One game, seven goals
Even before kick off, Niko Kovač produced the first talking point of the match by leaving out Thiago from his starting lineup. Instead, Tolisso made the start in defensive midfield alongside Kimmich. Alaba started at left-back in place of the injured Hernández and Jerome Boateng got a second successive start in the center of defense.
Mauricio Pochettino sent his team out in a 4-4-2 diamond formation, with playmaker Christian Eriksen left on the bench.
The game started as an open contest straight away. Within the opening minutes of the match, Lloris had to parry a good strike by Gnabry and Neuer had to win a one-on-one challenge against Son. However, Tottenham soon took control of the game and after a number of good chances, Son scored the game’s opening goal in the 12th minute. Tolisso played a terrible misplaced pass close to his own penalty area into the feet of Sissoko, who moved it back to Son in Bayern’s penalty area. Son drove a powerful shot across goal from a central-right position which left Neuer no chance, making it 1-0.
Against the run of play, Bayern managed to level the score just a few minutes later with a powerful and precise strike by Kimmich from more than 20 meters out after Tottenham failed to clear their lines.
Yet, Tottenham stayed in control of the game and continued to create chances in the following minutes, most notably by Kane (18th minute) and Ndombélé (25th minute).
From around the 30th minute onwards, Bayern was increasingly able to calm down the match and choke off Tottenham’s supply of chances. Tottenham still looked like the better team, but the threat on Neuer’s goal began to subside.
As both teams already seemed to prepare for half time, Lewandowski scored virtually out of no where. After Tottenham repeatedly failed to get the ball out of their penalty area, it finally found itself at the feet of Lewandowski, who, standing with his back to goal, turned around a Tottenham defender and placed the ball into the right-hand corner of the goal without looking. A world class strike by Bayern’s man in form to make it 1-2.
At half time, Kovač brought on Thiago for Alaba, who apparently was injured. Thiago took Kimmich’s place in midfield, Kimmich moved to right-back and Pavard switched over to left-back.
Bayern got their third goal in the 53rd minute when Serge Gnabry channeled his inner Arjen Robben, cut inside from the left corner of the penalty area and scored for the 1-3.
It took Gnabry only two more minutes to score the 1-4. Tolisso stole the ball through a challenge with Winks, whence it got to Gnabry who had an easy time scoring against a helpless Lloris (55th minute).
Tottenham got a goal back from a penalty kick by Harry Kane in the 60th minute after a challenge by Coman on Danny Rose on the edge of the penalty area was ruled a foul. 2-4.
Tottenham’s next chance came in the 66th minute through an Eriksen shot from distance. Not long after that, Perišić came on for Coman and Martinez came on for a seriously injured Boateng, who had to be helped off the field. Subsequently, Bayern allowed Tottenham more time on the ball and decided to take a rest on the back of their two goal lead. Tottenham was thus forced to go on the offensive which allowed Bayern to sit back and hit them on the counter. Thiago used one of these chances to play a long ball over the top into Tottenham’s half. Gnabry started from the half way line and completed his hat trick after a striding 40 meter run to make it 2-5 (83rd minute).
After that the flood gates opened for Tottenham. A simple mistake in build-up play resulted in Lewandowski getting the ball via Thiago, Perišić, and Coutinho. Lewandowski kept his cool and caressed the ball into the left-hand corner of the goal with incredible skill to make it 2-6 (87th minute). Gnabry scored his fourth and final goal barely two minutes later with a targeted strike from just outside the penalty area. Thus the final score reads an astonishing 2-7.
Kovač’s starting lineup seemed bizarre. Against a pressing machine like Tottenham of all teams, he decided to start without Thiago, Bayern’s most pressing-resistant player. A coach’s intentions behind his selection of players are not always clear looking from the outside. Sometimes things only reveal themselves at the end and everybody applauds the coach for his inspired foresight. But sometimes bad ideas are just that: bad ideas. The decision to leave out Thiago certainly seems like one.
A clearly out of his depth Tolisso allowed Tottenham free reign in Bayern’s midfield in the first half. There were huge holes in front of Bayern’s defensive line and big mistakes in their build-up. Between the 15th and 30th minute, Tottenham had chance after chance which only luck and/or Manuel Neuer kept out.
Niko Kovač has often been criticized for lacking the ability to make appropriate adaptations to his team during a game. Only rarely will a side have been in so much need of them as his Bayern eleven in the first half. At no point was Tolisso equal to the challenge he faced. It was because of luck more than anything else that Bayern did not concede more than one goal in the first half.
Niko Kovač said after the game against Leipzig that it was sometimes hard to make wholesale changes to a team’s tactical setup during a match. Even though that may be the case, it is sometimes necessary to at least try.
The final scoreline reads 2-7 and nobody is talking about Tottenham’s first 30 minutes, but it does not take a genius to figure out that the second half would have turned out differently if Tottenham had used only half of their chances more clinically.
Although wholesale alterations to the tactical setup were in dire need in the first half, smaller adjustments might have gone a long way to correcting some of the issues. Irrespective of tactics, Thiago simply is the better player under pressure when compared to Tolisso and Martinez is probably the best interceptor in Bayern’s squad.
Substitutions before half time are often regarded as the worst kind of punishment for the player being subbed off, but in the end the game is about winning and losing and not about the emotional balance of a player or snide remarks by a commentator. Sometimes a measure like this is needed.
Kovač did not do that and instead decided to take a stab at Russian roulette. The result vindicates him, but only just. Upon sober reflection, he must count himself a lucky man that his team did not concede more than just the one goal in the first half.
Bayern owes their victory to the most clinical kind of scoring and moments of individual brilliance in chance creation. Even though they scored seven times, surpassing their expected goals (xG) value by five goals, not a single one of their goals was a fluke.
On Tuesday night, it was all about ability. Kimmich intended to place his shot just where it hit the net for the equaliser. Lewandowski knew perfectly well what he was doing when he scored the unlikely 1-2 shortly before half time. Gnabry had his route mapped out for him before his inner eye when he cut inside Robben-style to score his first goal. The same is true for Tolisso’s tackle before the 1-4, and for Thiago’s long ball over the top and Gnabry’s calmness before the 2-5. At the other end, Manuel Neuer demonstrated once again that he is a pillar of strength behind his back line. Yet, it is important to realize that games like this and performances like this are not the norm. Such games are often called “freak games” for a reason.
Football may be a team sport but Bayern’s win was a win of extraordinary individual class. After all the doom and gloom about the composition of the squad, there are certainly worse realizations to be had.
2-7. Two goals to seven. Not in Prague, not in Belgrade, not in the Ural. No, in London. Seven goals against Tottenham. Seven goals against one of last year’s finalist. This was truly a statement victory by Bayern if there ever was one.
Yes, the goals might never again come quite this way. Yes, any expected goal statistic has been turned to shreds. Yes, if Tottenham had been half as clinical as Bayern was, they might well have won the game. But all of this pales before the number on the score sheet. Two goals to seven. Who will remember Tottenham’s early spell of pressure in a week’s time? All they will be saying in Rome, Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool, and Manchester is that Bayern has demolished Tottenham big time.
Lewandowski has got himself a reputation of a flat track bully in recent years, a striker whom you do not have to pay attention to as soon as the knockout stages arrive. A striker who scores against Red Star but not Real. Both occasions are yet to happen this season, Real and the knockout stages, but he has sent out a statement to his critics: he is not finished yet.
Then there is Serge Gnabry, a player who was deemed not good enough at Arsenal and West Brom. Now he is the man who scored four goals against Tottenham, a player not to trifle with.
And then there is FC Bayern Munich on the whole. Ribéry and Robben are history. Lahm and Schweinsteiger left a while ago. There is a still relatively new coach on the sidelines. Management will soon be changing over. Some people may ask the question: is Bayern a club that you do not have to pay a to in the immediate future? In football, nothing speaks louder than results. A 2-7 will be heard.