The game against Leverkusen was for FC Bayern the beginning of the “English weeks”. Seven games, including the match against Bayer 04, are on the schedule in the next three weeks.
In case you missed it
Niko Kovač rotated due to the varying burdens during the international break and the upcoming games. Rafinha, Gnabry, and Tolisso started in the Bundesliga. Alaba, Hummels, Goretzka, and Ribery got a rest. Tactically, little changed. It stayed a 4-1-4-1. Gnabry played on the left side.
Heiko Herrlich was already under pressure after kicking off the season with two defeats. The two-week break did his team good, because some options were available again. Among others Hradecky made his debut in the Bayer shirt. The Bender twins were also back in the starting line-up for the first time. Four changes, then, in comparison to the home defeat against Wolfsburg. Tactically it was a 5-3-2 system, which aimed to find success using counters and transitions.
In just the second minute, Leverkusen’s plan came off. After a counter Volland went past Süle in the box and shot against Thiago’s hand, with the Spaniard already on the floor. Welz promptly pointed to the spot. Volland missed the first attempt (twice did Neuer save strongly), but because the Bayern players went into the box too soon, Welz gave another spot-kick. Wendell was more confident than colleague Volland and converted for die Werkself.
Bayern didn’t seem impressed and went forward unperturbed. After winning the ball through a counter-press – directly in Leverkusen’s box – Tolisso got off a shot. His shot was initially blocked by Tah, but he got a second try and put the equaliser (11’) into the far corner.
In the 19th minute Bayern had already turned things around. Again Tah was involved. A long ball from Kimmich to Robben went too long, but Tah kept the ball in play for Robben. His defensive header was too short. The Dutchman controlled the ball with his right and converted with his left into the far corner. A dream goal.
In the 27th minute Leverkusen had to make a first injury-enforced change. Brandt came on for Lars Bender. That meant a change of tactic, with Havertz moving centrally. Brandt then operated down the left wing.
In this phase Bayern didn’t manage to make the most of the many times they won the ball early with good pressing. Leverkusen after Bayern’s lead visibly lost confidence, often jittery and giving up a lot of simple turnovers.
Bayern also had to make a change before the break. Tolisso got injured in a duel with Volland, hurting his knee which forced him to be helped off the pitch. James came on for him (40’).
Into the dressing rooms went the teams with Bayern in the lead. After the break the game changed little. Bayern continued to have a lot of possession without being able to generate clear-cut chances. Lewandowski still hadn’t registered a shot on the hour mark.
The tie visibly deflated in the second period. Leverkusen were almost only there for damage limitation. On the other hand, Bayern found very little inspiration to get into shooting positions. In the first 30 minutes of the second half, Bayern only managed one shot on goal.
In the 82nd minute FC Bayern were forced into a change by injury again. After a harsh kick to the heel from Bellarabi, Rafinha had to go off. The Leverkusen man, only subbed on seven minutes previously, had to leave the field likewise. Welz showed a red card to the German international.
Just before the end, Bayern were able to finally clinch the win. James led a Bayern counter, with the ball coming back to James via Robben and Thiago thanks to a textbook cross. The Colombian got ahead of one Leverkusen player and headed home to make it 3-1.
Bayern in the end took the three points, but in the worst case scenario have lost two players. Tolisso and Rafinha’s injuries looked bad and were confirmed to sideline them for months. Niko Kovač’s rotation options have already shrunk considerably on the third matchday.
For Bayern, things continue on Wednesday in the Champions League in Lisbon.
Things we noticed
1. Counter prevention still needs work
Counter prevention is still a problem in Niko Kovač’s strategy. Against Stuttgart the extreme positioning of the central midfielders was of no consequence, because the Swabians were far too deep to cause problems. Leverkusen did things better here. At least at first.
As a result there were some dangerous moments because the midfield didn’t press right, or rather didn’t do so with the necessary aggression. Like directly at the start of the match: here it was punished indirectly with the penalty.
After that moment too there were one or two simple turnovers that provoked counter opportunities, but these were able to be put to a halt.
2. Good run-out for Gnabry
It was a solid run-out for Gnabry. The wing wizard had had a difficult start in a Bayern shirt until then. Little injuries threw the German international constantly out of step. All the better to finally see the new man on the pitch.
Gnabry played with a very strong focus on the centre. He interpreted his role more as a box-to-box midfielder than as a winger.
The advantage for FC Bayern was most visible in their pressing. Gnabry was constantly able to pressurise the back-three of Bender, Dragovic, and Tah and force them into errors. At the same time he helped out in the build-up carrying the ball forwards between the lines. Because Rafinha played visibly more defensively than Kimmich, that was a sensible measure. It was important for Bayern’s game that Gnabry only had one simple turnover and also completed almost 90% of his passes.
Gnabry can be a serious alternative for the starting eleven, as long as Coman is out injured. That will apparently still be the case over the coming weeks. Due to the good results against Hoffenheim and Stuttgart, Ribery’s streaky performance wasn’t quite as noted.
The Frenchman will have to push himself to oust Gnabry again.
3. A lot of good pressing moments
Point 1 is whining at the highest level. From the 15th minute at the latest, Bayern’s pressing got going. Leverkusen ended up with a 56% passing accuracy in the first 30 minutes of the game. Winning the ball in dangerous areas almost every minute was the result. There could certainly have been more than just two goals in the first half from those moments.
After the substitution of Bender and the tactical reshuffle, Leverkusen collected themselves somewhat. Crazy turnovers were at least not so common from the visitors from then on.
4. Robben in the fountain of the youth
Arjen Robben seems to have fallen into a fountain of youth over the international break. One sprint after the other came down the right from the Dutchman.
At the end of the match he had registered the most shots for Bayern (5), the second most shot assists (2), and was also involved in all of their dangerous moments otherwise. Like for the 3-1 when he brought Thiago in play very well.
The 2-1 goal was the crowning moment and put Bayern on the road to victory. The Dutchman was the player of the match.