Just how long this longest of seasons has really been is best illustrated by the narrative arc of Bayern Munich’s campaign. In the span of just over a year — Bayern’s first competitive game of the 2019-20 season was on Aug. 3 of 2019, while its last will come Sunday, Aug. 23, of 2020 — the club went from being written off as old and complacent and unbalanced and in need of a reboot to probably the favorite to lift the Champions League trophy. And to be in contention for it next year, too.
To start the domestic campaign, Bayern lost four of its 14 Bundesliga games and tied three. The season was considered lost. In spite of delivering the seventh consecutive German title the season prior, manager Niko Kovac was gone by Nov. 3, even though there was no real alternative available to the club. The squad was in disarray. Difficult questions were asked about the continued effectiveness of Bayern’s operational structure. In a fit of desperation, assistant Hansi Flick was put in charge as caretaker.
After a few bumps, Bayern stormed its way to an eighth straight Bundesliga title, and won the DFB-Pokal (German Cup) as well. On Sunday, it can complete an ultra-rare treble if it beats Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League final.
The latter competition is where Bayern has really come into its own this summer. Wednesday’s 3-0 victory over Lyon in the semifinal felt simple, too simple for a game at this stage. Lyon had chances and it didn’t take them. And so Bayern knew it needn’t bother moving through all the gears.
It seemed, for much of the game, that as Lyon huffed and puffed, Bayern was saving itself for the final on Sunday. A sixth European title in its history would tie the Bavarians with Liverpool for third all-time, after the Reds took their own sixth crown last season.
One of those Lyon chances, and perhaps the best one, arrived in just the fourth minute. Memphis Depay was set free as Lyon pounced on a turnover with a quick counterattack, as they are wont to do under Rudi Garcia (speaking of remarkable, early-season turnarounds under new managers). The Dutchmen rounded goalkeeper Manuel Neuer but swept his finish into the side netting.
Lyon got another crack not long after, when Karl Toko Ekambi whacked an attempt off the near post after his initial shot was blocked.
Lyon must have known it had already squandered its opportunity for an upset, after counter-punching its way past Juventus and Manchester City in the last two knockout rounds, in spite of advancing from the group stage with just two wins from six games.
Because Serge Gnabry struck with the first of his two goals in the 18th minute for Bayern. He began out wide and, reminiscent of former Bayern winger Arjen Robben, dribbled ever further inside until he had himself teed up for a sledgehammer of a finish past Anthony Lopez.
An absolute rocket! 🚀— Champions League on CBS Sports (@UCLonCBSSports) August 19, 2020
Serge Gnabry, take a bow. pic.twitter.com/IADVXah6Og
Exactly 15 minutes later, he struck again to decide a game. Ivan Perisic’s low cross was shanked, uncharacteristically, by Robert Lewandowski. But Gnabry rode in to pop the rebound into the empty net.
Gnabry gets his brace!— Champions League on CBS Sports (@UCLonCBSSports) August 19, 2020
The Bayern Munich goal-scoring machine is at full power today. pic.twitter.com/SU2IfpCwMA
Lyon had a few more chances in the second half but made nothing of them. When Houssem Aouar squared for Toko Ekambi, for instance, his effort was smothered well by Neuer.
And from there, Bayern fairly glided into the final.
So Lewandowski figured that he might as well bag himself a goal, too, as he would in the 88th minute with a textbook header – his 55th goal of the campaign.
Flick’s red-and-white machine looked ferocious. The interim man made permanent manager has unlocked Thomas Müller’s jitterbug energy to its optimal use. He has retooled a handful of players and discovered others like Canadian left back Alphonso Davies, who suddenly looks like the world’s best in his position. Most of all, he has created harmony at a club with an apparently chronic intolerance for it, peace in a locker room that was a powder keg.
So convincing have Bayern’s performances been – its 8-2 demolishing of Barcelona in the quarterfinals will linger long in the memory – that its future suddenly looks intoxicating to its fans. A team that appeared old and spent suddenly appears young and vigorous at present, a talented and youthful core augmented by veteran knowhow in key positions. Oh, and Manchester City starlet Leroy Sane joins before the next campaign.
Nine months ago, Bayern appeared to be at the end of a long cycle of success. Now, more silverware feels like a given. All in the span of a single, seemingly endless, season.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at
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