Bayern win 3-1 against Freiburg: The Zirkzee of life
But let us take it from the beginning. Coach Hansi Flick die not have a lot of personnel choices at his disposal to catch his counterpart Christian Streich unawares with his starting lineup. Accordingly, his selection was rather predictable.
Boateng and Martinez were the only two remaining established players on Bayern’s bench, the rest of whom were part of the starting eleven. Kimmich moved to right-back, Pavard and Alaba started at center-back. Thiago was the pivot in defensive midfield, Müller, Coutinho, Perišić, Gnabry and Lewandowski were meant to supply the goals in attack.
Streich played along and did not come up with any surprises himself as well. His team played an intense midfield, and sometimes offensive, pressing in a formation fluidly interchanging between a 3-4-3 and 4-4-2.
Bayern entered the game in a similarly aggressive fashion as they have grown accustomed to doing in recent weeks. It did only take them seconds before Coutinho was through on goal for the first time. Freiburg’s defense managed to clear his chip ball over Freiburg’s goalkeeper before it could cross the line (1′). Only five minutes later, Pavard failed to convert a header after a Bayern corner (6′).
In the early stages, Flick’s team was alert and stable in defense on retreat. Freiburg’s versatile pressing also did not manage to put them off their stride. On the contrary, Bayern several times expertly managed to play through their pressing.
So the signs were there and, indeed, Bayern finally managed to score the opening goal in the 16th minute. Freiburg had won the ball and was in the middle of their offensive transition when Thiago was alive enough to recover the ball. Via Neuer the ball got to the left flank where two passes later Davies had a lot of open pitch in front of him which he used to push through to the goal line and drive a square cross in the penalty area where Lewandowski had an easy time scoring the goal to make it 1-0 (16′). It was a deserved lead for a strong individual and collective performance thus far.
Unlike many a game previously in recent weeks, Bayern this time kept on playing. Lewandowski (21′) and Coutinho (23′) missed up on two more half chances. After 26 minutes, Bayern had a 76% ball possession rate and eight shots on goal whereas Freiburg had just two, both of which were tame efforts
Around the 30th minute, Freiburg had longer periods in possession for the first time, and it did not take long for them to have their first big chance. Neuer, however, parried the shot by Höler (31′). A few minutes later, Freiburg had another dangerous chance close to Bayern’s goal. They played their way through on Davies’ side, but Grifo missed with a volley from an open position (37′). The game was now much more balanced.
In the 39th minute, a long-range shot by Coutinho that only narrowly missed the goal also equaled the first threat on goal Bayern had created for several minutes. Towards the end of the first half, the action calmed down a bit. And so the scoreline remained at 1-0 for the interval.
The second half picked up where the first had left off. Bayern managed to calm the game down a bit, but Freiburg was the better team and was able to set one or two highlights. One of these was Grifo’s equalizer in the 59th minute. Once again, Freiburg broke through on Davies’s left side and their cross found Grifo in the center whose shot left Neuer with no chance. 1-1 (59′).
In the following, Freiburg was the better team and created three more presentable chances within just three minutes. Flick reacted quickly and brought on Javi Martínez for Thomas Müller (63′). That had the desired effect of calming down the match immediately. Nevertheless, Freiburg remained on an equal footing. Bayern had difficulties to recover the panache with which they began the game.
A goal would certainly have helped, but Bayern’s efforts were denied in the 78th minute when Gnabry scored, but Lewandowski right next to him was in an offside position and his presence in the six yard atea was judged to have had an influence on the goalkeeper. Now in the final stages, the game was so open that it was hard to predict the outcome.
Freiburg remained dangerous and always had good ideas, especially in tight situations. Bayern, on the other hand, continued to find it difficult to create chances. Their performance was very reminiscent of the old times decades ago when the record champions did not use to dominate the league at will.
But Bayern should still have two aces up their sleeves. In second half stoppage time, it was for substitute Joshua Zirkzee to clinch his team the victory (90’+2). Shortly afterwards, Gnabry finally sealed the match (90’+5). The final 1-3 scoreline did little justice to the course of the game. After a strong first half hour by Bayern, Freiburg improved markedly and would have deserved a draw in the end. The “infogol” app calculated around 2.2 expected Goals for Freiburg and 4.5 for Bayern, with the two goals in the dying minutes alone amounting to around 0.8. Freiburg was close. And that alone should give Bayern something to think about.
When David Alaba needed a bit of treatment in the first half, Hansi Flick likely briefly suffered from a bout of intense perspiration. The Austrian is one of the most important players for Bayern at the moment. His speed is an invaluable asset against the pace-based counter attacking strategies deployed by so many Bundesliga teams nowadays, and his vision in possession ensures successful ball transitions from the first to the second third. Bayern was able to move the ball upfield through skillful combinational plays several times against Freiburg following a brilliant initial move by Alaba. Sometimes he uses his dribbling skills to cleverly cover the distance to the opponent midfield players, but sometimes he also passes the ball out to Davies and then moves in such a way that he draws out his opponents to open up space for a diagonal pass by the left-back. Alaba plays with confidence, he hardly makes any mistakes and he is a reliable quantity on and off the ball. Currently, he even is a player who is able to make a difference.
But the fact that the left-back by trade can put in such a convincing performance at center-back is also due to the fact that there is someone who plays in his original position who is a very similar kind of player to him. Clearly, Alphonso Davies is not a one-to-one replacement for Alaba, given that he is a winger by trade. But the Canadian brings an incredible dynamism to Bayern’s attacking game and is even more explosive in his actions than his Austrian teammate. His energy going forward is even more overwhelming than Alaba’s. But there are also parallels: Like the young Alaba, Davies is bristling with self-confidence and courage. A mistake? No problem, he will just go on and do better next time. And he grows from his setbacks. His development over the last few weeks has been remarkable. If there is one thing he could learn from Alaba, it is how to strike a balance between offense and defense. Here, the 19-year-old sometimes still lacks the right positioning to be able to anticipate and intercept counterattacks in time.
Against Freiburg, Bayern confirmed their recent trend of mainly carrying the ball forward via vertical give and go combinations. This means that during build-up play a player plays a vertical pass upfield that is immediately deflected back into an open half-space by the recipient. Usually, there is another Bayern player waiting there who now has the game in front of him. Shifting the play from the outside to the inside also often works according to this mechanism. An example: Gnabry plays the ball to Lewandowski who has gone short and now deflects the ball sideways thus allowing Gnabry to move into a more central position. Such combinations had occurred before Flick took over, but they have become far more regular and successful since.
If everything goes according to plan, Bayern can hardly be stopped. They also dictated the game for long phases against Freiburg. But Hansi Flick’s team still lacks the ability to consistently control a game. Many attacking moves are susceptible to immediate, threatening counterattacks if the ball is lost, and the ensuing chaos is more likely to harm the record champions than help their cause. Freiburg saw too much of the game around the 30th minute and the time of the equalizer, because Bayern failed to calm the game down in possession. Rather, they sacrificed precision and control for urgency and haste. Their overly rushing things brought Freiburg back into the game needlessly. Sometimes it is better to move your opponent around a little bit before you look for the deep pass upfield. Bayern, however, seek the most direct route upfield almost every time they have the ball, thus making the game a spectacular end-to-end affair, but also bringing about too many unnecessary turnovers. The capability to slow down the game in possession at times would be a valuable asset to have for Hansi Flick’s side.
Points 3 and 4 are related to an extent, but it is striking that so far this season Bayern have not been able to react adequately when the game suddenly alters its complexion. Whether it is a tactical adjustment by the opponent, a setback in the form of conceded goals or a sudden lack of precision in their game – Bayern only performs reliably when everything is running smoothly and rarely gets back on track fast enough once it does not. Their opponents have realized this, too, and, like Freiburg, believe in their chance right to the end. During the winter break, the coaching team will have a lot of work to do here. It will need treatment at such a fundamental level that the break might not even be long enough. But maybe the late victory against Freiburg will give Bayern a positive start on the long way they still have to go.
Even the two late victory clinching goals do not change the thrust of this criticism. But it is nevertheless extremely gratifying that one of them was scored by Joshua Zirkzee. He already had some promising moments after coming on late against Tottenham. Against Freiburg, his goal salvaged all three points for Bayern and spared them some embarrassing blushes in the coming days. Zirkzee is a great talent and could play an important role as a backup for Robert Lewandowski in the medium term. The fact that he has not scored for Bayern’s second team in the third division so far (where he mainly plays) and only has two assists to his name is also due to the fact that he is often used as a central playmaker behind center-forward Wriedt, who is the team’s regular goal scorer. But the future belongs to Zirkzee. Maybe the goal will help him to gain more trust with Hansi Flick.