2-0! A positive signal in turbulent times
These are turbulent times for Bayern after their 5-1 drubbing against Frankfurt last weekend. Just one day after the match, Niko Kovač lost his job, which opened the way for his assistant Hansi Flick to take over as caretaker coach for at least the immediate future.
Hansi Flick made three changes to his team from the defeat against Frankfurt: Martínez, Coman and Goretzka got a start, Boateng, Thiago and Coutinho moved to the bench. Boateng’s relegation to the bench was made with a view to the game on Saturday against Dortmund where he is not allowed to start due to his red card against Frankfurt. Flick wanted to allow his newly configured defensive line to have some game time together. The remaining positions in Bayern’s 4-2-3-1 were taken by Kimmich and Goretzka as center-halfs in defensive midfield and Müller in central offensive midfield.
For Olympiacos, Pedro Martins brought on two new players from the 2-3 defeat against Bayern in the first leg. The relative unknowns Randjelovic and Miguel Angel Guerrero came in for Masouras and El-Arabi, who scored a goal in the two feams’ first meeting.
Bayern’s initial plan was to move the ball up quickly with long vertical passes from a controlled position in midfield and defense. Thus, they were able to create a few dangerous situations in attack. On their own end, they were stable and snuffed out any spark of danger immediately.
Bayern’s biggest chance came after Coman was able to dribble through Olympiacos’s entire defense and craft a shot on goal. Yet his finish was denied by goalkeeper José Sa. Save for this highlight and a header by Pavard against the post shortly before the interval, Bayern lacked the requisite work rate and creative spark to cause a very defensive-minded Olympiacos any real worries throughout the first half.
Both teams came out for the second half unchanged. In the 50th minute, Bayern got their next chance from a header by Goretzka after a high cross, but his effort was directed straight at the goalkeeper, who had no problems stopping it.
After a long phase of inactivity, where Bayern’s compactness in midfield repeatedly came dangerously unstuck, Bayern managed to score the opener. Coman got past Tsimikas on the right wing and drove a crisp pass across in the penalty area. Lewandowski, who had rushed in to meet the ball, only had to stick his foot in to deflect the ball over the line, giving Bayern the 1-0 lead.
The 82nd minute witnessed Hansi Flick’s first substitution as a Bayern head coach. Goretzka went off for Tolisso.
After their lock breaker, Bayern managed to create more and more chances without finding the final touch to score a second goal. Only seconds after Flick had brought on Perišić for Gnabry, the Croatian international scored his first and Bayern’s second goal with his first touch. The ball landed at his feet for him to strike from short distance after a good display of combinational play by Coman and Tolisso.
Initial assessment: Flick needs an in-form Lewandowski too. This however should not come as a surprise considering the striker’s outstanding run of form. Other than that, it was a concentrated if little inspired Bayern performance that has secured their progression to the knock out stages and put them in a good position to challenge for the group’s first place.
Whoever expected Bayern to perform as if they had thrown off any ostensible Kovač shackles will have been disappointed initially. There was a palpable sense of uncertainty in the way they performed. Their priority was to gain control in a what Ottmar Hitzfeld used to call “controlled offensive”. No doubt a prudent approach after the torrent of goals they have conceded in recent weeks. Coman, Müller, and Gnabry diligently participated in the team’s defensive work. Davies and Pavard rarely pushed up to provide support in attack. As a result, there were many situations of numerical disadvantage for Bayern in and around Olympiacos’s penalty box. Taking a little bit more risk as the clock wore on would certainly not have been uncalled for.
Bayern’s squad contains two prominent playmakers at present: Thiago and Coutinho. Both had to make do with a place on the bench. Unfortunately, this decision put a dent into Bayern’s creativity and their ability to create something special out of nothing. Goretzka and Müller are too similar player types, and they both need a creative midfielder at their side who can release them for their deep runs. On the flip side, the decision to leave out Thiago and Coutinho was also a message to both players: they are expected to do better. Thiago has committed quite a few individual errors recently and Coutinho went down with the ship in Bayern’s recent crisis. They will probably get another chance to prove themselves in the crucial meeting with Dortmund at the weekend.
When Jupp Heynckes took over from Carlo Ancelotti two years ago, his first priority was to re-establish Bayern’s lost stability in defense. Offense was a second thought. A lot of narrow 1-0 wins were the result. If you mean well, you could say the same about Hansi Flick’s approach. Olympiacos managed just one shot on goal in the entire first half. Bayern got 20. All offensive players took part in their team’s gegenpressing and worked a lot off the ball. There was a clearly improved balance between offense and defense compared to recent weeks. The few times Olympiacos managed to fashion something like a counter attack, Bayern surpressed them at a very early stage, if necessary by a foul.
Will a performance like this be enough at the weekend? Certainly not. Could we have expected more? Perhaps. There is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding Bayern in the autumn of 2019.