Bayen Frustrated by Leverkusen
Julian Nagelsmann made several changes to the team that faced Frankfurt a year earlier. Sven Ulreich remained in goal. Benjamin Pavard, Niklas Süle and Dayot Upamecano remained in their usual spots but Omar Richards replaced Lucas Hernández who missed out with an injury. Jamal Musiala joined Joshua Kimmich in the midfield behind Serge Gnabry, Thomas Müller and Kingsley Coman. Robert Lewandowski of course started up top.
This match started off surprisingly well for the Munich side. It was hard to tell what exactly the Leverkusen game plan was and Bayern dominated proceedings. In the 18th minute, they would get their well earned lead. Kimmich put in a good corner which reached Süle who hit it towards goal. His first effort was saved but the ball wasn’t cleared and returned to him seconds later and this time he blasted it into the back of the net 1-0.
For the following 18 minutes, Bayern looked like they might blow the match wide open. They controlled play and while the chances weren’t as good as you might have hoped, there was no doubt who the better team was. Then in the 36th minute that all changed.
Leverkusen were given a free kick about 40 yards out on the right side of the pitch. Following a truly bizarre scenario where a Leverkusen player claimed Lewandowski stampped on his foot, they finally whipped in a ball to the center of the box. Despite no Bayer player’s being within six yards of the ball and Ulreich waiting to collect it easily, Müller decided to try to get a foot to it and clear it off but instead directed into the back of the net for an own goal 1-1.
The following ten minutes saw Leverkusen completely turn things around. The confidence that they seemed to lack for the first 36 minutes came to them in spades. Munich on the other hand seemed to collapse.
Leverkusen should have probably added another two goals before the break but thanks to luck and a tremendous save by Ulreich, they managed to hang on to their 1-1 stalemate.
The second half saw some ups and downs. The first few minutes looked shaky as another error nearly resulted in the lead for Leverkusen, however they again missed their chance. For the following 20ish minutes, Bayern stabilized themselves and looked as if they could possibly rescue the day. they weren’t the dominant team that were the first half hour but they were clearly the most likely to win it.
Then around the 70th minute both teams appeared to close up shop. Neither really seemed to push all that hard to get a winner. There was the occasional flash or effort but in general they seemed all to happy to settle for the draw, which is ultimately what happened.
This match highlights something that has started to become increasingly obvious for Bayern supporters. The mental fortitude that this club once had is no longer there. The never die, fight to the end spirit is completely missing. There are few players that you can feel this from still. Neuer, Müller, Lewandowski and Kimmich all still have some of that energy.
However, they have struggled to transfer that energy to the rest of the team. Far too often this season the first sign of adversity results in an utter collapse. That is exactly what happened Saturday against Leverkusen. They were dominating. Bayer had absolutely no confidence or energy. Then one mistake from Müller and the whole team completely deflated.
They looked lost. They looked like a team that fractured in an instant. The teamwork and communication appeared to breakdown. As a result, Leverkusen smelled blood in the water and nearly made Bayern pay.
While the second half was slightly better, they never looked the same. Not too long ago, even when Bayern were down two or three goals, there was a feeling that they might be able to come back. The effort was there. You could see the belief amongst the players.
That needs to return. It can return. It is the responsibility of everyone in the club to make that return. There are enough players still around who know what that feeling is. Who can help the younger players understand that just because something goes bad, doesn’t mean that you’re down and out. That until that final whistle blows, not only can you win, but it’s expected.
Unfortunately, this has become a trend in recent matches as well. Bayern are just not creating the chances that they were as recently as 2021. Even Lewandowski is in a bit of a drought having not scored in two straight matches now.
While that is hardly his fault, the reality is that apart from Coman and himself, the offense has simply lacked creativity and drive. Müller deserves a bit of a pass given his absence and Sané has been moved to the bench, but Gnabry has been particularly devoid of danger recently.
I liked the inversion of Gnabry and Coman in this match. I think that inversion actually tends to bring the best of all of the wingers. However, it didn’t have the desired effect in this match. Coman still looked good, as he has over most of the year thus far, but Gnabry continued to struggle.
Nagelsmann needs to find a solution to this issue. Gnabry has always had his ups and downs and most likely this is one of them. But at some point he needs to find a bit more consistency. He is far too important to the offensive make up of this team to have him become completely invisible for 5-7 game stretches.
Given the general lack of positivity in recent weeks, I do want to shine a bit of a light on a surprisingly good performance from Omar Richards. For most of this season so far, I think most of the Bayern fan base were kind of perplexed by his signing.
He looked like he might be another lackluster option at wing back. This match however might have just proved that there is reason to hope. He had an excellent game. His work rate and effort was excellent even making up for a few mistakes by his teammates.
While he still has a lot of room for improvement in order to be a threat for a starting spot, even showing signs of being a legitimate backup for Alphonso Davies and/or Pavard is a massive upside. It’s just more proof that sometimes players just need a chance and some consistency. While that can be difficult to provide at a club like Bayern, it’s nice to see players like Richards and Marc Roca step up and take advantage of it when they do get that chance.