Bayern overcome slow start and virus for another Bundesliga title
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 12th.
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 said.dpa