3-0! Bayern claims first place against Red Star
Niko Kovač rotated his starting eleven in just a few positions compared to the weekend match against Leipzig.
Ivan Perišić started instead of Serge Gnabry, Corentin Tolisso assumed the holding position in midfield next to Thiago while Joshua Kimmich returned to his accustomed right-back position. Coutinho got the nod ahead of Thomas Müller as the central playmaker and Benjamin Pavard was preferred to Jerome Boateng in the center of defense. As expected, the visitors from Belgrade began in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Marko Marin as the director of play in the central playmaker position.
The game began the way that most games with a clear favorite against a weak outsider usually do: Bayern enjoyed the majority of the ball while Red Star was looking for defensive stability from a very deep position. Consequently, Bayern looked to be in total control with most of the possession and almost all of the game taking place in Red Star’s half. Yet despite their optical superiority, their game lacked the necessary depth to allow them to create many dangerous chances and so their overwhelming possession remained fruitless at first.
In the first 20 minutes, Bayern had seven shots on goal, six of which were completely harmless. The seventh opportunity was a header by Perišić, and even that was a half chance at best. Just as Bayern finally seemed to get a hold of the game, the visitors entered their best phase. This brought about a wild period in the game between the 25th and 30th minute where Red Star had a few good chances on the break after Bayern had needlessly squandered possession a few times.
Bayern’s salvation came in the 34th minute: with a high risk interception in defense, Manuel Neuer initiated a Bayern counter attack. The ball got to Perišić on the left-hand side who got past his defender and played a well timed chipped cross to Coman who came bearing down at pace on Red Star’s goal, which he emphatically converted making it 1-0 for Bayern. The goal initiated Bayern’s best phase in the first half in which much of the game went through Coutinho, who was at the center of a number of lovely combinations. Yet, despite their best efforts, a second goal remained elusive for Bayern before half time.
The second half picked up where the first had left off. Bayern continued to have the majority of the ball and Red Star kept sitting back and waiting for mistakes by Bayern. Bayern missed several good opportunities to put the game to bed in the early stages of the second half. Meanwhile, their opponents from Belgrade enjoyed a few good moments of their own. Among them was Red Star’s biggest chance of the game which came in the 78th minute. Marko Marin’s well aimed shot beat Neuer but went just wide of the right goal post. Neither Martinez nor Gnabry, both of whom came on in the 65th minute for Tolisso and Perišić, could significantly influence the momentum of the match.
Even though Bayern was the better team throughout, there remained the lingering impression that it would only take one decisive action by Red Star for them to score the equaliser. It took 80 minutes of game time before Lewandowski put an end to such fears by scoring a scruffy second goal for Bayern after a botched one-two with Gnabry.
If Swiss reporting legend Marcel Reif had called the game, he arguably would have used his staple phrase that “the circus has come to town”. For this to have happened, Bayern’s performance was neither spectacular nor convincing enough. Yet the game did have one last moment of inspiration. Thomas Müller, who had come on in the 81st minute for Coutinho, scored from a training ground routine. Bayern won a free kick which Thiago chipped over the wall of Red Star defenders right into the foot of Müller, who had escaped Red Star’s attention and charged down past the wall into the penalty box. He took the ball first time, leaving Red Star’s goalkeeper no chance and scored the final Bayern goal. The 3-0 puts Bayern atop their group table.
The bottom line is an obligatory Bayern win which confirmed some of the good impressions from the match against Leipzig but also highlighted some areas where more work is still needed.
It was evident that Bayern tried to create chances by combinations through the middle and vertical passes in behind rather than relying on crosses. But they lacked the requisite patience in execution to render this strategy successful. Before their first goal especially, there were plenty of situations where they were looking for a finish too quickly instead of keeping their calm and waiting for a critical gap in their opponent’s defense. Bayern put cross after cross into the penalty area but to little avail. All 18 first half chances together had a combined expected goal(xG) value of 1.35, most of which was claimed by Coman’s headed goal.
Bayern continued to rush things in the second half. At the final whistle, they had accumulated 33 attempts on goal, 16 of which came from outside the penalty area. “Infogol’s” xG metric counted just 4 goal attempts with a conversion probability of 25% or more, among them were all three of Bayern’s goals. Arguably, Bayern could have exerted more and more consistent pressure throughout the match if they had played out their chances more patiently.
Nevertheless, their efforts showed promise. The ever present Coutinho frequently managed to open up spaces between the lines and create beautiful combinations. But a slight note of edginess seemed to prevent better chances as Bayern’s game was often hasty or lacked precision. Not every chance has to end with a half-hearted cross. Bayern would benefit from keeping their cool more often and looking for fewer but more worthwhile finishes. This is something they will have to work on in order to compete with Champions League opposition of better quality than Red Star. Nevertheless, 3.65 xG is not too shabby against a team that was parking not one but two double-decker buses in their penalty area.
Couthino was one of the few Bayern players who was not impatient. In hindsight, it would probably have been better if he had waived some of his attempts from distance in favor of a few more of his excellent passes, but that is how he plays the game. And his long-range shots were not too bad after all. His combination play was particularly good. He covered a lot of ground in in the center, always looked to create triangles and diamonds with his teammates and was a real boon to Bayern’s positional play.
Additionally, he did not restrict his actions to the natural central playmaker’s area. He frequently dropped off and supported Thiago in the build-up. He consistently tried to minimize the distances to the players around him, was always willing to run the extra mile and displayed impressive creativity in linking up with his teammates. It was not least due to him and his involvement in the game that Bayern did not rely as heavily on crosses as they usually do. Lewandowski in particular benefited from Coutinho’s involvement as he received more passes to his feet than the barrage of crosses he usually gets.
Coutinho continually played low, vertical passes to him before swiftly moving up into a free space to allow Lewandowski to immediately return the ball to him. This combination of forward pass, followed by a deflection back was a tactic that Bayern had already used against Leipzig to good effect. Coutinho’s technical skills take this pattern to another level. If one were inclined to look for the fly in the ointment, you could say that he often sat a little bit too deep. In some situations, he was nearly standing on Thiago and Tolisso toes. Without a doubt however, such initial kinks will be ironed out as the season progresses.
Bayern added a few new faces to their French legion in the summer. Apart from Mikael Cuisance, all of them played against Red Star: Coman, Tolisso, Hernández, and Pavard. Not all of them had an equally good night though. While Pavard did well in defense and was able to add an occasional spark to Bayern’s offense, Coman was a constant troublemaker in attack. Bayern’s premier winger is as strong at quick combinations as he is at taking on the opponent one-on-one. He has also improved his decision making of late. He is making a lot of clever decisions during the game. He was another player who was not affected by the general impatience mentioned above. He broke up plays when it is the wise thing to do and took risks when the reward seemed worth it. He has also become a real goal threat at the moment. In his last 15 competitive games for Bayern, he has been involved 15 goals.
Hernández on the other hand proved once again that he is not an equal replacement for David Alaba at left-back. However, he is generally solid defensively and joins in on the offensive action at times. He is a centre-back able to fill in as left-back when needed without too much cause for concern. Having this quality, he must already be considered an improvement for Bayern in this position.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Tolisso. He has had significant difficulties getting back to his pre-injury form after a lengthy time away from the game. Once more, his poor decision making stood out, especially when compared to Thiago and Coutinho. He more than once put unnecessary pressure on Perišić by switching play to him thoughtlessly and he never quite got involved in Bayern’s combination play. Tolisso will have to take a big step forward in the coming weeks and months if he harbors any hopes of regularly making the first eleven.
Unfortunately, Bayern did not just display deficiencies in their tactical performance (point 1) and individual performances (points 2 and 3). They also exhibited quite a few lapses of concentration throughout the match. It was clear that they were not a the same level mentally as they were against Leipzig on the weekend. There were a number of counter attacks by Red Star in the second half where Bayern rather looked like an honor guard than the opposing team. They only came away from this unscathed because the Serbian side were not skillful enough to punish these mistakes. Nevertheless, Bayern should be aware of their tendency to not be mentally present and switching off at times in order to not become easy pray for better opposition in the rest of the season.