The glory of the Telekom Cup
After hosts Borussia Mönchengladbach lost 3:5 on penalties to Werder Bremen in the opening match, Carlo Ancelotti sent out a surprisingly strong XI to face Hoffenheim. Corentin Tolisso made his debut alongside Thiago Alcántara as a double pivot in a fairly traditional 4-2-3-1. With Manuel Neuer and Sven Ulreich still in recovery, Tom Starke popped out of retirement to lend a hand between the sticks. Rafinha and Juan Bernat flanked Javi Martínez and Mats Hummels, with an attacking line of Thomas Müller at the ten, and wings Kingsley Coman and Franck Ribéry joined by the inimitable Robert Lewandowski up top.
Bayern shoveled on the pressure early, and were fairly relentless throughout. Julian Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim remained firmly planted in their own half and looked, well, like a pre-season team next to an FCB unit full of familiarity. Lewandowski’s lovely scissor kick on seven minutes, aided by an industrious Bernat, set the tone.
As it goes when the Reds are playing well, only TSG keeper Gregor Kobel made any real impact for Nagelsmann; keeping his side in the game. Forward Ádám Szalai had his team’s best chance midway through the match as he split Bayern’s centre backs, but to no avail.
The wing pairings were fantastic! Bernat/Ribéry on the left and Rafinha/Coman on the right might not be Carlo Ancelotti’s first choices in the upcoming season, but the two pairs definitely presented themselves as attractive options. Bernat especially shone as Ribéry drifted towards the middle, where Coman and Rafinha played a more prototypical overlapping Bayern wing-set. 31 year-old Rafinha plays with a speed that belies his age, and is more than up for it even with the very pacy Coman.
Oh, Tolisso! How hilarious would it have been had the French midfielder seen red on his debut? (All I could think of was Jérôme Boateng’s DFB senior team debut as parallel.) Two ill-timed fouls in the same number of minutes might have seen him leave the pitch, but referee Sascha Stegemann was kind. No matter in the end, though, he and Thiago worked quite well together their first time out, and that only bodes well for the future.
Speaking of Thiago… Woof. As the more forward-minded of the Doppelsechs, he continued to dazzle right where he let off last season. He verily traipsed through Hoffenheim’s midfield and defense, and certainly deserved his headed goal that crashed the post.
(Müller, 13. Bernat, 34)
A slight Thiago knock in the Hoffenheim match meant his brilliance would have to make way for Miloš Pantović, but no matter. The young Serbian was officially paired with David Alaba– Ancelotti once again using a 4-2-3-1– though it looked, at times, like Martínez had snuck in. The same back four covered 17 year-old (!) Christian Früchtl in goal as the über-popular James Rodríguez also made his debut on the wing with Coman, again, playing opposite. Captain Müller was back at the ten with another 17 year-old (!!!) Franck Evina as centre-forward.
The final did not get off to as industrious a start as the first, yet Bayern still dominated. James came close to opening his club account with a header, but Bremen goalkeeper Michael Zetterer was able to sloppily prevent the goal. Müller, looking more like the Raumdeuter we all know and love, got on the board with a sailing (and deflected) 20-yarder. But just as it seemed like this XI was starting to really click, Ancelotti made a triple substitution sending in Felix Götze, Marco Friedl and Tolisso for Martínez, Rafinha and Coman.
After a slight period of readjustment, die Roten sprung back in the ascendant with a great give-and-go back heel from the captain, allowing Bernat to tap in. Müller gonna Müller, however, as his penalty and the ensuing rebound were both saved by Zetterer after Evina was dragged down in the box.
After 20 minutes, half the Bayern squad were Amateure. This bodes well for the future. Of course, knowing Ancelotti’s history of not playing youth, we might not put too much stock in this one performance, but… Götze, Friedl, Pantović, Früchtl and Evina all contributed positively. Evina gets a particular shout-out here. He isn’t tall, but he is strong and composed on the ball.
It seems silly to say, but James is the real deal. We all knew that already, though, didn’t we? It is hard to think of a scenario where Alexis Sánchez would be a better option. Though neither James nor Tolisso had a mind-blowingly sublime match, the quality of both is readily apparent.
Bayern were rarely troubled by either Hoffenheim or Werder Bremen- two of the Bundesliga’s top-half squads last season. And they dominated without Arjen Robben, Arturo Vidal, Joshua Kimmich, Niklas Süle, Sebastian Rudy, Boateng, Neuer and Ulreich.
While, yes, it is only preseason, and, yes, this is only the Telekom Cup? Bayern already looked to be in official form, while noting the two sides they faced sadly did not. The shakeups of teams around the league leads one to believe that Munich already has a big leg up on the competition; an opinion only fortified by their fourth Telekom Cup victory.