Bayern win Ugly in Moscow
Well, Bayern did manage to come away with a victory but only the most pessimistic or massochistic fans would have predicted just how ugly it would be. Things didn’t start off that bad however as Leon Goretzka scored in the 13th minute to put the Bavarians ahead 0-1. However, play following that early goal steadily declined throughout the match. Bayern missed multiple chances to put this match away and luckily for them, Lokomotiv missed all of theirs…until the 70th minute when Anton Miranchuk leveled the match. This was on the back of several extremely good chances that the Moscow side managed to miss, but was hardly against the run of play.
Lokomotiv continued to push the Munich side and had several more chances before Joshua Kimmich in a moment of brilliance stole the game for Bayern. He took in an over hit pass that bounced into the air and instead of playing it off to a teammate, he turned and volleyed it into the bottom left corner. Lokomotiv would have several more chances, including one immediately following the restart after Kimmich’s goal, but it wasn’t meant to be and the Munich side hung on to win 1-2.
I don’t think there are many people who would have predicted the line up of this match to mirror that of the one that faced Atletico a week earlier but that is exactly what we got. While many may have expected only 1 change from that side, that one change seemed very important to how Bayern would play. It was expected last week that Tolisso may play and Thomas Müller may move wide. Gnabry was out with a positive COVID test. Sané was out with injury. Costa had just come into the team and it was the biggest match to date. Hansi was forced to work with what he had.
That was not the case tonight. Maybe you couldn’t rely on Sané or Gnabry for 90 minutes. But both of them could surly have played 45. While Costa was maybe not the best option against Atletico, surely he has enough against Lokomotiv Moscow. Corentin Tolisso’s inclusion therefore seems like an odd choice. Yes Bayern were successful against Atletico, but his inclusion disrupts Bayern’s play in so many different facets because of what it does to Thomas Müller.
Not having Müller in the center of the attack throws a wrench into several different key areas for Bayern. First of all his movements and understanding with Lewandowski helps the striker to find more space himself. This is a big reason why the two of them lead the league and most of Europe in Goals and Assists last season. Secondly, Muller is the leader in pressing the opposition when the ball is lost. Without him in the center pushing and hounding the opponents, everyone else seems to take that little extra off the gas peddle.
Lastly, Thomas Müller for all of his strengths is not a winger. He does not provide the danger in that position that any of those other options do. He does not have extraordinary pace. He is not a great crosser. He doesn’t provide a ton of width. And he’s not well known for being a great striker of long shots. Yes he can play as a winger in a pinch, but when you have 3 other options sitting on the bench, it is very hard to understand why you would force this square peg into that round hole.
While this maybe easy to understand, if you are a reasonable human being, the Bayern players looked worn out and somewhat disinterested tonight. Facing a team you are expected to beat is always a tricky and tough challenge. It’s much easier to get excited for big matches when all the lights are on you and you’re facing big time star players. These types of matches however are the ones that you really have to push yourself and dig deep for. And teams like Lokomotiv Moscow are aware of that. They know they can make a tough game even tougher by being physical and hitting them when they least expect it.
Bayern are going to have a lot more of these games this season. There will be a lot of matches in the Bundesliga that will feel like trudging up a mountain in 8 feet of snow. But they’re going to have to get used to it. The fixture list is not getting any more spaced out. The expectations are not going to decrease. Hansi Flick and the coaching staff are going to have to find ways to get the players the physical and mental rest that they need in very short pockets of time. Whether they are ultimately able to do that will likely determine just how successful Bayern are this season.
The good news is that they won. Winning tough/ugly matches is something every champion has to do. They escaped this one by the skin of their teeth but now it’s time for them to get ready for Saturday’s match at Köln before traveling to Salzburg in a week. I would expect to see things look a little more normal in terms of squad selection in those coming matches. Sané and Gnabry should be getting back to fitness. Müller and Goretzka both received some needed rest in the second half tonight, so presumably it should be all hands on deck.
Also despite a largely lackluster performance there were a few bright spots as well. Alaba and Süle both had reasonably good games covering up for a few mistakes by pure hustle. Goretzka and Pavard teamed up for a very memorable opening goal. Kimmich made up for a largely forgettable match by scoring the match winner in fantastic fashion. And Neuer was as solid as ever, wondering around his half of the pitch in search of any way to kick a ball. Hopefully after a flight home and some rest in their own beds for a few nights, they’ll be refreshed and ready to play on Saturday.