Exhausted Bayern win on anniversary
Bayern got fresh shirts and their defence back for their anniversary. Jérôme Boateng and Joshua Zirkzee came into the team, Tolisso and Goretzka moved out of it, Kimmich returned to partner with Thiago in midfield. Rather surprisingly, Coutinho remained in the starting eleven.
Augsburg played in a 4-1-4-1 with the ball and defended in a 4-4-2. Being in impeccable form, Florian Niederlechner played up front, relegating Alfreð Finnbogason to the bench. Additionally, Martin Schmidt swapped his goalkeepers, with Andreas Luthe replacing Tomáš Koubek.
Following the staggering choreography for Bayern’s 120th anniversary, the game started sluggishly, Augsburg even got the first two (innocuous) shots on target. For 40 straight minutes, Bayern’s game and passes were imprecise and lacked any spark or intensity. Things only improved in the closing five minutes of the first half, but the game remained goalless with Steinhaus ending the half mere seconds after Bayern’s first dangerous attempt on goal.
Both teams made surprisingly no substitutions for half-time. Initially, the game remained as tough as before, but then Boateng put Bayern on top virtually on his own. After a pinpoint laserpass chipped over the entire Augsburg defence, Müller scored with a volley (53’).
Bayern’s game was now better and more focussed, Andreas Luthe denied both Zirkzee and Coutinho from extremely promising positions on two occasions, in between of which Schmidt tried to shake up Bayern’s attacking phase with bringing on striker Vargas for Max. Flick also made his first change, bringing on Goretzka for Zirkzee and putting Gnabry up front, who immediately squandered his first opportunity as centre-forward, missing the target after being free on goal (71’).
Bayern’s attacks did not stop coming and Augsburg themselves signalled they were not comfortable with just losing by a single goal and brought on Finnbogason for Löwen. This endeavor almost proved to be successful but Neuer brilliantly saved Niederlechner’s close-ranged attempt (80’). Now Flick reacted and brought on Javi Martínez and Lucas Hernández for Coutinho and Thiago, who had suffered a head injury. Hernández played left-back, Davies shifted a position further up-front, Martínez was to break up Augsburg’s attacks in midfield. Bayern’s defensive tactics were almost counter-productive but Finnbogason’s goal was correctly ruled offside (89’). Subsequently, Bayern decided the game in stoppage time as Gnabry and Goretzka played a double one-two at the end of which Goretzka scored from a tight angle.
Thus Bayern utilized Leipzig’s slip-up in Wolfsburg and increased the distance to the “Cans” to five points, the closest pursuer now is Dortmund with four points behind. If COVID-19 does not shake up things too much, the next game should be played in an empty stadium against Union Berlin next Saturday.
At the end of all those exhausting weeks with double fixtures, Bayern seemingly thought that at some point they would score anyway, otherwise it is hard to wrap your head around their first half performance. They were desperately missing the basics of a decent football performance. Neither the passing accuracy, nor the passing intensity was good enough. Whereas the players were up for it against Hoffenheim, ready to make runs to pull the opponent’s defence apart, now the players were satisfied with doing just the bare minimum. But the bare minimum is not enough at this level, oftentimes even leading to completely absurd actions such as crossing the ball to the 1,72m tall giant Coutinho. Thus Bayern created their first half-decent goalscoring opportunity only at the very last second, ending a first half for the time this season without a single attempt on goal.
We really don’t have to beat around the bush here: In two days time, nobody is going to remember this game. The task was to widen the gap to Leipzig and to not let Dortmund come any closer, that is exactly what they achieved and not much else will remain from this match. A decent timespan of 20 minutes between the 1:0 and Finnbogason’s substitution were enough. Bayern was not as good as they were against Hoffenheim or Chelsea but the basics they were so desperately missing in the first half, were there. Bayern’s attacks were now more focussed, the spaces better covered, there were more runs in behind the defence and Bayern did not aimlessly cross the ball in as much as they had been doing before. This was enough against a relegation battling side to create as many goalscoring opportunities to once again in turn complain about not being clinical enough in front of goal. There were more than enough chances to score the second goal way before they actually did.
While the game against Schalke was rather similar to this match, right before these two (winning) games, Bayern put in consistent performances against Chelsea and Hoffenheim. Herein lies the key difference between performances like these under Flick and the just as lackluster performances under Niko Kovač: The context matters.
Next week things should look more colourful with six days of rest, before they then have to square off with different calibers like Frankfurt and Dortmund. At home against Augsburg it is perfectly fine to simply take further notice of Neuer, Boateng and Thiago’s good form and furthermore only remember the nice shirts and fantastic choreography.
Joshua Zirkzee is not Robert Lewandowski just yet. Now that is admittedly a fairly obvious conclusion given that this was Zirkzee’s second Bundesliga-start while Lewandowski might be the best player on the planet right now. When a team’s offence is not functioning, the problem is rarely the striker and Zirkzee hardly is responsible for his teammates’ lack of commitment and runs in behind the defence, yet in comparison to this season’s Lewandowski, something is missing. Lewandowski’s main quality before the winter break was basically shouldering Bayern’s entire offence, many a times he single-handedly scored with little interplay with his teammates. Now you obviously cannot demand Zirkzee to do the same but in a tough match Lewandowski’s injury is especially noticeable. Zirkzee wanted a lot, tried a lot but didn’t do a whole lot. He shielded the ball well with his back to goal but more was asked for.
While Serge Gnabry had the better showing as centre-forward, Bayern was already leading by that point and Augsburg continuously pushing forward granted Gnabry more space he otherwise would not have had. Had he started the match up front, he would have presumably struggled just as much as Müller in that position did against Schalke. Starting Zirkzee was probably the right decision. He will have to learn with tough, scrappy fights like these, so as to maybe not immediately get Lewandowski’s presence, but to at least bury the one chance a striker almost always gets (65’).