First dominance, then luck! Bayern progresses with a 4:3 in the cup!
For the first time since the winter break, Hansi Flick chose to rotate his team. The defence remained unchanged, but the coach changed everything in front of it. For Thiago, Goretzka and the injured Perišić, Tolisso, Coutinho and Gnabry came into the team. Following strong performances on the wing, Thomas Müller returned to central midfield. On top of that, with Odriozola still left waiting for his debut, Lucas Hernández found his way back to the squad for the first time since autumn last year.
TSG Hoffenheim played in a 4-1-4-1 formation with ex-Bayern-player Sebastian Rudy in defensive midfield, Nordtveit slightly higher up the pitch, Bebou in attacking midfield and Kramarić as the lone centre-forward.
The game started with goals on both sides, with the small distinction that only Hoffenheim’s counted, following Lewandowski’s goal being rightfully disallowed due to being ever so slightly offside. Coutinho lost possession rather needlessly, enabling Bruun Larsen’s attempt from outside the penalty area, which Neuer in turn blocked to the side. Grillitsch held the ball in play, laid it off to Bebou, whose forceful pass was aiming for Kramarić but was deflected by Boateng into Bayern’s own net (8’). This did not remain the sole own goal as the defending team was once more to score in their own net for the equaliser five minutes later. Coutinho passed it to the sprinting Davies, who was aiming for Müller with a sharp low cross, but Hübner got to it before and deflected it into his own goal.
The former German international did not despair upon this “theft” and got his very own goal in the 20th minute. Hoffenheim was only pressing Bayern from the midfield onwards while Bayern were dominating, so Alaba could safely push up into midfield himself, to hit a precise long ball for Müller, who scored with a single touch. Bayern remained on top for the remaining half as Hoffenheim could rarely even get past the half-way line despite not playing badly. In the 36th minute the home side could finally transfer this dominance into a two-goal lead. Alaba once more played a vertical long strike to Müller, Pentke and Hübner obstructed each other for the ball to reach the free Lewandowski. The Polish strike rose high into the air and headed the ball in for a 3:1 half-time lead.
The game continued without any team- or playing-style-changes. For the first fifteen minutes, Bayern was still controlling play, creating more chances. Yet with time Hoffenheim was gradually playing better and getting their own chances. After having been pretty much marked out of the game by Davies, Bebou was substituted off for Dabbur and Hoffenheim switched to a 4-4-2. The game seemed to flatline at first, but then Hoffenheim drastically increased the tempo, creating two clear-cut chances and even scoring, although that was ultimately called off for handball. It seemed like some Bayern players were completely out of steam, yet Hansi Flick refused to bring on new players. This was on first glance the correct decision as Lewandowski managed to score Bayern’s fourth goal following a Kimmich corner to the near post (81’). Leading the game now with three goals, Hansi Flick decided to rest both goalscorers Müller and Lewanowski for the final 10 minutes with Zirkzee and Cuisance coming in.
What appeared to be final nail in the coffin was actually the starting point for an utterly bizarre ending sequence, starting all with Hoffenheim scoring not even a full minute after Bayern’s 4:1. Neuer played a dangerous pass to Pavard in build-up play, which led to Pavard losing possession to Zuber and a low cross later, Dabbur scoring the 2:4. In turn the exhausted Boateng made way for newbie Odriozola. Hoffenheim took over the match and remained dangerous with once more Dabbur missing a header from close range mere moments later. In this final span of the game, Bayern allowed the Israeli international too many shots on target. Naturally, it was him who scored the 3:4. Pavard deflected Kramarić’s cross to his own post with Dabbur being the fox in the box, putting the ball over the line and horrifying an entire stadium. Luckily, that was it, Bayern got away with those last 10, 15 minutes and progressed to the quarter-finals of the DFB-cup. On Sunday they will be closing off the Bundesliga match-day with the clash against Leipzig.
So much time has passed between the previous round and this round one, that the game in Bochum feels like seasons ago. There Bayern could not create a single chance for over 80 minutes and lucked their way into progressing. To call the first half against Hoffenheim the polar opposite, could likely still be filed under the category “euphemism”. Not being faced by the early goal one bit, Bayern solidified themselves in the opponent’s half and did not let up, refusing a decent Hoffenheim-side to even take a breath. With well-functioning combination football, they created a dozen finishes on target and when they did lose the ball, they immediately won it back with accurately counter-pressing the opponent. This was likely the best performance of the season in terms of ensuing dominance and counter-press.
Looking past tactics and statistics, Bayern showed an almost forgotten character of their “Mia san mia” mantra. Every player was radiating confidence. That Bayern was beyond their opponent, that even scoring an early goal would not face this side. This positive arrogance, this commanding supremacy had been missing from Bayern sides since the eras of Heynckes and Guardiola.
Bayern lost this commanding supremacy over the span of the second half. While it seemed at first that, compared with the Mainz-game, Bayern did actually improve their game management of getting a two-goal lead over the line, the end showed, that this hope was unfound. Bayern endured two phases in which the game completely slipped out of their hands, before and after Bayern’s fourth goal. Before the goal, Hoffenheim was allowed to get multiple clear-cut chances, even scoring a rightfully disallowed goal. A few players were obviously out of steam and it is rather strange that Flick declined to freshen up the team. Thiago in particular seemed like a glaring omission, more than anybody else, he could have strengthened the team’s stability in possession.
Things got a lot worse after Bayern’s fourth goal, though. The game should have really ended then and there. We all know the story.. Bayern leads, the opponent gets their infamous second wind. And after enduring their attacking phase, Bayern gives the opponent the final ultimate knockout. A very typical game that the Allianz has already seen dozens of times. In contrast with the game in Mainz, one could have even spoken of an improvement, because Bayern did ultimately score and did close the game off. And that is exactly why these last 15 minutes should have never been allowed to occur as they did. The 4:1 did not quiet things down, it accomplished the opposite, it reignited the game. While being three goals ahead, Bayern was far from composed, was countered multiple times, let Hoffenheim score twice and even miss a clear-cut chance. The usually so solid Pavard went through his darkest quarter-hour in a Bayern-shirt, on an individual level, both Hoffenheim goals could be blamed on him.
The biggest problem though, was the lack of composure, the lack of ability to just bring a game home with composed possession. Despite actually showing improvements over the Mainz-game at the beginning of that second half. Then, however, Hoffenheim drastically improved their output, showing how much a better side they were compared to Mainz, leading to Bayern’s composure crumbling. Looking on the bright side, Bayern will now surely be anything but overconfident against Leipzig on Sunday. Putting the finger in the wound, Bayern have conversely showed the very same flaw twice in a row.
The absurd ending should not outshine many of the very good elements of the game, however. While a few of the mistakes at the end can be attributed to rotation, over the majority of time, said rotation was very successful. For the first time since the winter break, Flick significantly changed his team. Corentin Tolisso is somewhat of a problem child in the squad right now, following his ACL injury, things just did not kick into gear for him. When before the winter break he still got ample opportunity to show himself, he did not get the same in the new year. In this cup-game he for the most part finally showed a promising performance for the first time in what seemed like ages. In fact, all three of the new players had their fair share of question marks surrounding them, but Gnabry and Coutinho, too, were able to give positive signs, in the first half at the very least. Coutinho lost possession a few too many times, but in contrast to his previous performances after the winter break, he did also have really strong moments.
The main reason for the successful rotation was the safety net around the players. If the system works, it is rather easy to swap some players in and out without losing too much quality. This precisely is the point of difference between Flick’s rotation and Kovač’s. He did not have this functioning safety net, players were swapped in and out without the team ever finding their own game. Even with Thiago and Goretzka being expected to return to the team against Leipzig, there is a general impression that Bayern has reduced their dependence on individual players. Admittedly, Lewandowski remains irreplaceable, but now other players are scoring, too. He was scoring goals left and right before the winter break and he’s now playing well and scoring, too, but what he does not have to do anymore, is carry the whole club on his own.