This season’s Champions League group phase ended with a stunner – on paper, at least. FC Bayern played Atlético Madrid, a European top team. However, not least because of the unnecessary defeat in Rostov, the only thing to gain in this match was prestige: Atlético had won the group before the game.
1. Flexible metronome
He has been the most constant and reliable Bayern player of the season by far: Thiago Alcántara. It’s easy to miss what’s truly amazing about the Spanish midfielder: his incredible flexibility. He’s played – and played well – in almost all roles that central midfield can offer. In the Alonso role as single holding midfielder, Vidal-like vertical game play, or a ball-distribution machine in central offensive midfield like Toni Kroos, Thiago’s quality is not diminished by the weekly changes.
He had all the freedom he wanted against Atlético and could make use of the entire pitch, both horizontally and vertically. He constantly oscillated back and forth between midfield and attack, centre and wings. When Bayern attacked, Thiago was never far from the action.
The pivotal point in Bayern’s ball circulation cemented his world-class form.
2. The left lives
Bayern’s traditional left wing – David Alaba and Franck Ribéry – hasn’t been too convincing recently, with Alaba in particular chasing his top form. In his new role as central defender, he looked slightly improved compared to previous games, but the left wing, too, gave some signs of life.
With Douglas Costa, still all that glitters is not gold, but his explosive way of playing is a vitalising element in Bayern’s strongly individualistic game. Costa often manages to break through an opponent’s structures, even if the moves that follow aren’t always well-executed or sensible.
But it’s not just Costa making the left wing shine: Juan Bernat played yet another good game as left-back. Defensively solid, the Spaniard was a positive influence in playing with the ball, taking part in combinations, and breaking through with the occasional dribble as well.
Neither of the two is flawless, and without a doubt, David Alaba and Franck Ribéry in their prime reach completely different spheres. But in the current situation, a wing with Bernat and Costa could be a real alternative even for important games.
3. Dead rubber
FC Bayern showed themselves improved tonight; passing was faster and more harmonious than in previous weeks, occasionally it almost felt like the dominance of previous years.
Still, the game has to be taken with a pinch of salt. While the guests’ starting eleven looked impressive, it still felt like the Madrid team lacked the decisive bit of intensity throughout the game. Their pressing was only half-hearted, their counters ineffective.
It’s doubtful that Atlético will ever look this tame at the Allianz again. Still, slight optimism is blooming at Bayern after two decent games in a row.
|FC Bayern – Atlético 1-0 (1-0)|
|FC Bayern München||Neuer – Rafinha, Hummels, Alaba, Bernat – Sanches, Thiago, Vidal – Robben (83. Kimmich), Lewandowski (80. Müller), Costa (87. Martínez)|
|Bench||Ulreich, Lahm, Badstuber, Ribéry|
|Atlético Madrid||Oblak – Vrsaljko, Godin, Savic, Lucas – Saúl Ñíguez, Gabi, Koke (68. Partey), Gaitan (60. Gameiro) – Griezmann, Carrasco (60. Correa)|
|Bench||Moya, Torres, Juanfran, Giménez|
|Goals||1-0 Lewandowski (28.)|
|Cards||Yellow: – / Gabi|
|Referee||Clément Turpin (Frankreich)|