In pursuit of a eighth successive Bundesliga win at the weekend, Bayern Munich trusted in youth.
They went 1-0 up against Borussia Monchengladbach, fifth in the table, thanks to Joshua Zirkzee, the Dutch teenager. It was Zirkzee’s fourth Bayern goal, scored 26 minutes into his third-Bundesliga start.
Monchengladbach had equalised by half-time and the chase for the three points that would keep Bayern on their smooth course to an eighth successive Bundesliga title turned attritional.
Manager Hansi Flick looked to his bench, and readied another teenager, Alphonso Davies.
Once the first three substitutions had been made, Bayern had fielded 10 players aged 25 or under. They sealed the 2-1, eventually, thanks to Leon Goretzka’s goal with four minutes remaining.
The result means Bayern can confirm they are champions once again with victory on Tuesday at Werder Bremen, because they go into this, the 32nd future of the 34-match season seven points clear of second-placed Borussia Dortmund.
The line-up of Flick’s team at the weekend also stimulates the thought that Bayern’s under-25s might well have been among the top two teams in Germany this season, were they given their own shot at the top division.
Against Monchengladbach, Zirkzee, leading the attack, and Michael Cuisance, the 20-year-old Frenchman operating just behind, partly owed their places in the starting XI to two major absences because of suspension.
Robert Lewandowski was on Saturday deprived of the opportunity, thanks to an accumulation of yellow cards, to add to his towering tally of 30 league goals so far.
Thomas Muller, who has set up more of those Lewandowski goals than anybody, was also suspended.
Muller is 30, Lewandowski 31 and along with Jerome Boateng, 31, David Alaba, 27, and Manuel Neuer, 34, they have been leaders through most of this long period of domestic dominance.
They were all alarmed by how close Dortmund pushed Bayern in 2018-19, the title clinched by the defending champions only on the last day.
They recognised a genuine crisis in late October, just before Niko Kovac was relieved of his job as manager.
Boateng and Muller would be forgiven for learning to watch their backs: they were told last year they were no longer in Joachim Low’s national team plans, the Germany manager citing a need to rejuvenate his squad.
But Flick has been good for the older warriors. He has overseen an uptick in the form of Boateng and Muller, and watched Lewandowski, a prolific striker for a decade, turn more potent than ever.
Bayern’s directors applauded Flick for that, and for his work with younger players, like Davies, by making him not just the post-Kovac caretaker but the man in charge for the longer-term, when Bayern expect to add even more talent to their strong cast of under 25s.
Which was the issue Muller addressed in an interview last week, after Bayern had secured their place in the German Cup final.
Suffice to report that, amid the expectant self-congratulation over another Bundesliga crown, and a possible Treble – Bayern will go confidently into the rest of the Champions League, assuming it restarts as planned in August – Muller’s comments have ignited controversy.
The veteran had been asked about possible new signings. Like Kai Havertz, Bayer Leverkusen’s gifted 21-year-old who remains on the Bayern radar, although they are not the only potential suitors.
Or Leroy Sane, of Manchester City, in whom Bayern have scarcely disguised their interest for well over a year.
Muller replied: “I always want us to sign the best players. But it is a bit of a paradox, all this talk of new players coming in at the same as time the need to save on salaries.”
Bayern’s economy, though much the strongest in Germany, has been affected by the coronavirus crisis and the club have forecast that there will be constraints on the wage bill.
Muller was then told sharply by Bayern’s sporting director, Hasan Salihamidzic, that the comments had not been well received. “We sat down and talked about it,” according to Salihamidzic. “I told Thomas it wasn’t right.” Muller, added Salihamidzic, had “understood because he’s a very, very intelligent young man, as well as a very intelligent player.”
Muller might most appreciate the “young man” part of that statement.
Bayern are not ready to replace him with a more youthful model, not on his brilliant recent form.
Muller is preparing to collect his ninth winner’s medal for Bayern in the Bundesliga, perhaps a sixth German Cup in their colours and maybe a second Champions League crown – all before he turns 31.