Bayern Back on Top
The lineup was likely not what anyone would have predicted prior to the match. Niklas Süle once again started at right back alongside Jerome Boateng and Lucas Hernandez with Alphonso Davies at left back. David Alaba moved up to play along side Corentin Tolisso in the midfield. The attacking unit was pretty standard with Kingsley Coman, Thomas Müller and Serge Gnabry playing behind Robert Lewandowski up top.
The first 30 minutes of the match went about as well as they have gone in recent weeks. Bayer had by far the better chances and scored an absolute beauty of a goal to open the scoring. However, Bayern has made it a habit of scoring just before the break and this match proved no different. Lewandowski was left wide open by Jonathan Tah and Müller put in a perfect cross for the striker to head home and make it 1-1.
The Second half was much more back and forth. Both teams had some chances early. Bayern however played much more consistently throughout and by the 75th minute, Leverkusen was clearly the team playing for a draw. Bayern had several chances that just missed, notably Gnabry forced a very nice finger tip save and Jamal Musiala hit the post squarely. However, it wasn’t till the last seconds of added time that Tah yet again would make a massive mistake and gift the ball to Kimmich who found a wide open Lewandowski for the winner.
Passing over the last decade has always been a strength of Bayern. They have controlled the ball as well as nearly any team in the world. These past few weeks however have been the complete opposite. A combination of injuries, players playing out of position and general exhaustion has led to an increasingly sloppy passing game from the record champions. Today seemed to be the culmination of that.
The first half especially was just plain awful. Nearly every possession of Bayern’s ended in a wildly misplaced pass that seemed to have no real purpose or direction. Ball after ball were kicked into random space or directly toward the opposition, leading to chances for Leverkusen to counter. Most of these passes were also not a result of pressure from the opposition but simple mental mistakes. While we all know how drained the players are, this is something that should not happen. Hansi Flick must have been fuming internally following the first half and undoubtedly he’ll be very focused on this aspect when the players return.
As mentioned above, we all know the state of Bayern right now. They have not really played like themselves in well over a month. However, they have managed to grind out results despite that and amazingly enough, head into the winter break at the top of the league and top of their Champions League group. Given all of the injuries and the physical and mental toll that the players have had to endure this season, those are two remarkable achievements.
This match was almost the perfect synopsis for the entire season. Bayern struggled and they didn’t play particularly well but they never gave in either. They went a goal down. Their second best offensive player, Kingsley Coman, had to be substituted because of an injury. Yet they still found a way in the end to come back and win this all important match. It feels very different going into the break at the top of the league having just beat your closest pursuers than in second with a tie. So while we can be critical of their performances at times, we also have to give them a lot of credit for continually finding a way to get results.
Who could this possibly go to other than Robert Lewandowski?! The newly crowned Fifa player of the year for 2020 stepped up in a huge way to drag Bayern to a 2-1 win. His work rate as always was excellent. He continually found spaces and worked to be an outlet for the rest of the offense. In the end he also found ways to get open in very dangerous situations. For his first goal, he some how shed Tah and found himself wide open in the six yard box. While Tah is certainly largely to blame for this situation, Lewandowski also has to be given credit for seeing it for what it was and being in the right place.
The second however is where he deserves extra praise. Tah again made an error in possession taking a massively heavy touch. Lewandowski however put himself in the perfect position to pounce just incase of such an event. When the ball found it’s way to Kimmich, he was ready and found himself open again for a shot on goal. Despite a deflection, or maybe in part because of it, his shot found the back of the net for three well deserved points. Lewandowski heads into the winter break with 20 goals and 5 assists in all competitions and is on pace to have just as big an impact in 2021 as he did in the previous year.