Fortune Favors Bayern in Düsseldorf
Hansi Flick decided to make two changes to the starting line up that faced Dortmund two weekends ago. Phillipe Coutinho replaced Kingsley Coman on the left wing and Corentin Tolisso replaced Leon Goretzka in the midfield, meaning Thiago was once again left on the bench. In practice, both Gnabry and Coutinho played a more narrow wing allowing Davies and Pavard to provide the width offensively. Müller simply moved at will interchanging with anyone and everyone in the offensive third.
Friedhelm Funkel lined up in the expected 4-2-3-1 with Matthias Zimmerman, Kaan Ayhan, Kasim Adams and Niko Gießelmann in front of Zack Steffen’s goal. Adam Bodzek and Alfredo Morales formed the double pivot with Erik Thommy, captain Oliver Fink and Dawid Kownacki, in place of the more defensive Markus Suttner, starting behind Rouwen Hennings up front.
The first half-chance of the game fell to Fortuna after a Bayern giveaway but the Bayern defense held strong. From that point on, it would be all Bayern München. In the 10th minute Gnabry put in a cross to Lewandowski who brought it down and set up Müller for the first real shot at the Fortuna goal but it went just wide. In the 11th minute Müller took a short corner to Kimmich who sent in a low cross to an on running Pavard who completely missed the ball but provided enough of a decoy to allow it to run into the far corner, 0-1.
In the 18th minute, Müller put in a lovely little flick to Lewandowski who appeared to be through on goal but uncharacteristically put the ball just wide. Shortly after, Javi Martinez picked up a yellow card for a poorly timed challenge on Kownacki (’22). In the 24th minute, Pavard put in an excellent low cross that Coutinho put just wide. After a very poor giveaway from the Fortuna goalkeeper that was seemingly intended for Müller, he played Gnabry to the right half of the box who then passed it back to a waiting Tolisso who easily passed it in for the second, 0-2 (‘27).
In the 31st minute, Lewandowski made an incredible run down the left half and put in a lovely cross with the outside of his boot but Gnabry pinged it off the post. With Düsseldorf looking increasingly frazzled, Bayern put more and more pressure on the defense. In the 34th minute, Gnabry made them pay again. Coutinho played the ball out to Pavard who put in a low cross towards Müller. Müller was adequately covered but did just enough to knock the ball back to Gnabry who was wide open and easily chipped the ball into the back of the net. After a cursory glance at VAR for a potential Muller handball, the goal is given for 0-3.
The second half started without any changes to either team’s lineup. After a failed Bayern freekick, the Fortuna keeper set free David Kownacki who managed to wake Manuel Neuer out of his slumber at the back but was no real threat in the end. Fortuna used that little bit of momentum and managed to put a bit of pressure on the hitherto untested Bayern defense. This had no real impact on the results however. Even when Bayern were not fully in control of the ball, it never felt as though there was any real danger of a comeback.
For the first change in the match, Serge Gnabry made way for Ivan Perišić in the 63rd minute. Perišić had an immediate impact and put through a fantastic cross to Robert Lewandowski who put a nice header on goal which was saved by goalkeeper Steffen. Three minutes later, Funkel made his first change taking off Captain Oliver Fink for Markus Suttner (‘66). After a botched Düsseldorf corner, the Munich team quickly countered with Coutinho playing the ball to Robert Lewandowski on the left. Lewandowski drove towards the line where he crossed it to a waiting Müller who whiffed at the ball but a waiting Coutinho was there to clean things up and make it 0-4 (‘70). A minute later Flick brought in Thiago to replace Tolisso (‘71)
In the 75th minute, Alaba forced Neuer into a poor clearance that looked as though it had resulted in the first goal for Fortuna, but it was ruled offside to save the clean sheet. In the resulting stoppage, Leon Goretzka came on for Joshua Kimmich as Hansi Flicks final change (‘76). A few minutes later, Fortuna made their second change bringing on Sobottka for Kownacki (‘79). In the 82nd minute, Suttner played a ball in behind the Bayern defense to Hennings who did well to get past Alaba but blasted the ball well over the net. In the 87th minute Funkel made his final change bringing in Jean Zimmer for Erik Thommy. There was nothing for Zimmer to accomplish however as the game was fully decided at this point and the referee wasted no time in blowing the whistle when the full 90 minutes had been played.
Perhaps it is just a matter of him finally being given a chance. Perhaps it’s the confidence being shown in him by a new coach. Maybe it’s just the change in tactics. Whatever the reasons, Thomas Müller has looked like the player of old under Hansi Flick. He has been a force to be reckoned with in each of the games since his return as a regular in the starting 11.
While that hasn’t resulted in goals scored, it has certainly had an impact on the score line. Muller was seemingly involved in every dangerous situation that Bayern created today. More importantly it felt as though he was everywhere on the pitch. He even had a clearance in the defensive half from a freekick in the 57th minute. While it may still be early to say the former German international is back to his former world class self, he has at least proven he can still heavily influence a match. His movement and influence could be felt all over the pitch and even his attitude seemed much more like the carefree player of old.
After three matches in charge, Hansi Flick is still unscathed in terms of results and goals against. Some of the changes are easy to see and understand. Bayern have certainly been more structured in their formation and positioning. This has allowed them to pass the ball more effectively, especially in and around the box. Additionally, the crosses have decreased a little in volume but have increased in effectiveness. Their ability to create chances through the middle has resulted in both more players in the box and better opportunities to make pinpoint crosses from the wings to those players.
Flick has also appeared to set a squad of players as his first choice. While his options in defense are certainly limited by the Süle and Lucas injuries as well as Boateng’s suspension, his choices in midfield and attack have not had such limitations. It is clear that Kimmich is his first choice six over Thiago and that he prefers Müller as the primary playmaker behind Lewandowski. While Thiago and Coutinho will obviously get playing time, as seen today (Coutinho), it will be interesting to see how Flick manages the rotation of players and how it affects the mood of some of the players on the outside looking in. It must be especially disheartening for Thiago given how indispensable he has looked for the majority of the past few seasons. That said, so far the results leave very little room for criticism.
This match feels as though it was a good preparation for Bayern’s Champions League match on Tuesday. Away against a team that is clearly the underdog and likely to sit in. While it will obviously differ in many respects, especially since road games in the Champions League, especially those in hostile environments, are never easy, their overall approach to the game should likely be very similar.
Boateng should be back in defense, likely replacing Javi Martinez. Coman may return to his usual spot on the wing for Coutinho. But the real question is who will start next to Kimmich in the midfield. Will it be Goretzka, who was favored the first few matches under Flick? Could it be Tolisso, who added another goal to his tally in this match? It seems an unlikely time to use Thiago as that level of defensiveness is probably unnecessary. Ultimately, whoever starts in that position is certainly more than capable and if Bayern performs at the level they have thus far under Flick, they should have a good chance to clinch the top spot in Group B Tuesday night.