Bayern Munich will contest their 11th European Cup final against Paris Saint-Germain with a chance to make even more history.
The much-decorated German giants are one victory away from winning their second treble, subsequently joining Barcelona in this exclusive club, and few would begrudge them from achieving this feat.
For much of this stop-start season, they’ve been a class above, but their current form couldn’t have been predicted when they were being humbled by Eintracht Frankfurt back in November, that embarrassing 5-1 defeat ultimately cost Niko Kovac his job. With the squad they’ve assembled in Bavaria, this was unacceptable.
That said, it’s been a solid effort to say the least after losing legendary forwards Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry. When it looked as if Bayern were going to be taken a notch down, Die Roten have proven why many observers consider them among Europe’s most well-run clubs.
👏 MAN 👏 OF 👏 THE 👏 MATCH 👏
— FC Bayern München (@FCBayern) August 19, 2020
Being first among equals at home isn’t enough, similar to continental rivals Real Madrid, the 29-time Bundesliga champions measure themselves by competing for world football’s most demanding competition. Hans-Dieter Flick, who must be pinching himself, possesses the squad to get past a hungry PSG side.
At his disposal is undisputedly the best ‘number nine’ playing today but in Robert Lewandowski’s vicinity is a forward that has finally emerged from the shadows and is now realising that potential youth scouts once saw.
If things had gone to plan then Serge Gnabry wouldn’t be here. However, as the saying goes, everything happens for a reason — much to Arsenal supporters’ displeasure.
The forgotten man
There was quiet fanfare when Gnabry, then aged 15, left Stuttgart for Arsenal in 2013; legendary Gunners boss Arsene Wenger, who saw a bright future, undoubtedly laying out his path into their first team. He’d get there, making 18 appearances (scoring once) between 2012 and 2016, though completing the full 90 minutes just twice.
It could and should have been more given Gnabry’s talent but thanks to terrible luck with a troublesome knee injury, he’d miss at least 21 games, while competition for places — and being at the beginning of his career — also meant time away from the Emirates on loan. West Brom, where he ended up in 2015, seldom used him. Tony Pulis, then Baggies boss, felt the Stuttgart native wasn’t sufficiently ready to represent the West Midlands club.
He’d leave with just three games, totalling 135 minutes, under his belt. As far as Gnabry is concerned, a clash of styles meant it never worked out, but he wanted his career in North London to blossom. Circumstances, however, conspired against that happening, Wenger, in particular, kept pushing for a positive outcome but it was too late.
“No, no, we had an agreement with him you know,” Wenger told beIN Sports.
“I had given him out on loan to West Brom and he didn’t play a game. He came back, he was injured. We worked very hard with him for six months and he went out with the German national team, under-21s, and Bayern made a deal with Werder Bremen.
“He wanted to sign, in the end, didn’t want to extend his contract (with Arsenal) and I was very sad. But we couldn’t get over the line with him because I knew he would have a great career.
“He can be a number nine, a number 10…he’s a very intelligent player.”
Wenger’s foresight is being realised at Bayern, who signed Gnabry from Werder Bremen, where he scored 11 goals across 27 games during the 2016/17 season. Since turning up at Germany’s premier club, the Stuttgarter has been nothing short of sensational. Gnabry’s latest brace against Lyon brings his overall tally to 36 strikes across 87 outings with 61% of those efforts coming this season.
His nine goals in the Champions League, more than half against London opposition, are the entirety he’s managed in European football’s number one club competition. This also coincides with Gnabry becoming his national team’s most important player. Through 13 international appearances for Germany, he’s produced 13 strikes, including eight during European Championship qualification.
There’s no question the 25-year-old — who’s yet to hit his peak — is on cloud nine and one of the first names on Bayern’s teamsheet going forward.