Bayern Finish Group Stage with Win
The big news before the match was the return of Alphonso Davies. He had missed the better part of two months after tearing a ligament in his ankle and his return could not have come at a better time with all of the injuries currently plaguing the defensive unit. In addition Marc Roca received another start alongside Leon Goretzka. In reality, the starting lineup was a pretty strong one with Neuer in goal, Sarr, Boateng, Süle and Davies making up the back four, Goretzka and Roca behind Costa, Müller and Sane with Choupo-Moting up front.
The two changes mentioned earlier provided a lot of excitement, at least for me, going into a relatively meaningless match. Also apart from Costa and Choupo-Moting, this was a pretty strong side as nearly everyone else has contributed in a real way this season.
It has been a long time since Bayern really controlled a match. The last time I can remember such a thing is probably the Eintracht match back in October, coincidentally the same match that Alphonso Davies left injured. Bayern have managed to win a fair amount of matches since that time and even managed not to lose any, though that was the result of a fair amount of luck truth be told. However, the return of Alphonso Davies and insertion of Marc Roca seemed to go a long way in correcting the issues that Bayern have faced in build up and distribution.
Both players played an integral part on both sides of the ball. Davies brings soo much to the game. He is an immediate impact outlet on the wing. He is someone that Boateng can pass to on one end of the pitch and consistently see drive the ball forward and allow the offensive players to move and find openings. Defensively his speed allows him to catchup with nearly anyone in the world meaning that Bayern rarely are at a numerical disadvantage for long in their own box.
I also don’t think it was a coincidence that Sarr was more noticeably aggressive and impactful offensively in today’s match. He felt a little more unleashed and some of that is likely due to having Davies back on the left. Really the entire defensive line felt more confident and capable tonight. Part of that is how Moscow played but Bayern has struggled against some fairly weak sides recently and tonight that was simply not the case.
Roca also provided a huge impact. His very presence allows Goretzka to play more naturally. From the beginning of the match, Goretzka was more involved in the entire game. He was making those marauding runs that we’re used to seeing when he’s at his best. He was leading the charge and breaking down opposing players in the middle of the pitch. All of that had vanished following Kimmich’s injury. He had shackles on him and was forced to sit extremely deep and play a very defensive/distributor role. While he did fine in this role, his partners generally did not do enough to help him and therefore he was even further limited.
This match was completely different. Roca is made to play that position in a way that Goretzka simply isn’t. He started off the match completing his first 36 passes. He finished the match completing 93 out of 100. His presence in the back helped to ease pressure on the back four. He provided an outlet that found solutions to advance the ball. He positioned himself to provide cover when Süle or Boateng went forward. He and Davies both snuffed out counterattacking opportunities before they got anywhere. It was really fantastic to see.
Despite dominating the match in large part, Bayern still struggled for large sections of the match to create dangerous opportunities. Sane again had a very quiet match overall. His confidence really seems to be at a low point and it will be a challenge for Hansi to get him going. With players like him, it probably will only take a couple of goals to set him off but he really needs those goals to come quickly.
Replacing Coman and Lewandowski, who have undoubtedly been Bayern’s two best offensive weapons in recent weeks, with Costa and Choupo-Moting was always going to make finding goals a little bit more challenging. However both would contribute to the score line before the end of the match. Costa had a fairly Costa-ish match. He is so good at getting himself into dangerous area’s but his final decision and product is too often lacking. Today however he was maybe a little bit more incisive and as a result would get himself an assist on a beautiful corner that found Süle who was wide open and smashed a header past the keeper.
The second goal would come from Choupo-Moting who received a very nicely slid ball past his defender by Gnabry and blasted it past the keeper who had no chance. Sane also should get some credit in this goal as he got a hockey assist doing a lot of the work breaking down the defense and attracting multiple defenders before passing on to Gnabry.
While it would have been nice to see a few more opportunities and goals, overall it was nice to see Bayern play a match that they had full control of and managed to grind out goals to win. Assuming that Hansi Flick is finally starting to trust Roca, and Kimmich makes his way back soon, there is every reason to be excited for what Bayern might produce in the coming weeks and Rückrunde.
This is a tough one. A lot of players played well today. Not many really did anything that was overtly exceptional. That being the case, I’m going to give this award to Niklas Süle today. The big man has had a hard time of it recently. He has received a lot of criticism about his weight and overall physical conditioning. He has been prone to costly mistakes and his form in general has been noticeably below where it was prior to his injury last season.
Today however he was very good. He was strong on the defensive end. Active on the offensive end. And he even scored the match winner, something that I think we all would love to see more of given his size. Maybe most importantly though, he actually looked like he was having fun. When Süle is at his best, he looks like a giant kid out there just having a great time doing what he loves. That’s how he looked today and it’s been a while since we’ve seen that side of him. Let’s hope it continues and his form, and yes his physical conditioning as well, get back to that elite level he is capable of.