Bayern beats Union thanks to Neuer and Lewandowski
Niko Kovač certainly could not have felt at ease lately. His team was not able to win either of their last two Bundesliga matches against Hoffenheim and Augsburg, both of which were teams that had struggled before.
Niko Kovač announced at the pre-match press conference that he would give some of his recent benchwarmers a start. He remained true to his word. His starting eleven featured four new players over the Champions League lineup in midweek. Martinez and Hernández were ruled out with an injury, Alaba and Gnabry were rested. For them, Boateng, Coman, Perišić and Davies came in. For Davies, this was his first starting appearance in the Bundesliga. Tactically, this resulted in a very offensively orientated 4-1-4-1 formation with Müller and Coutinho as the two number eights.
For Union, Urs Fischer largely stuck to the same starting eleven that got the 2-0 home win against Freiburg. Only Neven Subotić and Felix Kroos, Toni Kroos’s younger brother, were added. On paper, Fischer’s formation equated a 3-4-2-1 or a 4-2-3-1. In reality, it rather turned out to be a 4-5-1.
In the beginning, Union cleverly managed to engage the newly formed Bayern team in numerous challenges through a dedicated midfield pressing.
Bayern went in front with their first chance from a set piece. Kimmich brought in a high cross in a vacated area before goalkeeper Gikiewicz, forcing him to come out and parry the ball straight in the central area outside the penalty box, where Pavard waited and drove home a beautiful half volley for Bayern’s opening goal, making it 1-0 in the 13th minute.
After the goal, the game was almost devoid of highlights. Union focused on defending from a stable position at the back while Bayern found it difficult to find any creativity in attack. Perišić and Müller were almost non-existent. Bayern were most dangerous after long diagonal balls out to Coman but could not create any chances.
The first half ended without anything else noteworthy happening. Bayern had six shots on goal in total, all of which came from outside the penalty area, resulting in an accumulated expected goal value of 0.22.
Both teams returned to the pitch unchanged. Only Perišić and Coman switched sides.
Following a good effort by Davies, Lewandowski got the ball in the penalty box. After an involuntary one-two with Kroos, he suddenly found himself free in front of Gikiewicz and used his space to calmly pass the ball past the goalkeeper in the right-hand corner of the goal, scoring for the 9th consecutive time in the Bundesliga.
In the 57th minute, Marco Fritz decided for hand ball by Perišić in the penalty area after an intervention by the VAR. The resulting penalty was well hit, but Neuer could save with a terrific dive.
In the 65th minute, Kovač brought on Gnabry for Coman. From the start, he was more effective than Coman had been at any point during the game. He quickly got off two excellent shots, one being outstandingly stopped by Gikiewicz on the line and the other one hitting the post.
As the game went on, Bayern was increasingly able to create chances through the center, as Union’s pressing gradually subsided. Gnabry in particular envigorated Bayern’s offense with his deep runs.
Having said that, it was for Union to score the next goal. Shortly after Bayern’s third goal was ruled offside by the VAR, Union won a penalty after Pavard fouled Polter in the area. Polter took on the responsibility himself and managed to get a goal back for Union in the 86th minute. This provided the game with an unnecessary moment of tension for the last minutes.
But in contrast to recent weeks, Bayern stayed focused and saw out the game. And so Bayern end a two game winless run, mostly thanks to Robert Lewandowski and Manuel Neuer.
In recent weeks, Niko Kovač approached most of Bayern’s games in a rather conservative fashion. Against Olympiacos and Augsburg, he opted for defensive stability over offensive creativity in giving Martinez a start in midfield. Martinez has his qualities in shutting up shop in defensive midfield, but he is not a player to come up with ingenious passes in build-up play. Kovač did not have the courage to adapt his formation in a way that allowed Martinez to play out his strengths while compensating for his deficiencies in offense.
In the game against Union, Kovač chose to start with five offensive players in Coutinho, Müller, Coman, Perišić and Lewandowski. Add to that two rather offensive-minded full-backs in Kimmich and Davies and you would have to conclude that he finally showed the courage that he had been lacking before. Unfortunately, his courage did not translate to the pitch in the first half. Bayern had no idea of how to crack Union’s massed 4-5-1 defense. They quickly went out wide and tried their luck via frequent crosses mainly from Coman, Kimmich, or Müller. This was not enough for 65 to 70 minutes.
Much has already been said about Robert Lewandowski. Now we can add another hymn of praise about his latest Bundesliga record. He has now scored 13 goals in nine consecutive competitive matches. Extending this run to the remainder of the season would see him end at 49 season goals. Thus even Gerd Müller’s age old record seems to be in reach. If it took any more evidence of quite how outstanding his form is this season, this is it.
Finally, we have to mention Manuel Neuer. He had two eye catching moments with his parried penalty and when he gave his defensive line a dressing down in best Oliver Kahn fashion. Neuer is in good form. Bayern’s leakiness is not his fault. That is remarkable.