Easy Does it
First some off the field news as it was confirmed that Joshua Kimmich and Erik Maxim Choupo-Moting both have complications due to their recent bouts with COVID and will have to sit out the remainder of the calendar year to recover. It sounds like the medical team are hopeful there will be no long term affects but they must remain inactive as to prevent damage to the lungs and other vital organs.
While most weeks we break down the matches in individual sections, this week there seems to be little point. Both matches had the same lineups baring one change. Manuel Neuer, Benjamin Pavard, Dayot Upamecano, Niklas Süle, Alphonso Davies, Corentin Tolisso, Jamal Musiala, Kingsley Coman, Thomas Müller, Leroy Sané and Robert Lewandowski comprised the starting lineup for Wednesdays match with Barcelona. The only change made at the weekend was Lucas Hernández coming in for Süle in defense.
The Barcelona game started off fairly slowly with Bayern building up pressure through the first half hour. Then in the 34th minute Lewandowski lofted in a pass to Müller who looped a header just over the line to make it 1-0. From there Barcelona completely collapsed. Just nine minutes later, Sané would blast in a shot from well outside the box to make it 2-0 for Bayern at the half.
The second half may as well not have been played. Barcelona barely even appeared to try and Bayern completely coasted. Musiala would add the third and final goal in the 62 minute after Davies, who had dominated the Barcelona defense the whole night dribbled around his defender to the line and put the ball right on the midfielders foot to easily score. It was very reminiscent of the amazing goal he set up during the 8-2 thrashing of Barcelona two seasons ago.
Saturday’s match would barely see Bayern get out of second gear. The entirety of the first half Mainz controlled things. In the 20th minute Upamecano brought down Jae-sung Lee in the box in what looked like a penalty though it wasn’t given. Just two minutes later Mainz would get on the board though as Karim Onisiwo completely lost his man and smashed a header past Neuer to make it 0-1.
You might have thought this would breath some life into the Munich side but you would have been wrong. The coma continued and the Reds provided next to nothing in terms of both effort or results throughout the entirety of the first half.
To be honest, I missed the majority of the second half due to broadcasting issues though I did manage to catch Coman’s equalizer in the 53rd minute as he blasted it through the keeper’s legs. Then Musiala netted the winner in the 74th minute as Bayern would hang on to win 2-1 and thanks to the afore mentioned BVB result, take a six point lead atop the Bundesliga standings.
Three Things We Noticed
As you can probably tell, this is the theme of the week at Bayern. In fairness, they really didn’t need to do any more than that against Barcelona and in fact we got a good overall performance given the circumstances. However, there seemed to be a hangover affect for Saturday’s matchup with Mainz that the title of this section is more than applicable for. In fact, if it wasn’t for the decent performance on Wednesday, it would probably read Barely Enough.
It was the type of performance that does seem to occur from time to time at this stage in the season. There are a lot of missing players. The schedule is starting to catch up with those players who are available. The weather starts turning for the worse.
Nevertheless, they have to come out with more than they did against Mainz. Yes, it’s a bit of a comedown theoretically after playing Dortmund and Barcelona back-to-back, but these are the games that matter in the end. The big matches take care of themselves. They are easy to get up for. But the grind ’em out slug fests against teams in the middle of the table on cold rainy afternoons is where you really win the league.
In the end they did enough. They deserve credit for that. To win after playing as poorly as they did in the first half is a real achievement. They managed to go into halftime only one goal down and pulled off a win that is huge in the grand scheme of who will take home the Meisterschale.
Lewandowski Held in Check
This is not a uh oh type of moment, but I genuinely cannot remember the last time Lewandowski failed to score in a two match week. His form over the last two and a half years is so incredible that it’s become surprising when he fails to score in any game much less two in a row.
However, there are some obvious reasons why. First of all, the transition game through the midfield has become nearly nonexistent with the absence of not only Kimmich but also Goretzka. Nearly all of the build up went through the wings this week, and given Davies, Coman and Sané’s performances on Wednesday especially, there’s no reason it shouldn’t.
However, this puts limitations on both Müller and Lewandowski as they are now looking for the ball almost exclusively on the wings, which you guessed it, means lots of crosses. Additionally, with both Musiala and Tolisso in the lineup, they have two midfielders who like to charge into the box and take up even more space.
Certainly this is not something I think anyone should be particularly concerned about. Lewandowski will no doubt score a lot more goals this season and most likely even in the next few matches. However, any week that he is held without a single goal seems very noteworthy and something to at least keep an eye on.
Given those players mentioned who are out at the moment, it is a bit surprising that Julian Nagelsmann chose to not adjust his tactics or formation to any great extent. Nagelsmann is known for being a bit of a tinkerer, similar to Pep, however we have not seen much of that this year.
It’s likely due to the lack of time he’s had with the team and some of the limitations in terms of the overall squad size and availability. However, I would have expected in circumstances like these to find a better way to utilize some of the players he has at his disposal.
Musiala and Tolisso for instance are pretty far from a match made in heaven on the double pivot. While neither are terrible defenders, their strengths lie far more in attack. The same is true for their passing, which is far below their dribbling or runs into the box.
I also feel as though it might make more sense for Pavard to play a more limited right back role in terms of supporting the attack given the lack of support from the midfield. However, he has continued to get forward far more often than is probably necessary which has left openings at the back for the opposition to exploit.
I don’t have all the answers (honestly, I probably don’t have any), but I would expect Nagelsmann to. This is supposed to be the area he shines the most. I’m sure there are solutions that would at least help to balance the team more. Every player that Bayern has started over these recent matches has exceptional talent. They all have tremendous ability and strengths in the game of football.
While not every lineup is going to be filled with ideal positions in the favored 4-2-3-1, it is his job to figure out a way to make that work with the talent he has available. Hopefully after the winter break, we will see a little more creativity in the way Nagelsmann sets the team up and rotates players.
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Please forgive as this comment is somewhat unrelated to these matches, but regarding the Stuttgart match. It was quite noticeable that Lewandowski looked fairly upset after his goals. It’s seemed a pretty unusual reaction and wondered if you all had any insights.
That’s an interesting question and one that I can only guess at with the information that I have available. There have been the reports of Lewandowski being a bit unhappy with the set up and specifically the amount of players in the box. I think the previous two matches had been a source of frustration as well. I’m sure the Ballon d’Or is still on his mind more than he’d admit. Lastly, I think it’s probably a bit of fatigue. It’s been a long couple of years both on and off the field. I’m sure the recent bout of Covid sweeping through the team and causing players to miss games and questions about availability due to vaccinations has caused even more fatigue than anyone would admit to. Hopefully the winter break will allow him and everyone else time to rest up and heal and hopefully it’s nothing more than these superficial things that will likely not impact him over the long term.