Leverkusen is an extremely unpleasant opponent. Although the first leg was a clear-cut success for Bayern, the match was rather difficult. Especially after Herrlich adapted his team and gained valuable experience.
Courageous Bayer team?
After Leverkusen was trailing 3-0 early on, the coach changed to a more offensive 3-4-3 and suddenly Bayer was back in the game. Aggressive but structured pressing, pressure on the Bayern defenders and the exploitation of missing automatisms in the record championships game led to a game that Bayer 04 dominated in the end. The fact that there was no 3-3 or even a defeat was mainly due to the poor chance conversion rate of the visitors.
Of course, parallels to Friday’s game are a bit difficult. Ancelotti is no longer sitting on the bench and under Heynckes an adjustment to changing circumstances can be expected. However, this time too, the two teams haven’t played a competitive match for a long time. Leverkusen’s home advantage is also an additional obstacle.
In 42 games, Bayern only won 18 times in the BayArena – and lost 14. For the current league leaders the last win in Leverkusen dates back to April 8th, 2015 – after penalty shoot-out. At March 16th, 2013 the Munich team took their last away win against Bayer within90 minutes. At that time Jupp Heynckes was sitting on the bench.
That alone shows what an unpleasant opponent Leverkusen can be for FC Bayern. Although the last few months and years have been somewhat mediocre, the Leverkusen team has been motivated and concentrated when it came to competing at home against the Reds. Especially since Bayer was running under the radar with Herrlich anyway. In the last 6 games, the Bayer collected 12 points and was established in the leading group.
Herrlich managed to stabilise the team and find the right mixture of defence and offense. This in turn led to much more consistent results, although there is still room for improvement and the weakness of others also favours the position in the table. Nonetheless, Leverkusen still managed to draw against Leipzig and Dortmund. With a committed, motivated and tactically at least sovereign performance.
The same can also be expected on Friday. Heiko Herrlich should have learnt from the first leg that FC Bayern can only be wounded at the beginning of a round if they are disturbed early on and manage to push it in a structured, compact but also high way. Leverkusen will most likely not come back the way they did on matchday one. And this time they have two players, Bailey and Volland, who have recently scored very dangerously. They could complete some of the counterattacks better than they did in the summer of 2017.
Bayern must get on the right track
It will be all the more exciting how Heynckes and his team have survived the holidays. Lewandowski and Hummels will be missing in any case. Behind Joshua Kimmich is still a question mark. This is the first big opportunity for Sandro Wagner to present himself straight away.
The new addition is “the first option” on Friday, Heynckes already announced. His involvement in the game will be very exciting to watch. Especially long balls by Jérôme Boateng to Wagner could be a good way of bypassing the opponent’s high midfield pressure and then moving up quickly. Wagner can control these situations and thus become an important reference point between the lines to connect with James or another midfielder.
In addition to these new relationships, however, the tried and tested must also be re-installed. Ideally, in Leverkusen, Bayern is already finding its rhythm to build up self-confidence in January for what is so important in February. The challenge lies especially in the creative area. It is not new that Bayern can decide matches based on their individual class. However, Heynckes also sees a lot of room for improvement.
Bayern may be well positioned on defense, but not quite as the coach would like. Particularly in the pressing process, a lack of discipline often leads to smaller spaces that can be punished by strong opponents. Vidal likes to be a candidate for a hectic run, but Rudy also had problems defending his space several times.
Playwise, Bayern also made great strides forward, but more can be expected especially in the half-space and through the centre. Too often, the attacks are carried out on the sidelines. At the end of the first half of the season, for various reasons, it became clear that the Munich team would often fall back into old Ancelotti times. One cross after the other sailed in the opponent’s box.
And yet it can be said that so far everything is on target. Heynckes and Hermann have again developed the pressing into one of the strongest and most flexible in Europe and the situation in all competitions underpins the U-turn. The home game against Paris was also an important step in the right direction.
However… more must follow now. Even though there is still work to be done against Leverkusen, thanks to a good game plan, there is now an opportunity to improve their condition until February and March. Then it counts and then we can finally judge whether this FC Bayern is still one of Europe’s leaders.