Bayern “Two Face” defeats Cologne 4-1
What might have looked like a fairly straightforward affair given both teams’ position in the Bundesliga table was a match that both teams took very seriously, especially Bayern: Cologne had not lost a home game under coach Markus Gisdol so far this season. Going by the form table of the last seven matchdays, the fixture was a meeting of the two strongest teams in the league.
The record champions’ lineup was therefore respectable. Hansi Flick has not shown himself to be a big fan of extreme rotation so far anyway. The interim coach is reluctant to make personnel changes, especially in defense. In comparison to the 0-0 draw against Leipzig, he only made one change to his team for the game against Cologne: Kingsley Coman replaced Leon Goretzka on the right wing, while Thomas Müller moved to the center. For the first time since the 4-0 win against Dortmund last autumn and only for the second time under Hansi Flick at all, Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman started a game together.
Markus Gisdol, too, did not have a lot of surprises up his sleeve. In a 4-2-3-1 formation, Mark Uth and Jhon Córdoba started in the central offensive positions, accompanied on the wings by Ismail Jakobs and Dominick Drexler, who we have introduced in the preview. So Cologne could be expected to focus on trying to hit Bayern on the break down the left side of the pitch, where they had identified Jérôme Boateng and Benjamin Pavard as potential weak links.
But there was little to be seen of a supposed weakness of Bayern in the first few minutes. They took control straight away while Cologne took to sitting deep and defending compactly. However, no later than the 3rd minute, Bayern delivered the first blow already. After creating an overload on the left flank, Thiago received the ball in a half-space position. From him, the ball went to Müller, who put it on first time to Lewandowski, who scored with an emphatic strike from an acute angle to make it 1-0.
As soon as the next attack, Bayern hit Cologne for the second time. This time, Coman with a dribble created an overload on the right wing and released Müller in the center. Via Lewandowski and again Müller the ball got back to Coman who knocked it in from close range. 2-0. A dream start for Bayern.
Only a few minutes later, Bayern struck for the third time. Cologne was seemingly still reeling from the previous two goals and Bayern knew how to capitalize on this. After a corner, the ball got to Serge Gnabry who wriggled himself free from two defenders and finished unerringly in the lower right-hand corner of the goal. 3-0.
At this point, the game seemed to be already over. Cologne did not gain a toehold, let alone a foothold in the game. Like a hot knife through butter, Bayern sliced through Cologne’s defense time and time again. In the 20th minute, it was Thiago’s turn to do so. He launched into a dribble over a good 20 meters and sought a finish. This time, however, Timo Horn was spared as the Spaniard could not properly connect with the ball and put the shot wide. For a brief spell, the game seemed to calm down. But Bayern soon picked up speed again and even Cologne now was able to take a more active role in the game, but without being able to develop a real threat.
The next time a goal seemed imminent was when Bayern initiated another quick attack via Müller and Gnabry, but the latter’s shot was denied by the crossbar (30′). Kimmich (37′) as well as Müller (45′) quite obviously did not want to score a fourth goal and so game went to half-time with a more than deserved 0-3 lead for the visitors.
The question for the second half was whether Bayern would be able to see the game out confidently this time around, having failed to do so repeatedly in recent games. The answer to this question was not long in coming as it did not even take a minute in the second half for the ball to lie in Manuel Neuer’s goal for the first time. Over Bayern’s right defensive side, Cologne managed to create a four against two numerical superiority around the penalty area. An unfortunate finish after a cross suddenly landed at the feet of Skhiri, who squared it to Córdoba, who scored for 1-3. However, after an intervention by VAR, the goal did not stand for Skhiri having been in an offside position.
Nevertheless, the game now took a different color. Cologne was able to put the ball dangerously into the visitors’ penalty area again and again, mostly by way of crosses. So too in the 55th minute, when the ball found itself in Bayern’s goal for the second time. Again it was Córdoba, and again there was an offside position involved, which this time was spotted directly.
More importantly, however, the two goals, despite being ruled out, proved once again that Bayern is seemingly unable to see out a game in cruise control after a furious start. Cologne would have more than deserved at least one goal after a good hour. Only narrow offside decisions and a last ditch save by Neuer (62′) prevented this scenario.
Only an individual action by Serge Gnabry was able to relax Bayern’s nerves temporarily. The German international pressed inside from the left wing, got past two defenders and scored the 4-0 lead with a nice finish into the far corner of the goal (66′). But this situation did not last long. Cologne got a goal back through Uth in the 70th minute, but did not manage to score a second time during the remainder of the game, even though they had best chances through Córdoba (78′) and Modeste (89′). It was only because of Neuer that the game did not become more exciting in the second half.
So again Bayern played a game of two halves. They could not have complained had the game taken a similar turn as that against Hoffenheim. And so, despite a clear 4-1 win, the question of “why?” remains.
Maybe it was because the match was basically over after just five minutes. First Lewandowski, then Coman – early on the score was 0-2 for Bayern and Cologne didn’t know their head from their tail. Thomas Müller played a big part in the furious opening phase. It was him who before both goals provided the link between midfield and attack. Like in his prime, Müller could be found everywhere on the pitch. He helped creating overloads, was the critical link in many of his side’s combinational plays and made one run after another to open up spaces for his teammates. Above all, however, he filled that playmaker role that one would have expected Philippe Coutinho to do during this season. Six key passes, two assists and the source of countless attacks – Müller continues to flourish under Flick.
But against the ball too Müller was a key actor in Bayern’s team. The 30-year-old organized the positioning of his teammates and worked tirelessly himself. For Lewandowski in particular, Müller was an important helper: while the “Raumdeuter” was on the move a lot, the Polish striker was able to take charge of the central playmaker position. Müller was the linchpin of his team in almost all phases and showed in an impressive way that he can be a game changer and also make his teammates in offense look even stronger.
Müller was everywhere but there were two other names that played a central role against Cologne too. With Gnabry and Coman on the pitch, Bayern was able to lend their game a completely different speed and dynamic, because Cologne did not have to concentrate on only one winger, but on two, and then also on the duo Müller/Lewandowski in the centre. This proved too much for them and right from the start they were overwhelmed.
The four offensive players constantly interchanged their positions, thus pulling Cologne’s defensive and midfield lines apart, and constantly opened up spaces which they then used to suddenly appear in and create havoc. One could call it an orderly chaos, of which Müller in particular was the key organizer.
In Bayern’s attacking game, it were often overloads that led to good chances. The first two goals can be taken as a blueprint. The three central midfielders Thiago, Kimmich, and Müller formed constant triangles with Coman, Gnabry, and the wide defenders on the wings. Cologne’s pressing was thus ineffective and Bayern consistently had an extra free player in the centre, which often gave them plenty of room to play out their attacks.
Cologne’s players wanted to put up a fight and tried to get into the challenges, but mostly failed miserably. They simply could not cope with the constant runs and immense work rate of Bayern’s attacking players. Once again, the difference in quality between teams from the bottom and the top of the league became apparent. This is more a statement of fact than an indictment of Cologne, but it serves to put the performance of Bayern in perspective. Especially the counter-attacking quality of the record champions was rarely put to the test by Cologne. And the few times it was, there were signs of problems.
In the second half, the picture seemed to change. Cologne was able to appear dangerously in front of Manuel Neuer’s goal several times. Once again Bayern failed to carry their imposing performance from the first half over to the second half. The substitutions of Corentin Tolisso and Lucas Hernández could not have been the only reason for this. And so the record-breaking champions will be well advised to keep an eye on staiblizing their second-half performances during the rest of the season.
Nevertheless: the fastest 0-3 away lead in Bayern’s Bundesliga history, a furious Müller in his beloved “Raumdeuter” role, two wingers who bring speed to the game and a perfectly integrated world-class Lewandowski in the center. The first half set standards once again. It almost seems as if Flick has found his Champions League team for the two contests with Chelsea. This is particularly bitter for Leon Goretzka, who has been convincing in recent weeks, but today he had to watch how Muller put in a special performance in all respects. But to have such alternatives on the bench is a luxury that Flick will appreciate and urgently need for achieving his goals for the season.
In defense, Lucas Hernández will most likely be given the opportunity to impress his coach next weekend against Paderborn. Boateng got his fifth yellow card and will have to sit out the game. The same applies to Benjamin Pavard, so either Álvaro Odriozola will get his chance or Kimmich will return to his old role at right-back. However, with Chelsea in mind, Pavard is likely to remain at right-back. All the other players, on the other hand, seem to be getting themselves in shape just in time for the round of sixteen against Chelsea. As things stand now, Bayern have built a good platform. At least for the first 45 minutes.
Neuer kept Bayern’s comfortable lead intact several times. Without his once again great performance the game might well have taken a different turn. In any case, the latent, recurring discussions about his sporting performance seem to have died down for now.