Sane has arrived, determined to gain more regular starts than he had at Manchester City.

Sane will take instructions from a coach with authority and the knack of making the most of Bayern’s ample resources and reacting purposefully to unforeseen circumstances.

“We made the best use of everything,” Flick said after the triumph, “including the pause for the coronavirus.”

Bayern, studious in organising individual fitness and training work during lockdown, came back from it to record 15 successive victories, win the league, the German, Cup and now the greatest club prize.

Snatching it from their grasp in 2020/21 already looks a challenge.

Updated: August 25, 2020 07:15 AM

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