Flick shows first flaws: Bayern loses against Leverkusen 1:2
Hansi Flick made five changes to his lineup compared to the game in Belgrade. Javi Martínez and David Alaba started in central defense while Pavard and Davies were full-backs. The midfield consisted of Kimmich, Goretzka and Müller, while Lewandowski and Gnabry played as forwards. After neither Kingsley Coman nor Philippe Coutinho could impress on the left attacking side in the past weeks, Ivan Perišić got the opportunity to show himself.
Bayern’s transfer target Kai Havertz started on the bench having overcome his injury alongside Kerem Demirbay and Karim Bellarabi. Both Bender twins started in Peter Bosz’s 4-2-3-1 formation, Sven in central defense alongside Tah and Lars in the position of right-back. Baumgartlinger and Aránguiz made for a physical double pivot while the agile Diaby, Amiri and Bailey were to take on Bayern’s defense with speed.
Both teams started alike pressing the other side high up on the pitch trying to win an early ball. Serge Gnabry got the first goalscoring opportunity when he slipped away from Tah, but only hit the post in his duel with Hrádecký. Almost directly after that Hansi Flick’s Bayern side conceded for the first time in their fifth game. Diaby took the ball from Davies, the ball reached Volland who passed it to Bailey in the very area he was pulling Martínez away from. Leon Bailey scored with a composed finish (10.).
Bayern were coping badly with Leverkusen’s pressing but whenever they managed to beat the press, they posed an immediate danger for Leverkusen. Kimmich lobbed the ball in the middle but Wendell blocked not only against Gnabry but also against Thomas Müller who was just about to score an open goal (19.). Shortly afterwards Leverkusen’s most dangerous phase started with them coming close to getting a two-goal-lead numerous times. On one occasion Manuel Neuer’s fist saved against Diaby’s curling shot, on a few different ones only last-ditched tackles averted most dangerous situations.
Bayern survived this phase unscathed and started their own dominating phase. Leon Goretzka ran with the ball across ¾ of the pitch in a counter-attack that only found its end in Leverkusen’s box and Serge Gnabry’s dangerous long-distance shot missed the goal by a very small margin. Bayern scored the equalising goal in this very phase of the domination (33.). They pressed Sven Bender early after a throw-in, the ball came to Müller via Pavard who stalled with a body feint and scored through Lars Bender’s deflecting legs.
Two minutes later Bailey put Leverkusen in front immediately again. Bayern lost the ball deep in the opponent’s half, Leverkusen played a long ball where Bailey and Volland could play a one-two against a still unorganized defense. With Pavard still up front Martínez went in a losing duel with Bailey who scored from a pretty acute angle. Neuer went for a save with his left leg reminiscent of handball-goalkeepers when it looked like going for a save with his hands would have been the better decision.
Bayern in turn did not let go and continued attacking. Right before the referee could end the first half things really turned comical. After a reckless mistake Gnabry managed to put the ball past the defenders and slip through. He ran towards Lukáš Hrádecký together with Müller and Perišić in a three-on-one, yet stalled too long so that Lars Bender managed to win the ball with a sliding tackle.
The game continued with no changes and the first chance came to Leverkusen. Diaby dribbled past Davies, passed to Amiri whose shot forced Manuel Neuer to a spectacular save.
Now it was Bayern’s turn again to waste big chances. Müller held on to the ball, gave it to Lewandowski who shot with the outside of his boot but forgot the curling part (55.). Minutes later Müller crossed the ball perfectly to Perišić, who decided to use his foot and not his head from 5 meters and managed to not only place the ball over the goal but likely out of the stadium, too. Bayern now halted their shooting-past-the-goal party and decided to try failing against the keeper for once. Hrádecký saved brilliantly twice against Lewandowski from central position and Müller from the right side (60.).
Bayern-scourge Leon Bailey limped off the field and was replaced with Karim Bellarabi, shortly afterwards Leverkusen substituted their left-backs by replacing Wendell with Sinkgraven.
In the 69th minute Hansi Flick substituted twice without changing his formation with Coman and Coutinho coming on for Perišić and Müller.
A corner gave Leon Goretzka the opportunity to put his name in the fairly long list of people hitting the post and crossbar with a header (76.). The injured Aránguiz made room for Demirbay while Flick used his last sub for bringing on Thiago for Martínez. Kimmich moved to right-back and Pavard to central defense.
In the 82nd minute Tah fouled the free Coutinho right before the penalty box and got sent off. Bayern continued having numerous clear-cut goalscoring opportunities but missed them all. In injury time alone Lewandowski scored a Wembley-”goal”, a completely unmarked Gnabry missed a volley from the edge of the penalty area and Lewandowski failed to beat Hrádecký after dribbling into the box seconds before the final whistle. Thus Bayern did not equalise despite having having had a humongous array of chances and lost 1:2.
Next week they are up away against league leader Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Hansi Flick’s measures at Bayern have all been so successful that one had to worry people were just about to call him a wizard. But what was unopposed by Piräus, Düsseldorf, Belgrade and a strange Dortmund side was challenged for the first time by Bayer 04.
Leverkusen’s plan was pressing high up on the pitch and isolating the full-backs. Dortmund tried the last part too, but Leverkusen actually knew what they were doing. Dortmund on the other hand “didn’t know how to press”. Marco Reus said that about Paderborn, but it was applicable to their performance against Bayern, too.
Bayer was pulling Bayern wide apart, especially Perišić left young Davies on his own too often, leaving him to trouble as was the case before Leverkusen’s first goal. But elsewhere on the pitch other players, too, were too far away from Leverkusen players, resulting in them coming in late in duels. Niko Kovač’s Bayern side was said to have similar problems yet this was not just a relapse to old times when the midfield was ridden by 20 metre sized holes. Hansi Flick administered well working medicine to his Bayern side but his patient is not healed just yet.
Another good example for this is Bayern’s coordinated high press. They are pressing early and it is vital that they do that, sometimes even leading to direct successes as seen in the 1:1 equalising goal. But there are still holes in the press as seen only seconds later when a similar situation lead to the 1:2. When their press fails, they are immediately exposed at the back.
It is astounding how much Flick has already improved but things are not perfect just yet. But that’s only natural.
For a long time it was the biggest obstacle for every Bayern observer: The struggle to convert goalscoring opportunities. Time and time again countless draws and losses would have been averted if not for Bayern wasting their chances. Sometimes even the best of strikers were cursed even though their goalscoring quotas were immense. Bayern was regularly scoring less goals then statistics predicted them to score.
Yet during Niko Kovač tenure things changed completely this season. Bayern was regularly outscoring their expected goals value with the best example being the game against Tottenham when they scored seven times only for their opponent still leading in the expected goals statistics. Sure, part of that was down to Lewandowski’s otherworldly form but it showed Bayern’s game pretty well: They created few chances but converted those that they got cold as ice.
When they were dominating and finishing their chances consequently the weeks before, they were at a complete loss against Leverkusen in front of goal. Sure, Leverkusen nearly played as well as they could, sure, they isolated Bayern’s problem areas well and sure, they had enough chances themselves to get themselves a two-goal-lead. But all of that does not change the fact that out of 24 shots, 2,25 expected goals, four times hitting the woodwork and numerous one or even three-on-one duels, more goals than a single one must have been scored.
Just as Dortmund did before, Leverkusen focussed their attacks on Alphonso Davies’ side. But they did it with a plan, a better implementation and simply better performing players. Alphonso Davies had to really suffer against Bayer 04. He is the main party to blame for the first goal conceded, when he lost the ball in a situation and zone where that simply must not happen. Then he was beaten by Diaby’s dribbling at the start of the second half and Manuel Neuer had to hold Bayern in the game in spectacular fashion.
All in all it was not a good game of Bayern’s by now regular left-back. But how Davies dealt with his sub-par performance was precisely what made it remarkable. He just refused to back down, refused to hide at the back to prevent further mistakes from happening and contributed to Bayern’s attack. Right before injury time he courageously went into a dribbling against three opponents which did not exactly amount to be an overtly intelligent decision, but he kept the ball.
It is only natural that after the flood of good performances, a drought had to come. Especially against a team playing as well as Leverkusen did and players performing as well as Diaby has. But how Davies dealt with this new setback cannot be taken for granted and is further proof that he is not your typical run-of-the-mill talent.