On Friday evening, second-placed Leipzig only managed a 2-2 draw in Augsburg. Thus, the tough away fixture in Köln was an important opportunity for Bayern. A win here would extend the league lead to seven points.
3 Things we noticed
1. Useful possession
Against Köln, Bayern were able to confirm their positive developement, although the system was a slightly different one. Ancelotti settled for a more compact formation, despite fielding Müller and Thiago. The latter played a much deeper role this time around, supporting and relieving Vidal in the build-up.
This was a key change because, in Hummels, the team was missing the main man of early vertical play. Thiago positioned himself between the lines, giving up a bit of attacking presence in return.
The 25-year-old was convincing yet again and the constant praise he has received throughout the season doesn’t get old. He was involved in practically every attack, controlled the pace, completed 108 of 120 pass attempts (36 of 43 in the attacking third) and played six key passes.
In central attacking areas, Müller and Lewandowski were accompanied by Douglas Costa, who took over the Ribery role of occupying half-spaces. The Brazilian’s best moments however were created on the right flank. He repeatedly switched sides with Coman, who played similarly well.
The Frenchman, still on loan from Juventus, showed dynamic movement and registered two key passes, several dangerous crosses and four shots – including some close misses.
Nevertheless, it once again became apparent that these two are not (yet) at the same level as Franck Ribery. This statement isn’t meant to criticize them but to praise the 33-year-old. Costa did a very good job but Ribery provided even more dangerous moments and immediately linked up with Bernat.
All in all, the Bayern game worked well against a usually well-organized Köln defense because the players were constantly in motion. Not only did they have full control over the match and a solid defensive structure, they added enough pace to enter the attacking third.
In the first half alone, the Bavarians took 14 shots, 6 of those on target. They ended the match at 20 shots taken. An impressive number, as the high-intensity pressing of recent matches wasn’t applied this time. For the first time in what felt like ages, Bayern managed to dominate purely by controlling the pace, not having to rely on an intense pressing to create promising situations.
In defensive moments, Ancelotti’s team was positioned deeper than lately, deciding against an aggressive early pressing. Then again, they were brutally solid in midfield. In the first 45 minutes, Thiago won the ball three times, Vidal did it an astonishing seven times. The match confirmed our preview suspicions: That midfield pairing might be the best world’s pressing pairing – no matter if it’s up front or in midfield.
2. Arturo Vital
Arturo Vidal’s current season can be compared with the last campaign. Shaky throughout the first half of the season, the Chilean is slowly reaching a form that makes him essential to the game.
Vidal might not be the perfect fit for Bayern’s possession game but his momentum against the ball is second to none. The 29-year-old is one of the world’s best box-to-box players, maybe even the best.
Against Köln, he had nine interceptions, won 75% of his tackles and was a constant presence – both in defensive transition and in the opposing box. In attack, he often overloads the center, taking some focus off the attackers.
Those moments overwhelmed Köln, as seen for the opening goal, when Vidal managed to sneak away from his defenders, providing Javi Martinez with a nice assist.
Bayern’s title odds improve drastically with Vidal in such a shape. Two shots, a spotless slide tackle rate and a high passing accuracy in the final third (27/35, including said assist) further prove his great performance.
3. Confident Ancelotti
Systematically and technically, not much has changed in Bavaria over the last months. The most important adjustment that was induced by the coach was the addition of a central attacking midfielder, thus turning the base formation into a 4-2-3-1.
Because of that, Bayern’s positioning in offense looks better and Lewandowski scores more often. The biggest issues have been caused by injuries and individuals being out of form.
Both of those issues seem to have disappeared for now. While Costa might’ve sustained an injury against Köln and Boateng has yet to return, it’s been a long time since the squad has had such an availability rate.
Ancelotti too benefits from this. All of his recently criticized decisions are now being justified, not only by results but by team performances. His players appear dominant, aggressive, ready for tackles and as a unit. Some players such as Joshua Kimmich might be victims of this development but that’s the way it is for now.
The win over Köln extended the Bundesliga lead to seven points but more importantly it was a warning sign for other opponents. This golden Bayern generation is capable of taking one last shot at the crown – as long as players stay fit and in form.
|1. FC Köln – FC Bayern 0:3 (0:1)|
|1. FC Köln||Kessler – Olkowski, Sörensen (56. Maroh), Subotic, Rausch – Höger (73. Jojic), Heintz – Clemens (63. Rudnevs), Zoller – Osako, Modeste|
|Subs||S. Müller, Klünter, Ciftci, Hartel|
|FC Bayern||Neuer – Lahm, Martínez, Alaba, Bernat – Thiago, Vidal (73. Kimmich) – Coman (82. Rafinha), Müller, Costa (50. Ribéry) – Lewandowski|
|Subs||Ulreich, Hummels, Alonso, Sanches|
|Goals||0:1 Martínez (25.), 0:2 Bernat (48.), 0:3 Ribéry (90.)|
|Cards||Yellow: – / Vidal, Bernat|
|Referee||Dr. Jochen Drees (Münster-Sarmsheim)|
|Attendance||50.000 (sold out)|