Preview: RB Leipzig – FC Bayern
Jupp Heynckes can be quite satisfied with the path his team has taken in recent months. However, the finish line is far from being reached and the next few weeks promise to be exciting in many areas. In principle, though, Sunday’s game is no longer very important for the Bayern. Also the early championship is not possible any more thanks to the narrow Schalker victory.
It is true that they will face the runners-up from Leipzig and for prestige reasons alone, one would not like to accept defeat. However, it would have no effect on the tasks ahead if one did not achieve the desired result this weekend. Nevertheless, it is to be expected that the Bayern team will want to start into the international break in a reasonable way.
For Leipzig, on the other hand, it’s a lot to lose at the wrong time. If they lose against the champion, the gap to 4th place threatens to increase to up to seven points. The team is under enormous pressure and it is still not foreseeable whether it will be able to withstand this. If they don’t win against the Bavarians either, Red Bull would be without victory for 5 league games. Coach Ralph Hasenhüttl also does not seem to be able to handle the situation ideally at the moment.
In the past season, one could still get the impression that his team was creating many chances even after longer periods of possession. A decent positional play, a lot of speed and players with nice ball-handling skills in narrow zones resulted in a total package, which led RB to the vice championship. There’s not much of it left in the cursed second year.
Against Stuttgart, for example, the team had little control of the game. Although they had a little more possession of the ball than their opponent, the pressure forwards came more by chance or through individual actions. The audience could not see a real plan. Out of 144 passes into the attacking third, only 90 were completed. There were 26 attempts to pass into the Stuttgart penalty area, of which only five reached their destination.
After all, from Leipzig’s perspective, no one could have complained of they had lost. It seems to be a big problem for Ralph Hasenhüttl’s team this season to deal with the role of favourites and control games from start to finish. It is often not clear whether Leipzig are waiting for transition moments or wanting to take control themselves. Especially in the return leg of the Europa League against Naples, it was clear that they had little playful solutions against well-organised pressing. RB was somewhere between the chairs, but couldn’t really implement a style of play.
The only thing that could be observed from the possession of the ball was lateral passes and switches from side to side without gaining much space. Without the ball, the movement was quite good, but here too, after winning the ball, the igniting idea was missing to advance into dangerous zones. Perhaps all these problems result from the unfamiliar burden. It is quite possible that Leipzig has a typical follow-up year after its success and that the last inches are missing. There have been no victories in the past four games after European Cup appearances.
This makes the next season all the more important for RB. Then it becomes clear whether the club has drawn the right conclusions from this season and is in a position to at least put some pressure on Bayern. The potential is there anyway.
In a single game RB is already capable to put up a fight against Bayern. That could be seen in the cup, when the record champion also depended on the game history and some luck to finally move into the next round. The sensational 5:4 victory in the Leipzig Central Stadium also emphasized that a very good team has grown there.
All the lack of consistency therefore plays only a minor role on Sunday. Right from the start, Leipzig will want to press hard and bring Bayern into outnumbered situations. They are determined to achieve their first victory against the record champion.
Bayern, on the other hand, do not necessarily have to win, but they will nevertheless try everything to achieve a positive result. They will have to do without Arjen Robben. Tolisso and Thiago are not yet available either. James will return to the starting line for this. Independently of the personnel, however, a good staggering would already be important in the possession of the ball on Sunday. An ability that has slowly returned in recent months, but still has room for improvement.
If one compares the current performance with that of 2017, clear progress can be seen. Bayern are able to overload the half-spaces and thus sometimes get behind their opponent’s defensive chain with a short pass. Moreover, they increasingly manage not to waste every attack with a senseless cross. Here, however, the occupation of the penalty area is often weak when a high ball into the box is required. Often bad crosses lead to counter-attacking possibilities which have to be avoided.
In general, however, the biggest difference is likely to be the mutual support and the great mentality of the entire squad. Everyone is there for the other and the readiness to run is enormous. Tactically many things are not yet running smoothly, but so far it has always been possible to hide it.
Whether in Freiburg or Istanbul – the team is always ready to present itself from its best side. Jupp Heynckes has once again managed to unite the entire squad. Comparisons with the past are usually difficult, but if there is one somewhere with 2013, it is certainly here.
Even then, the coach managed to move big players in second line without creating unrest. Heynckes is also making it very clever this season. Everyone knows where he stands and everyone gets his minutes with the necessary patience. During the week Heynckes let Rafinha play and also Wagner got his substitution. So both came to valuable Champions League minutes.
The motivation in the team is right and no one is making negative headlines. Not even Sebastian Rudy, who spoke of an unfortunate situation, but did not over-dramatize it. Heynckes knows exactly how valuable the atmosphere in the squad is and can fully play out his experience.
But he himself knows even more precisely that it is certainly not enough tactically and playfully at present to compete on an equal footing with Manchester City or Barcelona. There is still a lack of confidence in this. Both in positional and passing play as well as in transition moments to the defensive phase of the game.
However, the emphasis is on the word “at present”. Who knows whether the teams mentioned can transport their great form into April and whether they have already hit their glass ceiling. Bayern, on the other hand, have been making small progress for a few weeks now, with a realistic self-assessment of the entire team.
They definitely have room for improvement. This can be seen negatively, because in this form the path to triumph in the Champions League depends too much on external factors. But you can also see it positively, because the steps forward are visible. Heynckes can assess and evaluate the situation very well.
While under Ancelotti it remained a great myth that he could coach his team for the big games, under the 72-year-old the belief that with the right mixture of luck and hard work it can still go far. The difference from last year is that you really see that things are moving slowly forward.
Perhaps a little too slowly, because FC Bayern is thus at most in the extended circle of contenders for the title in the Champions League. But Bayern are in a good starting position. Sevilla is a tough but manageable opponent for the quarter-finals, which may have given them more weeks to find their best form. And if Heynckes manages to bring his squad closer to this goal step by step, the big dream of the trophy with the big ears comes closer. Though a lot still has to happen to achieve this.