Best of Bundesliga: How Alphonso Davies transformed Bayern Munich


Bayern's Alphonso Davies controls the ball during a Bundesliga match between Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig at the Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany, Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020. (Matthias Schrader/CP)

Another season, another title for Bayern Munich, who lifted its eighth straight Meisterschale as Bundesliga champions.

This year was different for Bayern, though, in that 19-year-old Canadian Alphonso Davies started 29 matches in all competitions after Hansi Flick took over as coach in November and symbolized the team’s resurgence.

Despite the dominance, Bayern was pushed by Borussia Dortmund for most of the season. Dortmund clearly thought it would finally become a bride, only to end up adjacent to the Bavarians on the altar yet again.

But it wasn’t just the top two teams who deserve plaudits. From top to bottom, there are plenty of key takeaways with several questions left unanswered as the off-season begins.

Alphonso Davies transformed Bayern Munich

Bayern Munich is the champion. That surprises no one, especially if they’ve watched Bayern after the restart.

What no one could’ve foreseen was Davies becoming a key player for one of Europe’s biggest clubs and contributing greatly to the transformation.

There were obviously other factors behind Bayern’s renaissance, though the common denominator is coach Hansi Flick, who established a much-needed tactical philosophy. Players who were once seen as has-beens – Thomas Müller for instance – ended up breaking single-season records.

But Davies was a pivotal piece of the puzzle. As a left-back with devastating pace, dribbling, vision and tenacity, the Canadian was constantly involved in the attack. With the more conservative Benjamin Pavard at right-back, this ensured there were always three players at the back to prevent counter-attacks. This was crucial since Bayern deployed a high defensive line.

Thanks to the personnel deployed in Flick’s 4-2-3-1 system, Bayern was able to exploit teams through Davies down the left.

In the clip below, David Alaba is on the ball against Union Berlin, who thinks Thiago – the team’s conductor – is going to receive. The Union players push towards the Spaniard, but it enables Alaba to pass to Robert Lewandowski. As that is completed, Lewandowski passes to Müller as Davies runs inside before latching onto a through ball.

That’s one of many examples throughout the season, but it was a regular occurrence. No wonder, then, why Davies was third in the Bundesliga in xGBuildup per 90 minutes among players who logged at least 1,500 minutes this season.

Bundesliga leaders in xGBuildup per 90 minutes during the 2019-20 season. (via Understat)

In fact, when looking at Davies’ statistical radar this season, it’s apparent that he played at an elite level.

As dangerous as Davies has been in the final third, even he admits that he has to work on his defensive positioning to become an even bigger threat. Those areas of improvements were analyzed after Bayern’s 0-0 draw with RB Leipzig in February and they still stand.

Legendary defender Paolo Maldini once stated, “if I have to make a tackle, then I have already made a mistake,” and that’s a quote Davies has heeded. As breathtaking as it is to watch his recovery speed, conserving energy for those attacking runs would be beneficial. The fact his tackling-versus-dribbled-past percentage (Tack/DP%) is on the lower end of the scale shows that he has to improve off the ball.

Granted, it’s difficult to constantly be in the correct defensive position when Davies is as involved offensively as he is. But he clearly has the stamina and pace to cope.

If Davies is able to make those strides, he’ll enter the “best left-back in the world” conversation for good.

What next for Borussia Dortmund?

Borussia Dortmund will be one of the most interesting teams to monitor in Europe this summer.

The current boss, Lucien Favre, is supposedly sticking around despite the team’s late-season slip-up and Dortmund has started retooling the squad, too. Paris Saint-Germain right-back Thomas Meunier joined the team on a free transfer, and Dortmund is reportedly close to signing 17-year-old wonderkid Jude Bellingham from Birmingham City.

Meunier will be replacing Achraf Hakimi, who is on the brink of joining Inter. That will be a blow for Dortmund as Hakimi has been ever-present this season.

Thankfully for Dortmund, Meunier offensively inclined, so he should seamlessly fit into BVB’s 3-4-3 as a right wingback.

Achraf Hakimi and Thomas Meunier statistical comparison from the 2019-20 season. (via Understat)

The big question is whether Jadon Sancho will stay in Dortmund this summer. Club CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke is confident that Sancho won’t be leaving as no team will be able to meet the £100-million (CAD$168-million) valuation.

The COVID-19 pandemic will financially handicap some clubs, but it may also be a negotiating tactic from Watzke. If Sancho asks to leave and a bid is made, then there could be pressure to sell, especially considering Dortmund’s current financial state.

If Sancho isn’t sold, then Dortmund can contend with Bayern, especially with a full season of Erling Haaland, who bagged 13 goals after signing in January.

Soccer’s next stars shine bright

A total of 61 players aged 23 and under logged at least 1,000 minutes in the Bundesliga this season, reaffirming the Bundesliga’s moniker as the league of talented youngsters.

Davies was one of the primary U-23 standouts, as was Borussia Dortmund’s trio of Hakimi, Sancho and Haaland. Hakimi (10) and Sancho (16) combined for 26 assists, while Haaland bagged a ludicrous 13 goals in 15 games. Imagine how lethal he’ll be across a full season.

But there were other tremendous displays across the league. Schalke’s Suat Serdar was one of the club’s top scorers before suffering a season-ending injury, while Hertha Berlin’s Jordan Torunarigha helped revitalize Hertha’s defence.

Serdar could be sold by Schalke to help the team balance its books, and a few others could be departing Germany with him. RB Leipzig centre-back Dayot Upamecano could be among those departures after another solid campaign. He wasn’t as sturdy defensively after the restart, but he’ll still command a hefty fee.

Kai Havertz can be added to that target list as well. Rated at €80 million (CAD$123 million), the 21-year-old is arguably the most complete a player on the transfer market.

Having qualified for the Champions League, it’s unlikely that Borussia Mönchengladbach will need to sell any of their top players, including 22-year-old winger Marcus Thuram, who recorded 10 goals and eight assists. Not bad for someone who was signed for €12 million from Guingamp.

But ‘Gladbach’s most consistent player was Florian Neuhaus. The 23-year-old showed brilliant composure in midfield with his distribution and defensive efforts.

Some of these players might be leaving the Bundesliga, but others will continue impressing next season and beyond.

Player of the Season

Robert Lewandowski: This was an easy choice. Lewandowski scored 34 goals, the third-highest tally ever recorded in a single Bundesliga season and was simply dominant.

Goal of the Season

Matheus Cunha vs. Hoffenheim (May 16): From the incredible dribbling to the sublime finish, this goal had it all.

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