This is the first piece written from the newest contributor to the Bundesliga coverage here at SB Nation Soccer. Please welcome Sam Carter to the site and expect more from him in the future.
On Saturday, Bayern Munich sealed a 1-0 victory in Frankfurt, thus securing the Bundesliga title in perhaps the most dominant season of German football of the modern era. This latest win came on the back of seeing their second string fire nine goals past a Hamburg side competing for a place in Europe. On their emphatic title march, Bayern have shattered existing Bundesliga records for the earliest title victory and the highest number of consecutive wins in a single season. Make no mistake, Bayern Munich are scarily good. But while these numbers are impressive at first glance, they become truly extraordinary when you consider their context.
Indeed, Bayern's ascendancy was by no means inevitable. In the past, fans of Die Roten might have foreseen their team becoming champions, tending to perceive anything other than the league title as a disappointment. In recent years, though, Bayern have experienced a slump by their own lofty standards. Their last title came three years ago under Louis van Gaal, and the last-ditch Champions League defeat to Chelsea in May led to inevitable doubts about Bayern's winning mentality. In fact, it seems that that their most impressive season yet has come at a time when it was least expected, not least because of the strength of the teams around them.
Most startling of all is the way Bayern have made strong sides look run-of-the-mill. In recent years, Dortmund have combined a raft of youthful attacking endeavour with the free-scoring Robert Lewandowski on the way to winning two consecutive league titles that included a historic double and a new record for the most points won in a Bundesliga season. Today, they sit in second place - 20 points behind the league leaders. Leverkusen and Schalke make up the remainder of Germany's current elite footballing quartet, and yet they have been made to look ordinary next to Bayern's incredible exploits. All this has been achieved in an unpredictable league where newly promoted Eintracht Frankfurt have lurked around the Champions League spots all season. How, then, have Bayern made it look so easy?
In this respect, it would be remiss to ignore the role played by Bayern's faith in its young German players. In Thomas Müller, they possess a player with the uncanny ability to ghost into space that others simply cannot find. It's no wonder he leads the Bundesliga for assists, having already notched ten this season. Toni Kroos, meanwhile, has evolved into the definition of the modern playmaker; assiduous, creative, and with a keen eye for goal. This is an approach that had already paid off with the revelatory development of Bastian Schweinsteiger; previously a frustratingly inconsistent winger, Schweinsteiger now acts as the metronomic heartbeat of Bayern's midfield fulcrum and vice captain to the infallible Philipp Lahm. In these players, Bayern and the German national team are endowed with a generation of talent that is coming of age under the guidance of the Bavarians' head coach Jupp Heynckes.
And it's without a doubt Heynckes that deserves the highest praise for masterminding Bayern's unprecedented success this season. His management career has, in many ways, been erratic. Since his time at Mönchengladbach nearly three decades ago, he has persistently hopped between teams and leagues. Even his spell at Bayern hasn't been entirely stable, having initially served as caretaker coach in 2009 before moving to Leverkusen for two seasons. But the unassuming coach is a diligent and knowledgeable proponent of the game; that he recently stayed up all night studying upcoming opponents Juventus ahead of their Champions League tie speaks volumes about his determination in crafting a side that is competitive on every stage.
Though he may lack the blustery charisma of a Mourinho or Ferguson, Heynckes' tactical nous is unquestionable. Under his guidance, Bayern have played an incisive brand of football made possible by key tactical alterations. Up front, one Mario has been usurped by another, with the work-rate and versatility of Mandzukic proving a more effective outlet for Bayern's raft of creative talent than the profligate Gomez. Sticking with the Croatian up front has been a bold move, given the latter's goalscoring record, but it's one that has undoubtedly paid off. The astute acquisitions of Dante and Javi Martinez, meanwhile, have added steel to a side that have conceded just 13 goals in 28 games this season.
It's difficult not to have mixed feelings about the retirement of Bayern's shrewd tactician, though Pep Guardiola's arrival in July will certainly soften the blow. Either way, the side's blend of youth and dynamism seems to improve with each passing day. With the season they've had, the footballing elite can't help but take notice of a Bayern team that is fast approaching European football's pinnacle.