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Five key players as Bayern Munich win ninth straight league title

Berlin (AFP) – Bayern Munich won the Bundesliga for the ninth straight season on Saturday.

Here, AFP Sport looks at five key players who helped maintain their grip on the German top flight:

Robert Lewandowski

FIFA’s best male player of 2020 has again been deadly in front of goal this season, netting 39 of Bayern’s 92 league goals so far.

His hat-trick in Saturday’s 6-0 thumping of Borussia Moenchengladbach leaves Lewandowski just one short of Gerd Mueller’s all-time record of 40 goals in a Bundesliga season, scored in 1971/72.

Lewandowski’s goals often bail Bayern out of trouble, no more so when he scored four times, including a last-gasp penalty, in a tense 4-3 home win against Hertha Berlin last October.

He started a purple patch in December which yielded 23 goals in 16 league games, failing to score in just one, before being sidelined by a knee injury in March.

In his absence, Bayern were knocked out of the Champions League by Paris Saint-Germain.

He has now won the Bundesliga nine times — seven in consecutive years with Bayern and twice with ex-club Borussia Dortmund in 2010/11 and 2011/12.

Lewandowski will turn 33 just after the start of next season, but with two years left on his contract he shows no signs of slowing down.

Thomas Mueller

The 31-year-old one-club player has now won the Bundesliga title 10 times, a joint record he shares with team-mate David Alaba.

One of the key decisions Hansi Flick made when he became Bayern coach in November 2019 was restoring Mueller to the starting line-up.

Having conjured a record 21 Bundesliga assists last season, Mueller has managed 18 so far this term, creating four goals and scoring three himself in the first four games of the campaign.

He produced one of his best performances with two goals in a 3-3 draw at home with RB Leipzig in December, heading in the equaliser 15 minutes from time, and also scored in Saturday’s thrashing of Gladbach.

Joshua Kimmich

Kimmich has developed into Bayern’s battling midfield enforcer, unafraid to throw himself into a tackle, but with the vision to put a perfectly-timed pass over the defence.

The 26-year-old is often in the thick of things, passionately urging his team-mates on.

He showed his creative side with three assists when Bayern thrashed bottom side Schalke in January.

He also has a softer side. Along with Bayern team-mate Leon Goretzka, Kimmich was been nominated for a Laureus award after launching the “We Kick Corona” initiative, with a one-million-euro donation, for organisations affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Leon Goretzka

The German international has shown his versatility by fulfilling both attacking and defensive midfield roles this season.

Like Kimmich, Goretzka can just as easily snuff out an opposition attack with a bone-crunching tackle as spot a gap to exploit or a player out of place with a ball over the defence.

Goretzka’s best performance was following his February return after testing positive for Covid-19 with three assists in a 5-1 thrashing of Cologne.

In March, he scored to give Bayern the lead for the first time two minutes before the final whistle in a 4-2 comeback win over Dortmund.

Manuel Neuer

In January, Bayern’s captain notched his 197th clean sheet in the Bundesliga — breaking the previous league record held by Oliver Kahn, who needed 557 games for his 196 clean sheets as opposed to Neuer’s 423 outings.

Of his nine clean sheets this season in the league, the most important was at second-placed Leipzig in early March, palming away a Marcel Sabitzer strike as Bayern sealed a 1-0 win which put them in pole position to win the title.

Neuer has conceded his most goals in a single season since joining Bayern in 2011, but he remains one of the world’s top goalkeepers.

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