New Bayern generation seeks Champions League glory

By John Bagratuni, dpa

Seven years have passed since Arjen Robben’s winner gave Bayern Munich their last Champions League title. The Dutch winger and others are gone now but a new generation of Bayern players is hungry to repeat that success in Sunday’s final.

It was not quite the same move but there were enough similarities to think of Arjen Robben when Serge Gnabry scored the opening goal in Bayern Munich’s 3-0 victory over Olympique Lyon in the Champions League semi-final.

In the 18th minute, Gnabry cut inside from the right, ran past several defenders at the edge of the penalty area and then smashed a left-footer into the top left corner.

Robben would have probably curled the ball home but Gnabry’s move was enough to prompt the Sueddeutsche Zeitung on Thursday to label the goal “a very, very casual greeting to Robben.”

The goal sent Bayern on their way into the final Sunday against Paris Saint-Germain and also highlighted that they are having a rather smooth overhaul of their team.

Popular wingers Robben and Franck Ribery left 12 months ago after more than a decade at the club, capped by the 2013 treble. A tight Bundesliga race in 2018-19 with Borussia Dortmund and a last-16 elimination in Europe showed that a little more youth was needed.

Rafinha also departed while defender Mats Hummels returned to Dortmund.

In came Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez who together with Gnabry, Niklas Suele, Joshua Kimmich, Kingsley Coman and Leon Goretzka now form a key group of players born in 1995 or 1996.

They are fit to play the demanding high pressing game under coach Hansi Flick and want to taste European glory for the first time. Germany winger Leroy Sane, who arrived last month, will also be part of this group from next season onwards.

Add to that teenage sensation Alphonso Davies, plus a number of experienced players such as goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Thomas Mueller (who will be appearing in his fourth final on Sunday), Thiago Alcantara and Robert Lewandowski, and Bayern have a winning formula.

They have been relentless in their quest to repeat the 2013 treble, with all the impressive numbers now well-documented: unbeaten in 29 games out of which they have won 28 and all 14 after the restart, and scoring a staggering 97 goals in the process.

“We’re desperate to win the treble, and we’re going to give it our all on Sunday to win the final,” said Gnabry, who also scored Bayern’s second on the night for a tally of nine in the campaign.

Captain Neuer said: “We’ve fought and worked for it for so long and we want to win this final. We have more top players at our disposal than in 2013. We have a lot of quality. It is fantastic what kind of team we have.”

The five-time winners have scored 42 goals in their record-equalling run of winning all 10 Champions League matches, three shy of the record 45 goals of Barcelona in the 1999-00 season when they played 16 matches.

Lewandowski added the final goal on Wednesday to maintain his run of scoring in all 10 games and with a tally of 15 goals, he needs two more to equal Cristiano Ronaldo’s record 17 from 13 matches in 2013-14.

The final against PSG brings together two of Europe’s most prolific attacking line-ups – Lewandowski, Mueller, Gnabry v Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Angel di Maria – which means that the team which can contain the opposition has the best chance of lifting the trophy.

In this respect Bayern need some improvement as the opening stages of their 8-2 quarter-final demolition of Barca and of the Lyon match as well showed them very vulnerable at the back which could be exposed by PSG.

“You can’t defend everything,” Gnabry said, while Flick admitted: “They hurt us again and again, we were lucky to weather the early stages.”

Flick added that Bayern won’t change their game because “our great strength is putting our opponents under pressure,” and Bayern will hope that just like against Lyon (and Barca as well) the goals will come at the right time in what will be their 11th final.

“Serge handed us the lead thanks to his individual quality. It boosted our confidence,” Flick said, likely hoping that Gnabry can do it again on Sunday, seven years after Robben gave them the last title with his late 2-1 winner against Dortmund.

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