Bayern overcome slow start and virus for another Bundesliga title
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BERLIN - Neither a stuttering start nor the coronavirus could
stop Bayern Munich from lifting the trophy Saturday for an eighth
straight Bundesliga title.
Munich's celebrations in an empty Wolfsburg stadium looked a bit
awkward but in the end everyone was just happy that the season could
be completed at all amid the pandemic.
"This is a special but also a strange moment. This not the Bundesliga
we want," German Football League (DFL) president Christian Seifert
said at the trophy presentation.
A highly acclaimed hygiene and safety concept by the DFL and German
Football Federation (DFB) convinced state authorities to give the
green light for a mid-May restart after a two-month break as the
Bundesliga became a role model for many other leagues.
Social distancing prevailed even at the trophy ceremony, with Seifert
not handing it to Munich captain Manuel Neuer, but rather pointing in
its direction and saying "Manu, here is your platter."
Bayern had needed a few months to put a distance between themselves
and their rivals as they started the season slow under domestic
double-winning coach Niko Kovac whose term ended in early November
after a 5-1 defeat at Eintracht Frankfurt.
Assistant Hansi Flick took over and his team beat big rivals Borussia
Dortmund 4-0 in his first league match. It took until after the
winter break to go top and leave Dortmund, winter break leaders
RB Leipzig, Dortmund and Borussia Moenchengladbach behind.
Bayern garnered 49 out of 51 possible points in the second half of
the season, Flick's cyber training with players made sure that they
came out of the virus break all guns blazing, and finished the season
with 100 goals, 34 of them from league top scorer Robert Lewandowski.
A treble as in 2013 is possible, with Bayern all but in the last
eight of the Champions League which is to resume in August, and
playing the German cup final on Saturday against Bayer Leverkusen.
Flick now has a contract until 2023 and club chairman Karl-Heinz
Rummenigge put it all into perspective last week.
"We struggled at times and the rivals missed a chance to pull away.
And when Hansi took the helm, he got the ship going again very
quickly," Rummenigge said.
Dortmund were somewhat familiar second-place finishers 13 points back
in the end, despite the exciting Jadon Sancho and Erling Haaland, the
latter arriving in January to score 13 goals.
Leipzig also ran out of steam in their first season under Julian
Nagelsmann and must now make do without Chelsea-bound Germany forward
Timo Werner who found the net 28 times.
Gladbach also had a new helsman in Marco Rose to complete the next
Champions League line-up in fourth while Leverkusen, Hoffenheim and
Wolfsburg qualified for the Europa League.
That is where Hertha Berlin and Schalke would have also liked to play
but Hertha had to settle for 10th despite having a new investor as
they went through four coaches - including an infamous 11-week period
under Juergen Klinsmann.
Schalke started well under new coach David Wagner but then lost the
plot completely as they went winless in the last 16 matches to finish
Schalke were among the clubs who would have been in deep financial
trouble hadn't the league restarted, and their boss Clemens Toennies
has been under fire from fans and is in the spotlight for many
coronavirus cases in his meat-packing business.
"It hurts, no question," Wagner said. "We have the feeling that we
were hardly competitive in the Bundesliga - and have been for weeks."
Christian Streich's Freiburg finished a credible eighth and Union
Berlin 11th in their maiden top flight campaign.
Paderborn meanwhile went down along with Fortuna Dusseldorf while
Werder Bremen have the chance to stay top in two upcoming play-offs
and keep their record of being the team with the most matches in
league history, having only missed one top-flight season.
The new season is to start in mid-September and there are hopes that
fans will gradually be allowed in again.
"I hope that we can reintegrate them bit by bit into the game. Of
course the competition is just as intense when there are no
spectators but the feeling is missing," Munich forward Thomas Mueller