Top Week From Bayern
Julian Nagelsmann would line up with the same eleven for both matches as the injury list remained extensive. Sven Ulreich, Noussair Mazraouoi, Dayot Upamecano, Matthijs de Ligt, Alphonso Davies, Joshua Kimmich (c), Leon Goretzka, Serge Gnabry, Jamal Musiala, Sadio Mané and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting were the selected lineup.
It’s certainly hard to argue the results. Bayern would romp their way to victories in both match scoring a total of nine goals while only conceding two. More importantly it saw the Bavarian side clinch the top of their group in the Champions League and go top of the Bundesliga, at least temporarily as Union Berlin don’t play till Sunday.
After a month of struggling, especially in front of goal, Bayern are back on track. Gnabry and Mané especially seem to be hitting their stride with both being integral in both of the wins this week.
Gnabry has finally found his form after a long period of struggles early. He assisted all three goals against Barcelona midweek and scored the first against Mainz on Saturday. Mané meanwhile scored in both matches and set up several more in the Mainz match.
But honestly it goes beyond the statistics. Both players look more dangerous, more involved and the statistics are just the result of that.
Mané is still struggling a bit with his finishing but he looks a lot closer to figuring that out and has been making good decisions around the box overall creating quite a few chances.
Gnabry looks like the player we all know he can be when he’s on. He has been a player to watch every time the ball is at his feet over the last two weeks which has made Bayern significantly more effective and dangerous in the final third.
Part of me wonders how much a factor the introduction of Choupo-Moting has been to the resurgence of those two players, and Bayern as a whole.
It seems a bit too coincidental that Bayern have started to get results and return to form just as Choupo was introduced to the starting eleven.
The introduction of a striker who can provide even a bit of the quality and skills that the departed Lewandowski brought seems to have brought out the best in the remainder of the squad, especially the forwards.
They all look far more comfortable in their play, positioning and tactics. It also appears to have taken some of the pressure off of several of the players to be primary goal scorers, Mané and Gnabry in particular.
The question I think is how to balance things out when the team returns too full strength, assuming that happens. It seems unlikely that Nagelsmann and Bayern are going to continue playing Choupo as the primary striker for the remainder of the year.
So the question becomes, do Bayern go try to find a striker during the winter window? Or do the try to figure out the strikerless system that they were playing prior to Choupo’s introduction?
My money is on the later for this season but that also means that they probably need to return to that style of play sooner rather than later. As well as they are playing now, if they do not intend to continue with Choupo or another player as a more traditional striker, the team needs to lose that crutch and plow on with trying to figure out the new system.
It is going to be interesting to see how they proceed after the World Cup break. Injuries and health will obviously play a massive role but if they come back and struggle under the strikerless system again for a month, I think there is going to be a lot of pressure to put Choupo back up top and scrap that plan altogether.
Finally, it has to be said that the defense and midfield has also been significantly better these past few weeks. Upamecano and de Ligt have formed a very solid paring at the back. Davies has been fantastic on the left and Mazraoui has been very good himself on the right.
More importantly, Goretzka’s return has reminded us all of just how good a paring he and Kimmich are in the midfield. They form a very complimentary paring and have such a good understanding with one another.
Combined, those two units have really controlled matches in a way that we had not seen previously this season and maybe quite a bit longer than that. Even without Neuer in goal, there hasn’t been a lot of fear or hold your breath moments over the last few weeks.
The goals allowed to Mainz were both unfortunate. The first goal off the corner was just a very good shot in a nearly impossible to prevent or save situation. The second was just a complete blunder from Ulreich. But neither really strike me as a systemic problem or bigger overall issue.
Next up, Bayern host Inter for their final Champions League group stage match before traveling to Berlin to face Hertha at the weekend. Let’s hope this current run of form sees them through the next four games and into the World Cup break.