Ending 2021 on a High
To start the week however, news trickled in that Correntin Tolisso and Jamal Musiala were questionable to be ready for Tuesday’s match at Stuttgart. Given an already depleted midfield with Kimmich, Leon Goretzka and Marcel Sabitzer sidelined, things were looking desperately thin.
Marc Roca became the clear first option for the first time in his stint at Bayern. However, the questions became who would start next to the Spaniard. Would it be Michaël Cuisance? Or maybe Tanguy Nianzou? Or would Julian Nagelsmann be forced to get even more creative and use someone like Serge Gnabry or Thomas Müller a bit deeper than normal or even throw caution to the wind with only one midfielder?
Ultimately all of these concerns worked themselves out as Musiala was able to play with his broken hand and filled the void. Nagelsmann would start with Manuel Neuer, Benjamin Pavard, Niklas Süle, Lucas Hernández, Alphonso Davies, Roca, Musiala, Kingsley Coman, Müller, Gnabry and Robert Lewandowski in the Swabian capital of Stuttgart.
This match would take some time to really get going but Bayern looked in control from the off. The most important thing that happened in the first half hour however was Coman going down with a hamstring injury after losing the ball and putting in some defensive work. He was replaced by Leroy Sané, but it was tough to see yet another player added to the extensive injury list.
In the 40th minute, Sané would lead a drive up the field and find Gnabry in the box who took his shot on the first touch and curled it past the keeper into the far corner 0-1. The remaining five minutes of the half didn’t produce much and so Bayern went in with the lead.
The second half however was utterly dominated by Bayern. It took just eight minutes for Bayern grab a second through Gnabry as Müller found the winger again near the box and after one move hit a low blast past the keeper into the far corner again 0-2.
Stuttgart would find themselves with a few chances immediately after the goal but were unable to capitalize on them and then in the 69th minute, Gnabry would find Lewandowski with a pass over the top and the striker casually chipped the keeper to make it 0-3.
Just three minutes later, Gnabry would again find Lewandowski in the box for an easy goal to make it 0-4. Finally just two minutes after that Gnabry would get his hat trick as Müller played a cross towards goal that was parried directly to Gnabry who smashed it in the back of the net 0-5. That would be the last of the scoring and in all honestly the referee might as well have blown the whistle there as very little happened in the final 16 minutes.
Nagelsmann would start Friday evenings match with mostly the same lineup with the exception that Süle was forced to miss because of some back pain bringing in Dayot Upamecano and Sané came in for the injured Coman. This match however was a bit of a let down if you were interested in entertaining or at least competitive football.
It would take just seven minutes for Bayern to find the back of the net. Following a free kick the ball found it’s way to Gnabry who hit it towards goal but he keeper only managed to clear it to Müller who easily put it away 1-0.
Following the goal, the remainder of the first half seemed to see both sides on cruise control with Bayern dominating the majority of the play. Given the poor run of form Wolfsburg have been on, this probably shouldn’t have come as a shock but is still a bit perplexing as they could really use the points and it was potentially an opportunity to exploit a depleted Bayern side.
Ultimately it would be Bayern all the way. In the 57th minute, Müller found a cross to Upamecano who was wide open in the 6 yard box for an easy header in 2-0. Just two minutes later Gnabry would find Sané who cut in and curled the ball around the Wolfsburg keeper to make it 3-0.
The only remaining question in the game would be whether Lewandowski would break Gerd Müller’s record for Bundesliga goals in a calendar year. He would have several opportunities including a nice volley that was well saved but it would take until the 87th minute to finally get there.
Musiala would play across a header for the striker who spectacularly kicked it in from shoulder height to make it 4-0. The goal set the new record at 43 goals and was also the 69th goal in all competitions for Pole. Amazingly, a few minutes after Lewandowski was brought down in the box on what looked like a sure fire penalty but it wasn’t given and the match ended shortly after.
It was quite a week for the German International. Gnabry managed three goals and three assists between the two matches and was heavily involved in another. When Gnabry gets into this type of form, he seems like an unstoppable force.
While I think we all would love to see this more often, it does have to be said that he has a tendency to show up a the right times. He has a penchant for scoring in big matches and when the team is in need of someone to step up.
Especially after Coman went down on Tuesday, things were getting very thin. Yes the lineup was overall pretty solid apart from the midfield, but there were very few real options on the bench at that point. So seeing the winger step up and contribute to all five goals on Tuesday was a huge plus for Bayern.
If not for Lewandowski, probably the biggest story of the week for Bayern was the play of Marc Roca. The Spaniard has a tough go of it during his stint at Bayern. Hansi Flick made it clear that he was not a fan of the midfielder and seemingly refused to even give the player a chance, which many have speculated was due to his ongoing feud with Brazzo more than anything.
So when Nagelsmann came in, there was a little bit of hope amongst the supporters that it might be a new page for Roca. However, Bayern brought in Sabitzer, Tolisso was finally healthy and Cuisance returned from his loan which made his path to playing time even muddier than it was.
Still, given the injuries and performances those other player had put in at times this season, it became increasingly obvious that Roca held no favor with Nagelsmann either. Yes he went through some injuries, which certainly limited his availability, however many wondered just how bad he looked in training that he wasn’t given any opportunities.
Then this week hit and there really became no option. Roca was going to play and we would all finally see where the player actually stood. What transpired left the collective fanbase more confused than anything else. Roca played well. Very well actually. He gave the midfield a much missed and needed presence that we really haven’t had since Kimmich went down.
Admittedly, there are still things that he needs to work on. But some of those things are exacerbated by a lack of match time and unfamiliarity with the players around him rather than fatal flaws. In general, he was excellent! He controlled the midfield. Was an outlet for players in the buildup play. He provided a bit more of a deeper lying midfielder than the likes of Musiala, Tolisso or even Goretzka.
I think every person watching reached the same conclusion by the time he was taken off by Nagelsmann in the 75th minute: Marc Roca should be getting more opportunities. Clearly Nagelsmann himself reached this conclusion as well as he gave the midfielder a huge hug with an elated grin on his face and clearly told the player he was wrong.
While Roca will not become the first option when everyone is healthy, hopefully he does become an option. In nearly every match he’s been given an opportunity, he has acquitted himself reasonably well. There is absolutely no reason I can see that he shouldn’t fill in when players are missing or in the occasional Bundesliga match to give the likes of Goretzka and especially Kimmich a day off. Hopefully these last few games have finally convinced the Bayern hierarchy of that as well.
It seems like every week we are talking about Lewandowski and while I worry that I’m simply boring our readers with further praise of his exploits, our striker continues to set records and score goals. Every week is notable for the worlds best striker. Last week it was that he didn’t score. This week it’s that he scored a lot and broke yet another record of Gerd Müller’s.
2021 really will go down as the year of Lewandowski for all Bayern supporters. From breaking the previously thought unbreakable 40 goals in a single Bundesliga season to breaking the 42 goal mark for a calendar year, he has set records and set the world alight game after game with his remarkable play.
I can’t help but to emphasize once again just how special this period is. I think and hope we are all appreciating just how amazing he has been. We all know he deserved that award that shall not be named, but at this point does it really even matter? I think everyone, including the winner, know he was the best player in the world this year, and last year for that matter.
While awards are great recognition and it’s always a shame when they get it wrong, the entirety of football will look back on the year of 2021 and recognize just how special the things that Robert Lewandowski accomplished were. I for one will always cherish the memories of seeing him at his peak and watching with amazement as he seemingly scored in every game.
Finally some much needed rest and relaxation…although I would probably sub out the latter for recuperation. This winter break is coming at the perfect time. Bayern, as I’ve mentioned throughout the article, are coming close to a breaking point in terms of health.
Even a shortened winter break will be a massive boon for the Munich side as there is real hope that the majority of the players who are currently missing can make their way back in the new year. Even if a few of them take a bit longer, there is a decent chance that Nagelsmann will have a much fuller squad to work with to begin 2022 than he did at the end of 2021.
Beyond the injuries, it is unquestionable that the remaining players could also use some time off. Nearly all of them have shown some signs of fatigue and to be honest, I’m sure they all have some nagging injuries as well. Bayern have a great opportunity to win two trophies in 2022 and getting healthy and rested before that final push will be a key to whether they succeed.
While we likely will have some more content for you here prior to the end of the year, I just want to take this time to personally thank you all for reading and wish you a very happy holiday season!