Gaining Ground, Dropping Points
Off the field a little good news trickled in as Manuel Neuer returned to action and reports of both Leon Goretzka and Alphonso Davies are on the road to recovery as well, though neither will likely be a factor in the coming weeks. On the field, was a bit of a different story however.
Bayern v RB Salzburg
For the return leg of their round of 16 Champions League matchup with Salzburg, Julian Naglesmann chose to return to a back three. Neuer started in goal with Benjamin Pavard, Niklas Süle and Lucas Hernández in defense. Joshua Kimmich and Jamal Musiala started in the double pivot with an attacking line of Serge Gnabry, Thomas Müller, Leroy Sané and Kingsley Coman playing just behind striker Robert Lewandowski.
After a tough first leg and some real struggles over recent weeks, there were genuine questions in some minds as to whether Bayern would actually make it past their closest Austrian neighbors. However, an 12th minute penalty threw a massive wrench into any plans for Salzburg.
Lewandowski of course would step up and bury the penalty to make it 1-0, however he was just getting started. In the 21st minute he was awarded another penalty, which he converted 2-0 and just a minute after that, he scored from open play as the keeper hit the ball of the striker then ricocheted off the bar directly to Lewandowski for the easy tap in and finish to his hattrick.
Thus the match was essentially over by the 22nd minute. However, this is Bayern and they usually are not satisfied to rest, even when taking a massive lead. In the 31st minute, Gnabry would add a fourth to send Bayern into the half with 4-0 lead.
The second half didn’t ultimately prove much more difficult than the first. Müller would add to the score in the 54th minute with an excellent strike from the top of the box. Salzburg would get one back in the 70th minute as Maurits Kjærgaard scored to make it 5-1. However, it was little more than a cosolation prize as Müller added a sixth in the 83rd minute and Leroy Sane added the seventh in 85th to finish the scoring 7-1.
Hoffenheim v Bayern
Following the romping success during the week, Nagelsmann sent out the exact same lineup to face TSG Hoffenheim on Saturday. This match however would go very differently.
Bayern actually dominated play for the first half hour but it would ultimately be Hoffenheim who got on the board first thanks to a bit of luck and some poor defensive work. However, Bayern would not capitulate on the day and managed to get one back right before the half thanks to a perfect corner kick from Kimmich to Lewandowski who buried it with a header 1-1.
Bayern continued to play well in the second half and had a plethora of opportunities but luck was not with them on the day. Müller in particular was left extremely frustrated having scored two offsides goals and having another miraculously saved off the line. In the end, neither side could find a winner and the match ended 1-1.
Three Things We Noticed
I love it when a team makes me eat my words and Bayern did just that this week. Despite the frustration on Saturday, this team showed far more mental strength than they had in the previous month. The response against Salzburg was huge.
It was helped by an early goal and things went relatively easy from there but still it was a huge response and statement that no one can over look Bayern regardless of how things look. While some will be annoyed by Bayern pouring on goals when things were so clearly finished, it showed me that they still have that desire and drive to perform to their max no matter the situation.
Saturday however was what really made me believe they have turned a corner. Despite a lot of things that didn’t go right. Despite some bad luck. Despite going down a goal after playing better than their opponent, Bayern never gave up. They never let it affect their game. They got their leveler just before the half and were easily the better team for second half. All in all, it was a massive improvement.
Having A Week
Lewandowski is no stranger to praise on this blog but he had definitely been in a drought, for him, over the last few weeks. Tuesday however changed that. While several have dismissed his hat trick due to two of them coming from the penalty spot, it ignores the fact that he actually won both penalties as well.
In both matches, the communication and movement amongst the front five was significantly improved over what we had seen for most of this calendar year. Most importantly, Lewandowski felt more naturally involved and Sané seemed to figure out his role better.
Four goals in two matches is a record any striker can be proud of, even someone in the form Lewandowski has been in for the last few years. Saturday saw the striker score his 29th league goal, a number not too long ago would have been in line for the Torjägerkanone at the end of the season. With things getting slightly better and players potentially returning, it’s not impossible that he could be looking to get back to back 40 goal seasons, something that I would have never dreamed possible.
This week saw quite a few improvements. Nagelsmann seems to have finally found a way to make the back three work. While there were still some iffy moments, overall it was a much more stable defense than had been seen in recent weeks.
Coman, Sané and Gnabry put in more work on the defensive end. Kimmich and Musiala formed a better more stable midfield. Pavard, Süle and Hernández have benefited from their play which has allowed them to be better positioned and more secure.
The attack as mentioned has also significantly progressed over where they were a few weeks ago when playing with a five man attack. All of this contributed to the increase in confidence and generally improved performances over the week.
Hopefully that will continue into upcoming performances. They’ll have a week to get ready for Union Berlin next Saturday before heading into another international break.
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Sorry but have to disagree…I do not see any “improvement”… I only see an amazing squad that keeps singing the same old sad, arrogant, naive tune…keep possession…back pass, side pass, slow down the game, wait for the opposition to plant a forest in front of their box…yawn yawn yawn…make mistakes and get punished on the counter. This combined with the scrooge like front office and hiring a super talented YOUNG trainer that is out of his depth with a football world power and we are now BvB die Zweite…a selling club, not a CL contender.
Wow! Two hot takes. I’ll stay somewhere in the middle. While there has been some improvement, I don’t know if the team has truly “turned the corner”. I thought the match against Salzburg was as much about their capitulation after the second penalty as our improved play. The Hoffenheim match just reinforced that to me. Naglesball is still TBD for me and I find his lack of flexibility pretty concerning. I also find the reported issues with the squad depth to be merely a lot of distraction from the real issues and a way to deflect from his own inadequacies (while I don’t know that this noise has directly come from the coach, it seems to be coming from somewhere). The bench has some quality. I didn’t rate all the first teamers on Leipzig and Hoffenheim as class and he was able to work with them, and I don’t see guys like Roca and Richards far off from that group. Further suggesting they are the reason you can’t get past the likes of Frankfurt and Augsberg, is weak sauce (as the kids say).
I’ve noted JN becoming a bit prickly when his methods are questioned in the press, which is an unfortunate way to go. I’d recommend that he not get defensive when folks call him out on how he’s not doing his job as well as he should, because….he’s not. (Though it’s clear he could care less about said recommendation.)
To me the last week is a clear improvement in term of how the team play. Better organization, better attack spacing and movement, better precision and better pressing. Whether or not they have turned the corner perhaps we need to wait at least until tonight, or even after the international break to verify? Though I do hope so and I think so. The fact that the gap is now only 4pts makes the race suddenly much more exciting. And we’re still in the Champions League, with a rather favorable draw.
I may sound defensive for Nagelsmann, but please do not forget this is his very first season at Bayern, and at the very top level (if we consider Leipzig not belong to this group). You may think maintaining the “daily bread” of Bayern (a.k.a leading the Bundesliga and being alive in Europe when spring comes) is easy and automatic because of the team’s individual class, but it’s not. Just ask Carlo Ancelotti or Niko Kovac. Bayern’s bench perhaps in not that inferior to Leipzig’s, name for name, yes, but pressure and the system requirements are vastly different. With all due respect to Leipzig, I would say my job is much easier, if you give me 20 more or less similar quality wooden pieces, and ask me to make a decent furniture, than 12-13 excellent ones, and 5-6 meh pieces, asking to make an award winning piece of furniture. The comparison might not really kae sense, but my point is, squad depth comparison is much more than simple names. Also, while some of us complain about Nagelsmann’s lack of flexibility (or rather his “stubbornness” in sticking with 3-men defense and 5-men attack?), some see him making too much tinkering and not simply keeping what worked last year.
Other circumstances leading to Bayern’s problems have been repeatedly pointed out here in Miasanrot and while Nagelsmann certainly shares one of them, and I would like to ask him a few questions if he suddenly showed up and had a coffee with me this morning, I would certainly see him as a very potentially good appointment of Bayern, and certainly I’m willing to wait for at least another season before jumping to any conclusion.
Barring a hypothetically uninspired performance vs Villarreal and getting knocked out, which I think rather less likely, winning the Bundesliga and getting at least to the semi final of the CL, always pass as successful in my book, with any coach, any team, even for Bayern’s standard, especially if that goes along with exciting football.
Now please beat Union Berlin so I wouldn’t have to eat my words ;-)