Victory Against Salzburg Sees Bayern Advance
After the tie last weekend against Werder Bremen, Bayern was looking to bounce back in the Champions League match against Leipzig farm team RB Salzburg. Due to the fresh injury of Hernandez, Flick gave Chris Richards a starting spot in the back four. The triple coach also brought in summer signing Marc Roca to play next to Leon Goretzka. Finally a chance for the Spaniard to showcase his skills. The offense saw Gnabry and Coman flank Müller and Lewandowski in the center.
While others were waiting on the new MacBook Pro with the M1 chip, tactic nerds and Bayern supporters like me were waiting for Hansi Flick to unleash Marc Roca. The young Spaniard joined Munich on the last days of the transfer window. But Flick was sure to introduce him slowly into the squad with Roca playing just one game and that one in the Pokal against lower-tier Düren. Especially with the injury of Kimmich and the hole in central midfield glaring, everyone was expecting Roca to become more of a regular.
So all eyes were on the 23-year old, who turns 24 on Thanksgiving thursday, for his Champions League debut. Roca played a more than solid game. With the ball he is a great distributor having a good feeling for open space and the right speed with which to pass. In the first half he completed 43/44 passes. Without the ball you would like him to move a little smarter. Sometimes he dropped too deep between the center backs, which left Boateng and Alaba without an option to move the ball forward. Other times he hid in the shadow of attacking Salzburg players. All things considered, he filled the role in the center way better than Martinez on the weekend and should definitely be considered by Flick going forward.
However, the day ended in the worst way possible. Roca was sent off after a second yellow in the 66th minute. Two dumb fouls cast a shadow over an otherwise really good debut.
Despite all the efforts of Roca and the relentless Leon Goretzka, Bayern’s offense has been slow to get going since the national team break. Without any connection of the attacking and defending third, the Reds struggled to create any chances through the center. On the wings Pavard and Richards couldn’t support the offensive wingers and so a lot of times the attacks ended in long distance shots or ill-advised crosses. The once deadly combinations and almost blind automatisms of earlier this season seem to be lacking their dreaded edge. It will be one of Flicks bigger tasks to come up with a better offensive game plan for the next matches.
In the first half especially, Bayern once more struggled against Salzburg’s high line of pressure. The Reds had difficulties getting the ball past this first wave of defense as Richards and Alaba needed some time to get on the same page. This resulted in Richards losing some balls and Alaba playing some horrific passes. Both of these ended in clear cut chances for the Austrians. The aggressive pressure also hindered Bayern to take control of the match themselves.
Just like in almost every other game this season, the opposing side was most difficult when they got with speed behind Munich’s back four. Bayern keep on defending zones rather than individual players and that is why those players keep on escaping in the defenders back. A high risk approach.
But you can play this high risk approach, when you have Manuel Neuer guarding your goal. The world-class keeper had another strong match, even though he failed again to keep a clean sheet for the sixth consecutive match. Whenever he was needed tonight, he proved to be the anchor of the defense. Several of his reflexes saved chances, that would have been almost safe goals with any other keeper.
It seems hardly underreported, but Robert Lewandowski made some more history moving to the first spot on the all-time Champions League scoring list for humans. I mean Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are just in a league of their own, even for our Polish striker. His opening goal tied Lewandowski with Raul at 71 goals, his next goal would move him past the Real Madrid legend.