In this footballing climate, what are Bayern Munich and where do they sit in its pecking order?

From Barcelona, to Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus in recent years, the financial and footballing disparity between Europe's elite and the rest has warped perception. Lifting the league trophy at the end of the season no longer provides safety for a head coach.

Even then, Bayern are an extreme example. In the six years since Pep Guardiola left for Manchester City, they have gone through six head coaches, despite winning the Bundesliga in every season over that same period.

Bayern have been global standard-bearers for nearly four decades. Where other clubs and leagues have had lull periods away from the very highest levels of European football, they have consistently been in contention for silverware, even in relatively weak periods.

Just as importantly, though, the superiority clubs like Bayern now enjoy almost automatically dictates they will dominate possession in many games, irrespective of the ideology of the coach in charge and whether their teams can function with the ball as a consequence.

Niko Kovac's first season in 2018-19 was a good example of this. Bayern came nowhere near functioning in possession relative to the array of talent they had and still – along with some aid from Borussia Dortmund's regression to the mean after initial xG over-performance under Lucien Favre – managed an 11-point turnaround from third place in February to win the Bundesliga.

Meanwhile, they were comprehensively beaten by Liverpool in the last 16 of the Champions League with the majority of possession. Things declined even further under Kovac in his second season, before Hansi Flick took over the head coaching role, conquered Europe and subsequently replaced Joachim Low as the German national team coach at the end of the 2020-21 season.

This is the wider context that must be considered for Julian Nagelsmann's first season and what follows, because both club and international football ultimately acts within a continuum. Ahead of this weekend's Klassiker, much like that first season under Kovac, there's a dissonance that will accompany Bayern's title win.

Ultimately, a 10th consecutive Bundesliga title will not wash away the taste of Bayern's meek elimination at the hands of Villarreal in the Champions League quarter-finals. Those two legs were a microcosm of numerous aspects concerning this Bayern season – their true capacity in possession relative to the level of opposition, Nagelsmann's continual switching between 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-3 formations, and finally from a standpoint of net gain, whether he's really getting the most out of the extraordinary creative forces that are Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski.

It is hard to overstate how Muller and Lewandowski provided more than goals and assists for Bayern under Flick. The utilisation of that duo was integral to the team's very functioning in possession, especially with Thiago Alcantara missing significant portions of that post-lockdown run late in the 2019-20 season. Kingsley Coman's decisive goal in the 2020 Champions League final against PSG was a perfect picture of the team when all three of Lewandowski, Muller and Thiago played – having initially tried to cover Muller, Leandro Paredes had to scramble, but it was too late, as Thiago fired his pass into Joshua Kimmich and Bayern got up the pitch.

Their combined touches in open play per 90 minutes under respective coaches makes for a good starting point. Under Kovac, Lewandowski and Muller held a combined 98.19 touches and 3.35 chances created from open play per 90 in all competitions. Flick's arrival leads to a dramatic spike for the two in both categories, with 107.6 touches in open play and 4.53 chances created in open play per 90.

 

 

Father Time will dictate an inevitable decline for the two as they approach 35, but more pertinently, Nagelsmann's approach has led to a return to their numbers under Kovac, with 98.59 touches per match and 3.85 chances created from open play between the two in all competitions this season. Then there's the discrepancy in eventual shot location.

The difference lies in involvement. Under Flick, Muller and Lewandowski effectively played as two strikers in a 4-4-2, while the wingers kept the defensive line pinned back, allowing the two with sufficient space to retreat and operate between the lines. Especially with midfielders like Kimmich and Leon Goretzka who do not like receiving the ball in tight areas, it was a critical component of Bayern's play and enabled them to open up the pitch.

Kimmich's increase in chance creation – his 2.83 per 90 this season is his highest out of the last four seasons in all competitions – is arguably born of the fact he is now Bayern's set-piece taker. His chance creation in open play has actually gone down from last season's 1.68 to 1.44, despite an increase in touches from 100.8 to 105.85.

 

 

Lewandowski and Muller's comparatively higher positioning and primary objective of threat behind the defensive line under Nagelsmann frankly makes the switching between 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-3 irrelevant, because the 34-year-old has taken away the very thing that made Bayern function to begin with – the pair's ability to incorporate as well as get on the end of moves. Jamal Musiala's deployment in a 3-4-3 in the second leg against Villarreal only managed to clog the middle of the pitch up even further.

The player who has suffered the most with this change, however, is Serge Gnabry. His combined xG+xA figure of 0.92 in 2019-20 has dramatically decreased to 0.69 this year, while the middle of the pitch has been completely closed off to him, something evident in his dribble progression.

 

 

It all relates to the eventuality of Bayern's shot location and quality. Shot volume in Nagelsmann's first season has gone up to 20.13 in comparison to the 18.08 of that treble season under Flick, but they are shooting from further away, and with no increase in xG per shot. Against better defences, teams that hold high volumes of possession but ultimately struggle to play through the middle of the pitch are eventually found out. That has been the case this year, in Europe and particular in domestic losses to Eintracht Frankfurt and Borussia Monchengladbach.

This all exists amid the backdrop of Bayern Munich's waning financial power and status as a destination in relation to the rest of Europe's elite. Bayern centre-back Niklas Sule is set to leave for arch-rivals Borussia Dortmund. Emerging stars from within the Bundesliga who traditionally would have been guaranteed to end up at Sabener Strasse such as Dortmund's Erling Haaland, or RB Leipzig's Cristopher Nkunku and Josko Gvardiol, appear destined for elsewhere.

In the meantime, Bayern are reportedly haggling with Ajax over the release of Ryan Gravenberch who, despite the hype, arguably will not transform their midfield – much like Corentin Tolisso and Marc Roca.

There is also the small matter of Lewandowski's contract not being renewed and running the risk of expiring at the end of next season.

Sustained success can run the risk of providing diminishing returns, much like Juventus discovered in Italy. The question for Bayern is how to avoid it both as a club and under Nagelsmann, but can they?

Hansi Flick says Germany have high expectations of making a big impact in the 2022 World Cup despite being drawn in a tough group that includes Spain.

Die Mannschaft discovered at a ceremony in Doha on Friday that they will face Spain, Japan and either Costa Rica or New Zealand in Qatar later this year.

Spain hammered Germany 6-0 the last time the two nations met in the Nations League in November 2020, while Japan reached the round of 16 in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Flick will take charge of his country for the first time in a major tournament and although he knows Germany's draw could have been kinder, the former Bayern Munich boss is confident his side can make a big impact.

He said: "It is an exciting and interesting group, the tasks are not easy. But we have big plans, we have to ensure that we prevail. You can't get an easy group.

"We are happy, but we will have to be ready from the beginning. We want to get as far as possible, preferably to the final. We're expecting a lot from this tournament."

Flick added: "Japan is a team that is always present at the World Cup, with many Bundesliga players. Therefore, they are of high quality. We wanted to play a friendly against Japan, but that's not going to happen now.

"All the teams [in the group] have evolved and have something special to offer."

Germany finished bottom of their group in the last World Cup and were knocked out of Euro 2020 at the round of 16 stage by England last year. 

Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is optimistic they can be a force this time around.

"It was inevitable that we were going to get a strong opponent from the pot," he said.

Neuer added: "We haven't covered ourselves in glory in recent tournaments and we want to make up for that."

Manuel Neuer believes Germany are certainly "on the right track" as they look to prepare for the 2022 World Cup.

Germany drew 1-1 with the Netherlands on Tuesday, with Thomas Muller breaking the deadlock on the stroke of half-time.

However, they were forced to settle for a draw after Steven Bergwijn equalised in the 68th minute.

Germany finished the game with 62 per cent possession, and forced Dutch goalkeeper Mark Flekken into four saves, two more than Neuer had to make at the other end.

Speaking to reporters, Neuer said this game was an important step on their road to the World Cup, with Germany having failed to impress at Euro 2020, while they crashed out in the group stages in Russia in 2018.

"On the way to Qatar we have to use every test and take every game seriously," he said.

"That was the first big team we played against, and that was decent for a long time.

"We have good character and are self-confident. You saw that today. If you draw a line under it, you can see that we're on the right track."

Goal-scorer Muller explained that despite being disappointed with how the game turned in the second half, this game was evidence of how Germany can impose their will on quality opposition.

"The opening goal in this atmosphere was a great moment, then we lost a bit of control – that's frustrating," he said. "But you could see that not only can we match good teams, we can dominate them."

Flick, who had won his first eight games in charge of Germany before this draw, was also complimentary of what he saw from his squad.

"There was a high intensity from both sides, we had them under pressure for 60 minutes," he said.

"I have to compliment my team, they play nice football and their style is refreshing. I'm really pleased."

Germany are next scheduled for Nations League fixtures against Italy on June 4 and England on June 7.

Hansi Flick expects a strong performance from his Germany team against the Netherlands, as he assesses his side's prospects ahead of the 2022 World Cup.

Germany travel to Amsterdam to face their historic rivals in on Tuesday, following Saturday's routine 2-0 win over Israel.

The Oranje, who have won their last 11 games on Dutch soil, should represent a sturdier test, with Flick seeking to build towards a major tournament revival after Germany's failing to make the 2018 World Cup and then underwhelming at Euro 2020.

The former Bayern Munich coach is anticipating a tough contest against Louis van Gaal's side, and is expected to name a strong team after announcing that he wants to win the game "at all costs".

"It will be a good indicator for us," Flick told a pre-match press conference.

"We want to put in a good team performance, try and put our opponents under pressure, force them into mistakes and play our own game.

"I want to win the game at all costs."

Flick will be able to include goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and defender Antonio Rudiger among his starting XI, though he was giving nothing else away.

"All of the players here are available to play," Flick added. "We're very much looking forward to testing ourselves against the Netherlands.

"Neuer and Rudiger will both start.

"Everything else we'll decide in due course, but we will have an incredibly well-prepared team out on the pitch."

Julian Draxler implied he will likely leave Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the season due to a lack of minutes.

Draxler played all 90 minutes in Germany's 2-0 friendly win against Israel on Saturday, with Chelsea duo Kai Havertz and Timo Werner contributing the two goals.

He arrived at Paris Saint-Germain from Wolfsburg in 2017, racking up 131 appearances and 17 goals for the French giants, but his playing time has plummeted this season.

Draxler has been brought on as a substitute in his past six appearances for PSG dating back to February 19, playing no more than 25 minutes in any of the short cameos.

Speaking with SPORT1, Draxler highlighted his joy in having an extended run, and the struggles that come with being out of favour back at his club.

"I'm glad that I played 90 minutes again after a long time," he said.

"My situation in the club is not easy – I lack the rhythm and I need to play more games.

"I haven't spoken to the national coach about it, but he has already told us as a team that he needs fit players who are in rhythm. You'll see what happens in the summer."

Hansi Flick praised Germany's "brave" approach after they racked up an eighth straight win under his leadership against Israel on Saturday.

Die Mannschaft went ahead in the 36th minute courtesy of Kai Havertz's near-post header from a corner, before Timo Werner added a second in first-half stoppage time with an instinctive finish from Ilkay Gundogan's free-kick.

Thomas Muller squandered a golden opportunity to add a third in the 89th minute, crashing a penalty against the post, while Israel also missed from 12 yards a few minutes later when Kevin Trapp denied Yonatan Cohen.

The result meant Germany have won all eight games under Flick since he took over from Joachim Low last year, scoring 33 goals and conceding just two.

Flick was pleased with his side's display and highlighted their prowess from set pieces during his fledgling reign. 

"I'm satisfied. We played very bravely and pressed them hard," he told reporters. "Overall, we can be happy with all parts of the team. I think it's great how they rewarded themselves.

"We have scored six goals from set pieces in eight games, that's something to be proud of."

Werner's strike was his 22th in the colours of Die Mannschaft, and Flick was pleased with his contribution given his reduced game time for Chelsea in recent months,

"Timo hasn't played for a long time, only made a few appearances," he added. "You can already tell that the rhythm is missing.

"Of course, I'm pleased that he scored a goal. It's also extremely important for a striker to know where the goal is and he's someone who keeps trying, keeps going deep."

Israel's penalty was awarded for Nico Schlotterbeck's clumsy trip on Cohen after he had cheaply lost possession, and Flick warned the Freiburg full-back that mistakes like that will be punished at the World Cup.

"At this level you just have to be fully focused for 90 minutes," he said. "Such a mistake at the World Cup could be deadly. Up until then he had done very well."

Germany face Netherlands in another friendly and Tuesday, with Flick eagerly awaiting the opportunity to pit his wits against a coaching idol of his, Louis van Gaal.

"We're looking forward to this duel," he added. "I'm happy that we're playing against Louis van Gaal. 

"He's someone who gave me a lot in my coaching career, because I appreciated Dutch football very much, loved it very much and kept learning from there. 

"He was definitely one of the great coaches from whom I took a lot with me."

Hans-Dieter Flick declared his unease with the World Cup in Qatar, believing there should be more stringent criteria for potential hosts of global sporting events.

The German national team coach made note of public sentiment, adding that while prioritisation of the bottom line for global sporting bodies comes at a cost, they can protect themselves from it with a more discerning framework.

"It can't always be about the money," Flick told German magazine Stern. "We recently had a World Cup in Russia, the Winter Olympics in Beijing, and the World Cup in Qatar in November – and there was always great criticism.

"That's why I say – we have to think about the country in which we are going to hold sporting events sooner and define even more binding criteria for this."

On whether Germany will boycott from a World Cup in Qatar though, with die Mannschaft having already qualified, Flick questioned its benefit.

"It wouldn't help the people in Qatar," he said. "We want to take part and then send out signals. I think that's more effective.

"For many athletes a World Cup is a career highlight. That would be taken away from them with a boycott.

From a standpoint of symbolism however, the 57-year-old believes armed conflict in Ukraine provides sufficient reason for Russia to be banned from sporting competition.

"I think such measures are right as a symbol, but I don't think Putin is going to be impressed by this," Flick said.

"So far, even economic sanctions haven't been able to stop him. I feel sorry for the athletes who are now being banned from the competitions. Because it's Putin's war, not their war, but there is no other option at the moment."

The upcoming international window will see Germany host Israel on Saturday, before travelling to Amsterdam to face the Netherlands next Tuesday.

Germany head coach Hansi Flick is confident Bayer Leverkusen star Florian Wirtz can return just as strong after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament injury.

The 18-year-old sustained the damage in Saturday's 1-0 Bundesliga loss to Cologne when twisting awkwardly on the turf 28 minutes into the contest.

Wirtz has earned four senior caps for Germany, having made his debut last September, but is now in a battle to be fit and ready for the World Cup in November.

The news is a big blow for Flick ahead of his first tournament in charge of Germany, but the ex-Bayern Munich boss has faith that Wirtz will make a full recovery.

"He is one of the greatest talents that German football has produced in recent years," Flick told the DFB's official website. 

"That's why we were all shocked when we found out about his cruciate ligament rupture. I've already phoned him and tried to encourage him. 

"He's still young, he'll come back at least as strong, I'm sure of it. He gets our full support. 

"We wish him all the best and keep our fingers crossed that the healing process goes as optimally as possible."

 

Wirtz is considered to be one of the highest-rated young players in European football and has been linked with the likes of Bayern Munich and Liverpool.

With 10 goals and 14 assists, Wirtz has the most direct goal involvements among players under the age of 21 in 2021-22 across Europe's top five leagues.

The 19 big chances created by Wirtz is bettered only by Kylian Mbappe, Thomas Muller (both 20), Bruno Fernandes and Trent Alexander-Arnold (both 22).

The 2022 World Cup is now just 12 months away, with qualifying entering its closing stages following a series of crunch November clashes.

Difficulties still await Italy and Portugal – the past two European champions – in the play-offs, but most of the other big names are well on their way if they have not already confirmed their place in Qatar.

So, how are the expected contenders shaping up? Stats Perform investigates.

Argentina

Having finally ended his long wait for a senior international honour at this year's Copa America, Qatar looks like Lionel Messi's last realistic chance to guide Argentina to World Cup glory. They last triumphed in 1986, in the days of Diego Maradona.

But the brilliant Barcelona form that has been the bedrock of Messi's outstanding career is no more. Since clinching the Copa, the forward has left Camp Nou for Paris Saint-Germain and played just 595 minutes across eight games at club level, scoring three goals and assisting none. Heading into this weekend, he had yet to net in Ligue 1.

At odds with the rest of his career, Messi has briefly become one of those players who performs better for country than for club, scoring four goals in seven games for Argentina in the same period, even allowing for the minutes spent regaining fitness in November. But the national team must be concerned Messi's unconvincing displays and shaky recent fitness record hint at a decline that could continue for another year before he gets an opportunity to lead a global title charge.

Although Argentina undoubtedly have other highly talented players – Messi was one of four to make the Team of the Tournament as they become South American champions – it is tough to imagine a successful Albiceleste side without the great number 10 at the heart of it.

 

Belgium

Roberto Martinez's Belgium remain the world's top-ranked team, but it feels like their window for a first major title might now have passed.

Martinez took charge after Euro 2016, where a stacked squad lost to Wales in the last eight, yet he has found a glass ceiling, finishing third at the 2018 World Cup and fourth at the 2020-21 Nations League either side of another quarter-final exit at Euro 2020. Since a disappointing performance at the Nations League Finals, Martinez has been linked to a host of club roles – albeit he is expected to stay put until Qatar.

Although Belgium's 'Golden Generation' have maintained their position at the top of the game despite an ageing defence, there are worrying signs their key attacking players could also be on the wane.

Through a combination of injuries and poor form, Eden Hazard has not looked the same player since he left Chelsea for Real Madrid. Kevin De Bruyne, also beset by fitness issues and below-par outings of late, will hope not to follow the same path. Both he and Romelu Lukaku must still be at their peak to give the Red Devils a chance.

Brazil

Brazil were outclassed by Belgium in the quarter-finals in Russia but have lost just three matches since then. One of those was in this year's Copa final against Argentina, although the Selecao also won the competition in 2019.

Unlike previous Brazil teams, Tite's side are built on the strength of their defensive record. They have kept 28 clean sheets since the 2018 World Cup, conceding just 16 times in 42 games, with 11 shutouts in 2021 alone.

However, that solidity comes at a price. Brazil are scoring at a relatively unspectacular rate of 2.0 goals per game, including netting only two in their three Copa knockout games in July and just one across two November qualifiers.

Neymar will have a key role in producing those timely moments of magic and should not be short of motivation heading to Qatar, having suggested this will be his last World Cup. The forward has excelled on the world stage before without taking Brazil all the way.

England

As so often, England have qualified with relative ease, benefiting from a kind draw, but will not face a true test until the tournament comes around.

That means a wait to see if Gareth Southgate can make the necessary tweaks to turn the Three Lions from nearly men into champions, with the midfield a key area of focus having ceded 65.4 per cent of the possession to Italy in the Euro 2020 final, 53.2 per cent to the Netherlands in the 2018-19 Nations League semi-finals and 55.5 per cent to Croatia in the 2018 World Cup semis. The continued development of Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham should encourage optimism.

But England also find themselves in a position, like Argentina, where the performances of their talismanic captain are suddenly a concern – at least at club level.

Harry Kane has so far this season used the international breaks as sweet relief, quickly closing on Wayne Rooney's record goals tally by scoring in 15 consecutive qualifiers up to September and notching seven in November alone, but there is a break now before March's fixtures and the forward simply must rediscover some sort of form for Tottenham and add to his single Premier League goal in order to return to the England fold in good nick.

 

France

Welcoming Karim Benzema back into a frightening front line, France appear to have an even more impressive line-up than at the previous World Cup, where they emerged as champions.

Benzema has already directly combined for five goals with Kylian Mbappe and one with Antoine Griezmann, who has in turn linked up once with Mbappe. The trio netted nine of France's 10 goals this month, while Mbappe had assists for each of Benzema's strikes at the Nations League Finals as both players scored in both matches and Les Bleus twice came from behind to take the title.

Yet those prior deficits and the six goals conceded at the Euros hinted at the weaknesses in this France side, as Didier Deschamps is still working on his new 3-4-1-2 formation.

The composition of the midfield in that team is crucial, and N'Golo Kante was missing against Belgium and Spain before Paul Pogba suffered an injury prior to the November fixtures. France have no shortage of quality but may not head to Qatar as the most settled unit.

Germany

It was clear Joachim Low's Germany tenure was reaching its natural conclusion before he announced his departure plans in March. That the team followed up a group-stage exit at the World Cup by stumbling through their pool at the Euros before exiting to England only further illustrated that this was the right decision.

But Germany know all about recovering quickly from such setbacks; they seemed to reach rock bottom at Euro 2000 and were in the World Cup final two years later.

Now Hansi Flick, having set Bayern Munich back on course, is excelling again with the national team, becoming the first Germany coach to win his first six matches in charge – a sequence that now stands at seven and counting. The team's last longer winning run ended at 12 games in 1980.

Germany were the most aggressive pressing side in Europe during qualifying, this despite naming their oldest XI in more than 21 years in a recent qualifier against Liechtenstein. Striking this same balance between energy and experience will be key in Qatar.

Spain

Spain have come a long way since the last World Cup, where they appeared to be in crisis from start to finish, eventually exiting to hosts Russia on penalties.

Luis Enrique's subsequent work across two spells has made them contenders again, reaching the last four at the Euros – only to again fall foul of a shoot-out – and briefly leading France in the Nations League final. The emergence of Ansu Fati, Pedri and Gavi over the course of these campaigns provides a major cause for long-term optimism, too.

However, injury issues have kept that trio from ever featuring together for their country; in fact, Fati, Pedri and Gavi are yet to play a single minute together for Barcelona.

They were three of 39 players to appear for Spain in qualifying, showing the depth of talent at Luis Enrique's disposal. Within that group, however, there is not a prolific goalscorer – a major concern with 12 months to go.

Germany head coach Hansi Flick was pleased with his team’s 4-1 win in Armenia as they brought a successful World Cup qualification campaign to an end on Sunday.

Goals from Kai Havertz, Jonas Hofmann and a brace from Ilkay Gundogan saw the Germans home in Yerevan. The victory means that Flick has won all of his first seven games in charge of Die Mannschaft, scoring 31 times and conceding just twice.

It is also their joint-longest winning run this century (also seven in 2017). The last time Germany had a longer winning run was across 1979 and 1980, when they managed 12 in a row.

They finish their World Cup qualifying campaign top of Group J having won nine of their ten games, a comfortable nine points ahead of North Macedonia in second.

"We won 4-1 and achieved our aim of ending the group on 27 points," Flick said after the game. "It wasn't all brilliant, but the way we try to play football is great. You can see that the team always wants to attack and create chances.

"We defend high up the pitch and then allow them a few opportunities on the break, though that's just normal. We know what we need to improve on; we've got time for that.

"I'm satisfied with the team. We've won seven games together now, so I can only congratulate them. It's great as the coach to see the team enjoying themselves so much."

Thomas Muller was also pleased with the win, emphasising the importance of getting off to a good start in a "new era" for the national side.

"I think that was a good performance from us overall," the Bayern Munich attacker said. "It wasn't a goal-fest like against Liechtenstein, but we got the job done well. The first goal was important for us and was really well-made. We were concentrated and committed. It's a good way to finish off the campaign.

"A new era began in September for the first time since 2006. You can see that we've played well over the last three months and we want to continue doing so. It doesn't matter who is on the pitch, everyone will give their all and do their job.

"We may not have played any big teams, but we have performed really well at times. We can go into next year with a positive mindset now. We're happy."

Ilkay Gundogan struck twice as Germany rounded off a dominant World Cup qualifying campaign with a 4-1 win in Armenia on Sunday. 

Kai Havertz and Jonas Hofmann were also on target for Die Mannschaft at the Vazgen Sargsyan Republican Stadium, with the hosts replying through a consolation penalty from Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Head coach Hansi Flick made six changes from the team that thrashed Liechtenstein 9-0 on Thursday, but Germany looked strong again, easing past the side bossed by Joaquin Caparros.

The win was a ninth from 10 qualifying matches for Germany and means they finish nine points clear of second-placed North Macedonia in Group J.

Germany took the lead after 15 minutes when Hofmann played a quick one-two with Thomas Muller before crossing from the right for Havertz to steer home.

The visitors had a penalty in first-half stoppage time when a VAR review led to the verdict that Florian Neuhaus had been fouled by Taron Voskanyan in the box, and Gundogan converted with ease.

The Manchester City midfielder had his second goal five minutes into the second half when his shot from the edge of the penalty area inexplicably slipped through the grasp of Stanislav Buchnev.

Armenia captain Mkhitaryan pulled a goal back from the spot after Neuhaus fouled David Terteryan in the box just before the hour, but a mistake from Mkhitaryan allowed Hofmann to intercept and race through to restore Germany's three-goal cushion in the 64th minute.

 

Hansi Flick believes everyone is clamouring to play for Germany after he continued his fine start to life as head coach with a crushing 9-0 win over 10-man Liechtenstein in World Cup qualifying on Thursday.

Germany were in cruise control following Jens Hofer's early red card, with Ilkay Gundogan, Leroy Sane and Marco Reus adding to a Daniel Kaufmann own goal to put Die Mannschaft 4-0 up at half-time.

Sane added a fifth early in the second period, while a brace from Thomas Muller, a fine Ridle Baku strike and an own goal from Maximilian Goppel sealed the rout late on.

The result meant Flick became the first Germany head coach to win his first six matches in charge, taking the record outright from former boss Joachim Low.

And former Bayern Munich coach Flick said his job is made easier by the desire of Germany's stars to secure a spot in his first-choice XI.

"Of course I'm satisfied," he told RTL. "The atmosphere was just fantastic. That was the third home game we had like that. The team and the fans, that's a good combination.

"We are happy about the quality, everyone wants to join this team, that makes it easy for us.

"It is extremely important that everyone goes along with the way we want to play, and that's the impression we have."

Germany, whose progress to next year's World Cup in Qatar had already been secured before the game in Wolfsburg, wrap up their Group J campaign against Armenia on Sunday.

It has been a routine qualification for the 2014 winners, with eight victories from their nine games so far.

Muller, though, said it is important to not get carried away until they have tested themselves against tougher opposition.

"Of course, you always have to put into perspective the fact that we don't have any extremely difficult opponents in our group," he said. "But we always wanted the next and the next goal so it was a great evening."

Reus shared his team-mate's sentiments, adding: "It was just nice, but you can't say how close we are to the top of the world as the opponents weren't at the level we will be challenged at.

"These games are still good because you are able to practice important things. It was fun."

Hansi Flick became the first Germany head coach to win his first six matches in charge after his side crushed Liechtenstein 9-0 in World Cup qualifying Group J on Thursday. 

The former Bayern Munich boss kicked off his reign with a 2-0 win over these opponents in September and always looked like taking the outright record from Joachim Low following Ilkay Gundogan's early penalty, given for a foul which saw a red card issued to Jens Hofer.

Die Mannschaft, whose progress to next year's World Cup in Qatar had already been secured before the game in Wolfsburg, took full advantage of their numerical superiority, racing into a 4-0 half-time lead thanks to a Daniel Kaufmann own goal and strikes from Leroy Sane and Marco Reus. 

Sane added a fifth early in the second period, while a brace from Thomas Muller, a fine Ridle Baku strike and an own goal from Maximilian Goppel sealed a resounding win late on.

Gundogan stroked home from the penalty spot in the 11th minute after Hofer had kicked Leon Goretzka in the throat – an eye-watering challenge that resulted in the defender's dismissal.

Kaufmann prodded into his own net from Christian Gunter's low cross nine minutes later to double Germany's advantage, before Sane coolly slid past Benjamin Buchel after being played in by Goretzka.

Reus then scored a third goal in the space of just three minutes and 31 seconds, the Borussia Dortmund man slotting in after Buchel had made a mess of a deep cross.

Germany picked up where they left off at the start of the second period, Sane claiming his second with a scuffed shot from 10 yards in the 49th minute.

Muller scored with two close-range finishes either side of a superb Baku effort, while the unfortunate Goppel headed into his own net to wrap up the scoring in the 89th minute.

 

Hansi Flick would like all of Germany's players to get vaccinated against coronavirus, but does not judge those who wish not to be.

On Tuesday, Germany confirmed that Bayern Munich defender Niklas Sule – who is fully vaccinated – had tested positive for COVID-19. He was immediately placed into quarantine.

Squads no longer have to do mandatory PCR testing, but Germany elected to do so. With Sule testing positive, Serge Gnabry, Jamal Musiala, Karim Adeyemi and Joshua Kimmich were classed as close contacts and had to leave the training camp to isolate.

Another four players, who have not been named, were also said to have contact with Sule, but were allowed to remain at the camp. They will train alone and be monitored closely over the coming days.

Apart from Sule, no other positive cases were recorded.

While the vaccination status of Adeyemi, Musiala and Gnabry is not known, Bayern star Kimmich has publicly revealed he wishes to wait for more research to be completed on the vaccines before taking up the offer.

Though he would have preferred to avoid the subject and instead focus on Germany's World Cup qualifiers against Liechtenstein and Armenia, Flick reiterated his opinion that everybody should get vaccinated, but also stressed it must be down to the individual to make such a decision.

"There are enough experts who deal with it," Flick told a news conference on Wednesday.

"They have come to the conclusion that there is no compulsory vaccination. There are people in all areas who do not get vaccinated.

"We are in the public eye. We also have a great responsibility. But I've said everything about how I feel about it.

"I want the players to be vaccinated, but that's up to them. I hope that there will no longer be issues such as the five players we have to send home due to coronavirus, that is what I would like as a coach."

There has been a suggestion that players who are unvaccinated may not be able to compete at the 2022 World Cup.

"Qatar is still a long way off, we will see what comes next," he added.

"Our team doctor said enough yesterday. The fact is that we thought about it beforehand and tested ourselves. We feel it is our responsibility to ensure that we are all healthy.

"That something like this would happen to us was almost foreseeable. But we have no compulsory vaccination. I believe that people should not be judged who do not get vaccinated.

"For me the only way out of the pandemic is to get vaccinated – even in professional football. That is my opinion. But everyone has the right to refuse."

Flick also confirmed that Julian Draxler would miss Thursday's match against Liechtenstein with a muscle injury.

Hansi Flick hailed Germany's attitude and their perfect start to his tenure after they confirmed their 2022 World Cup spot with a 4-0 win over North Macedonia on Monday.

Kai Havertz broke the deadlock at the Tose Proeski Arena and Chelsea colleague Timo Werner netted a quickfire brace, with Jamal Musiala adding the fourth goal to become his country's second-youngest scorer in history (18y 227d).

Flick subsequently becomes just the second Germany head coach – along with predecessor Joachim Low – to win all of his opening five games, while Die Mannschaft have now qualified for every World Cup since 1954, with only Brazil achieving the same feat.

And the former Bayern Munich head coach, whose side have scored 18 and conceded just one since his appointment, was delighted with their performance in Skopje.

"We now have five wins from five this season," Flick told RTL post-match. "The result was perfect.

"We wanted to qualify as quickly as possible. You have to compliment the team on their attitude.

"Of course the first half was a bit wild, but we can be happy that we won and qualified. We were very consistent after the first goal, so we can be satisfied."

Werner attempted a game-high nine shots – two more than the entire North Macedonia team combined – and Flick also found time to praise the striker as he looks ahead to Qatar in 2022.

"We now have time to develop and improve until November 2022," he continued. "I'm looking forward to the task. Timo Werner's second goal was the best today.

"He didn't have it easy. He had a few chances in the game and scored two great goals."

The Chelsea forward, who has scored 21 times for his country, added that his relationship with Flick is vital for his performances.

"If the coach counts on you, it helps every player," Werner said. "I need this trust from outside. He gives me 100 per cent. I'll try to pay that back."

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