Record-breaking Bayern! Bayern beats Spurs 3:1
In case you missed it
Hansi Flick had to answer a very peculiar question: With Bayern winning the group already set in stone, he could try out new, possibly even wild things. On the other hand, after losing two consecutive games in the Bundesliga, there were arguments for fielding the best possible team and get a big statement result to turn things around.
The result was a bit of both worlds. Despite being only a goal away from breaking Cristiano Ronaldo’s record of most goals in a single Champions League group stage, Robert Lewandowski was benched for Serge Gnabry starting in central attack while the struggling Kingsley Coman and Ivan Perišić were playing on the wings. Additionally, for the first time in his tenure as coach, Hansi Flick fielded his technically most gifted midfield comprising of Kimmich, Thiago and Coutinho. Martínez, Boateng, Pavard and Davies played in defense.
With Jose Mourinho giving many of his regular players a break, only Eriksen, Lucas Moura, Alderweireld, Dier and Rose remained from the better known players. For the most time Tottenham played in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
The first half
From the very beginning it was hard to miss that this was a fairly meaningless game for both teams in terms of results, but more and more Bayern settled down in Tottenham’s half and scored the opening goal with their second chance in the 14th minute. Serge Gnabry dropped back to receive the ball in midfield and sprinted towards Tottenham’s defensive line, his pass aimed at Coutinho took a deflection off of Moussa Sissoko and landed right in front the feet of Kingsley Coman. The Frenchman took no prisoners and buried the ball in Spurs’ net from short distance.
The lead only lasted a few minutes, however, with Tottenham equalising in the 20th minute. During a throw-in deep in Bayern’s half Bayern managed to get a lot of players behind the ball, but failed to really challenge Spur’s attacking players. Lo Celso got the ball centrally and tried to open up Bayern’s defense with a pass. It would have been a turnover, if not for Boateng deflecting the ball to Ryan Sessegnon who in turn overcame Neuer with an extremely powerful shot.
While trying to keep the ball alive on the sidelines, goalscorer Kingsley Coman injured himself without any opponent’s influence. [We now know he suffered a capsule tear in the left knee while also pulling his biceps tendon and jarring the knee joint, resulting in missing out the remaining games in 2019 but likely returning to training at the start of January.] His fellow teammates and the coaching staff appeared to be in shock. Coman did not return to the field and was substituted with Thomas Müller.
For the next 15 minutes the game continued with some half-chances on both sides but clear-cut big chances only came upon in the closing minutes of the first half. Davies crossed the ball blindly where Rose headed it right to Gnabry who played a one-two with Thiago and passed it right across to the now arriving Davies. The Canadian’s shot bounced off of the left post and landed in front of Thomas Müller’s feet. Müller stood as perfect as ever and scored drawing level with Didier Drogba in the pantheon of all-time Champions League goalscorers.
Shortly after that Philippe Coutinho almost made it 3:1 with a tremendous long-range shot, but Gazzaniga deflected it to the crossbar with a strong save resulting in a 2:1 half-time lead for Bayern.
The second half
The game continued with no further substitutions and the exciting finish of the first half turned out to be the exception as the game transitioned to the same mode it was in most of the first half. Bayern remained to be more interested in attacking plays without creating real chances.
After a couple of well-struck but unsuccessful long-ranged shots, Coutinho finally scored in the 64th minute. He received the ball in the left half space, saw a gap between the defenders and placed the ball in the bottom left corner. Mourinho now increased the number of well-known players by bringing on Heung-Min Son.
With 4 minutes to go Hansi Flick finally granted a youth player a chance with bringing on Joshua Zirkzee and strangely Leon Goretzka for Ivan Perišić and Javi Martínez. It remains dubious why he decided to give the minutes to the German international and not the record-seeking Lewandowski or another young talent. In injury time Manuel Neuer could show his abilities when Son slipped away from his defenders but was denied by Neuer’s left foot in a one-on-one.
Thus Bayern won 3:1 and became not only the first German team to ever win all six group games but the very best team in the history of Champions League group stages ever.
Things that caught our eye
1. Won nothing but lost Coman… for three weeks
Injuries are always a tough pill to swallow but it is especially egregious when they happen in such meaningless games like these. It is now known that he suffered a capsule tear in the left knee while also pulling his biceps tendon and jarring the knee joint and will likely already resume training in Bayern’s winter training camp in Doha. While it is a setback for him and Bayern that he is going to miss the remaining three games this year in the Bundesliga, he and Bayern were very lucky in that situation. His injury looked so bad that in fact this whole section had been written with the impression of Coman missing the remaining season and his career possibly being in danger.
Now one could even make the argument that Coman will not be missed that much given his rather lackluster performances in previous weeks. Perišić, Coutinho and Müller should be more than capable to help Bayern overcome Bremen, Freiburg and Wolfsburg. Things would have looked much dire though, had the injury really been as bad as it looked like since Coman was always supposed to be key player in Bayern’s attacking line.
2. Thiago & Coutinho are improving
After playing one strong half and one less strong half against Mönchengladbach, Thiago played a good match for the entire 90 minutes. Last season that would have been taken for granted but now it is part of his path to hopefully once again reach his peak form. He supported the build-up, closed gaps in defense, and helped his center halfs against Tottenham’s nimble strikers. He also performed well in the final third as he intelligently pushed up in Bayern’s press and played a vital part in attacks like his passing contribution to Gnabry before Bayern’s second goal.
Despite the goal things were a bit more shakey for Coutinho. While he has strong statistical numbers to back him like winning five of his eight dribbling attempts, scoring once and having even more goalscoring opportunities, even three and a half months since the start of his loan-spell, he does not look to be fully integrated in Bayern’s game yet. More than in the case of the less playing Perišić, his teammates appear to be surprised by some of his actions. Like they do not understand his game fully. With Coman injured in the next weeks, Coutinho will likely get more game time and Hansi Flick should strive to integrate the Brazilian even if the club does not plan to trigger their option to buy the player.
This was nevertheless a good game from Coutinho and proof that he can help Bayern.
3. No Country for Old Men
This season alone, Javi Martínez and Jérôme Boateng had reasons to be in much sourer moods at the end of games than they likely were against Tottenham. Just on Saturday alone, Javi Martínez basically lost Bayern the game with gifting Mönchengladbach an unnecessary penalty. Against Spurs there were not only no costly mistakes, but they both had an overall good game. And yet it is possible that while they both individually feel reinvigorated from this performance, that will not apply to them as a duo.
Time and time again the by now quicker Davies and Thiago had to close down spaces or hastily take on opposing players simply because Martínez and Boateng just could not keep up with the fast Lucas Moura or Son. Especially the situation in the 71st minute stood out as Son was so free, he was about to go in a one-on-one with Manuel Neuer, Boateng, however, correctly assessed the situation as he chose to defend the space in the middle and leave the direct duel to the lightning fast approaching Alphonso Davies.
A defender who focuses on his positional play is not necessarily bad, it can sometimes be a real advantage in a tough game. Players like Mats Hummels have been defending that way their entire career. But they do need support from a faster partner in central defense. David Alaba is still needed there and Hansi Flick should think about whether it would not be better to play Pavard centrally rather than fielding Boateng and Martínez there at the same time.