All-around smiles wherever one spotted a Bayern Munich player on the pitch in Belgrade. The Rekordmeister had just smashed Red Star Belgrade 6-0 in the group stage of the Champions League to make it four wins in four games under Hansi Flick.
Flick took over from Niko Kovač after FC Bayern’s disastrous 5-1 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt. What followed the coaching change were wins over Olympiacos (2-0), Borussia Dortmund (4-0), Fortuna Düsseldorf (4-0), and the 6-0 win over Red Star.
“Hansi took over three weeks ago, and we've seen an incredible run: 2-0, 4-0 and 4-0, and the highlight today, 6-0,” CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said after the Belgrade game at the club banquet. “It's incredible. Besides the result, the quality is the main thing. All of us here enjoy our team's football. I'd like to congratulate you and your colleagues, Hansi"
The 16 goals up front are not the biggest surprise, after all in Robert Lewandowski Bayern, have the world’s best striker. Lewandowski’s four goals in just 14 minutes was a new Champions League record. Furthermore, the striker has now scored 27 goals in 20 competitive games this season.
For Flick, therefore, the importance was not about fixing the attack. Instead, it was about setting up a support system for Lewandowski’s attacking prowess. The 31-year-old was to often rely on supplying goals for a Bayern side leaking too many goals.
"The most important thing is that we played well, defensively and offensively, we have fun, no matter who plays, we follow our plan,” Lewandowski said after the Belgrade game to Sky. "When you defend well, it gives you the confidence,” Hansi Flick added. “It’s the foundation for our attacking play. I’m very happy.”
The first task was to stabilize the defense. Javi Martínez, who was often left out by Kovač, was brought back into the side to play center back. It was a move that worked wonders, to slow to play in midfield the Spaniards experience has been the perfect fit in defense, especially with Niklas Süle and Lucas Hernández out with long-term injuries.
Another aspect has been the partnership of David Alaba and Alphonso Davies. The young Canadian will never be a true left-back. But by moving the multi-purpose Alaba to the center back position, Davies was given an anchor to play off on and in recent weeks, has massively improved his defensive play.
The defensive line is one aspect, another has been the midfield. For years Thiago dictated Bayern Munich’s play. But the Spaniard has lost some of his reliance in the center of the field. Too many missed passes and defensive lapses meant that Flick sat the Spaniard in the first few games, instead the more defensive Joshua Kimmich was moved to the center of the park.
There has been a hot debate on whether Kimmich is a better right-back or midfielder. Joachim Löw prefers him in midfield, which was his original position before he joined Bayern.
It appears that Flick agrees. “For me, it is important to have a defensive foundation with a four-man defense and a defensive midfielder,” Flick said. Kimmich combines both the defensive abilities of a classical defensive midfielder, but he is also a fantastic distributor of the ball. Kimmich leads all Bayern players with 0.65 key passes played per 90 minutes, and with 84.3% completed passes, he is second only to Corentin Tolisso (85.55%) this season.
The final point has been Flick’s understanding of the dressing room. Bayern has always been a club in which the players come ahead of the coaches. Even strong personalities like Ottmar Hitzfeld and Jupp Heynckes bend their will to the dressing room.
Pep Guardiola and Louis van Gaal were respected by the team because their philosophy overlapped with the collective will of the dressing room. Flick, as a former Bayern player, understands this, his philosophy is to get the best out of the players, rather than imposing a system. That understanding was the first step towards the positive run the club currently experiences.