Bayern Outlast Gladbach
Bayern opened the scoring after a huge mistake by Jan Sommer who seemed to pass the ball directly to Joshua Zirkzee who took it with his first touch and buried it in the open goal. However, Gladbach would get one back thanks to an own goal by Benjamin Pavard in what was really just an unfortunate situation for the Frenchman. Finally, Leon Goretzka put the Reds up for good on a nicely assisted cross from Pavard to make it 2-1.
As mentioned above, Hansi Flick was forced into several changes by the absences of Lewandowski and Müller. However he also took the opportunity to give Davies and Coman a little rest meaning that there were quite a few changes for such a big match. Lucas Hernandez started at left back, Serge Gnabry resumed his spot on the right wing and Joshua Zirkzee and Michaël Cuisance started in place of Lewandowski and Müller.
While he had no choice but to make some changes, the sheer volume of them in this case was perhaps ill advised. Sitting Davies and starting Cuisance especially seemed like risky choices. However, you also have to give him credit for taking a chance on playing younger players. Too often in recent years, the younger squad players have had no opportunity to play for the first team.
In reality, both of the younger players had reasonably decent games in their own right as well. Zirkzee scored the opening goal and did a very good job in holding the ball up and moving around the box. Cuisance was also very active, especially in the first half, and put himself in dangerous positions several times while also providing a few excellent passes into the box. However, there were also plenty of mistakes. The control, positioning and polish were clearly a grade below the Bayern regulars. Coupled with the other changes, it created huge problems in link up play.
These problem manifested all over the pitch. While Lucas, Gnabry and Perisic can hardly be called replacements, the simple fact is that they are either not regulars in those positions (Lucas and Perisic) or have had injuries (Lucas and Gnabry). When you combine that with starting two inexperienced players at the core of your attack, it naturally will lead to problems.
One of the primary being that it significantly narrowed the pitch. With both Lucas and Perisic playing on the left, two players who are somewhat more naturally inclined to move inward, the left wing seemed to be completely unused. You would think that this would lead to more attacks down the right, but Pavard does not have the dynamism of Davies and Gnabry was both coming off a back injury and likes to move centrally at times himself. The result was that for large portions of the first 60 minutes, Gnabry and Perisic were completely forgettable and nearly every attack went through the middle. To make things worse, it also removed the wide spaces as an outlet for easing the pressure that Gladbach were putting them under.
The problems didn’t stop there however. There is also the unfamiliarity with the players to contend with. Passes from players who are normally so excellent were late, behind their targets or generally misplaced. Players like Kimmich who are machine like in the placement of their passes looked as though they were mere mortals. It became obvious on several occasions that the movement of the forward players was simply unfamiliar to the midfielders and defenders and many balls were misplayed as a direct result of this disconnect. This general lack of chemistry would remain an issue throughout the match, even when the inevitable changes were made.
In the 62nd minute, Hansi Flick did what I think all Bayern supporters expected he would do from the beginning and brought on Alphonso Davies and Kingsley Coman for Lucas Hernandez and Michaël Cuisance. The difference in how Bayern looked following these two changes was palpable. Bayern almost immediately looked far more dangerous and in very quick succession created several very good opportunities which they just failed to convert.
However, even these changes couldn’t correct all of the issues in a day where the players were frustrated for so long. Those passes and connections never really returned in this match and Bayern still struggled to create the opportunities that they needed to win. Despite that, Bayern still regained control of a match that Gladbach had dominated in large part for the first 60 minutes. The goal that Leon Goretzka scored to win the match did not feel undeserved and came from hard, labored, work by Benjamin Pavard, which is exactly what this entire match felt like. It was a sloppy, labored and exhausting match, even for spectators, and could really only be won by resilience and hard work.
Despite the performance in this match, I would hesitate to take away much going forward. It was a unique match in which it seemed like Hansi Flick decided to take a chance on changing things up and giving a few guys a rest while missing the core of his attack through suspension. I would be very surprised if any of the underlying issues were actually a problem come this Tuesday, at Werder Bremen, in a match that could see them finish off their eighth consecutive Bundesliga title.