Before the game, we asked ourselves how advanced FC Bayern really was. Benfica was supposed to be the first indicator of the season.
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The coach of FC Bayern definitely managed to surprise.
Thiago was probably banged up and also Goretzka received a blow in training. Since Tolisso tore his cruciate ligament against Leverkusen, Renato Sanches was in the starting eleven for the first time this season.
Kovač even omitted Thomas Müller, who seemed to be getting better and better in the last weeks. The centre consisted of Martínez, Sanches and James Rodríguez. Everything was as expected in the back and front.
The home team on the other hand lined up as expected. Benfica started in 4-3-3, which settled between 4-5-1, 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 against the ball. The Portuguese were disruptive at a very early stage, but also dropped back quickly when FC Bayern crossed the first pressing line.
In the early stages, Bayern did this very well on several occasions. After just ten minutes Kimmich, Neuer and the central defenders solved the pressure very well. Sanches dropped back from the center line to get the pass directly. Suddenly there was plenty of room. Ribéry passed the ball to Lewandowski, who took his chance superbly and gave Bayern the early lead. A dream start.
However, Benfica remained courageous and continued to press very hard to disrupt Bayern’s game. After 27 minutes, they almost equalized from a counterattack, but Neuer parried magnificently.
It was up to this point a very commanding performance by Bayern, who made many right decisions under pressure. But for the Portuguese this chance was the starting shot for a prolonged period of pressure.
Robben could have provided some calm twice in the first half, but failed in each case because of Vlachodimos (13th and 40th). Towards the end, the record champion retreated into their own penalty area, but could not make anything of the counterattacks. So they went into the dressing room with a tight 1-0 lead.
In the second half the game continued in a similar way. Sometimes Bayern defended deeply, but mostly safely, sometimes they had the ball for a long time. In the 54th minute, the FCB again managed to break up a high pressing of the Portuguese. Again it was Kimmich, who provided for the outstanding first action. Sanches got the ball in the midfield, carried it forward with a noteworthy dribble and was finally also the target player in the penalty area, who scored the 2-0 after a smooth James presentation.
All in all, Benfica wanted it, but could not manage anything. This was not least due to a very concentrated defensive performance of Bayern. In the end there were 14 to 14 shots on goal in the statistics, but 1 to 5 big chances speaks a pretty clearly language. Benfica often attempted to score from distance or beyond, but seldom looked dangerous in front of Manuel Neuer’s goal.
A successful start for Bayern, who are in second place in their group with this performance, because Ajax won 3:0 against Athens earlier in the evening.
5 things we noticed
1. Sanches like a newcomer
Renato Sanches was the biggest surprise in FC Bayern’s starting eleven. The spectators were all the more curious to see how well the midfield would work. The Portuguese played on the right side in the Müller role, but he also moved to the James side to overload or swap.
This dynamic in his role was immediately noticeable. Sanches got into the game well, had several good moments when he let himself fall for a moment and then went into one of his famous dribblings. At first it looked really good. Only the final action was missing at times.
But a major difference to earlier days is that the Portuguese doesn’t try to force it as much anymore. He seemed clearer in his actions, knew at all times what he wanted to do next. He often acted as a target player for the game’s structure, offered himself wisely between the lines and certainly wasn’t worse than Goretzka or Tolisso in the weeks before.
His dynamism can be a great advantage for Bayern’s game as a whole. At 2:0 he showed in one action everything for which he was brought to the Säbener Straße. After another excellent build-up under pressure, he prevailed in dribbling and finally had an eye for his fellow players. Finally, he ran from the back to the penalty area, where James was serving him.
The goal crowned a very good performance. But Sanches still has to work, especially in the sharpness of his final actions. In some situations he seemed too nervous and hectic.
It is now important to recognize the positive development and use it as a basis for taking the next steps. Overly high expectations are now just as inappropriate as the harsh criticism of his weak performance in his debut year. Sanches should be treated like a newcomer. Kovač is aware of this and is accordingly optimistic, relaxed but also calm in public.
2. Sewing stitches with a blunt needle
In some phases of the game, the Bavarians withdrew deep into their own half. Lewandowski then defended alone on the midline, while Robben and Ribéry dropped next to the three central midfielders. But it was by no means a case of the guests appearing insecure there.
At almost no time did you really feel that Benfica would have serious chances. It was only around the 30th minute that there were one or two attempts and a big chance to equalise. In most moments the compact formation of Bayern seemed very stable.
Over the first few weeks under Niko Kovač it has become clear that there is a focus on durability, physique and duels. That has paid off so far. For each opponent, it has been difficult to reach the goal of Manuel Neuer, who is also there in an emergency.
What hasn’ t worked yet, however, are the final nuances in counter situations. It’s true that the Münchner have managed to make the switch well and thereby combine in a very short period of time in front of the opposing goal. But then the finishing touch is missing. Towards the end of the first half there were several moments in which Bayern frivolously gave away the ball – despite equal or superior numbers. A strong deep defense is important, but the needle is blunt at the sharp points, lacking relief and penetrating power.
3. Patience under pressure
The question as to how FC Bayern would act under high pressure was a big one before the match. Hoffenheim started to disrupt the Munich side well in the early stages, but in the end they lacked quality and form. Benfica were now able, for the first time, to put the structure of the Kovač team to the test.
With Martínez, Sanches and James, it was not really clear how the FCB would handle it. In fact, however, they were often able to cover up the high level of pressing. Sometimes it was a precise and long blow to Lewandowski, sometimes a diagonal view of the wing players on offer. Particularly with the leading goal, however, Bayern showed their full class. The midfielders positioned themselves cleverly and occupied the spaces between the chains of the opponent well.
Kimmich’s outstanding opening effort provided the space to play the first vertical pass, which Sanches received thanks to clever movement. The result was a lot of space, which Bayern used without hesitation. Especially due to the individual class of the single players, Bayern is always able to find solutions even in bad positioning or in disadvantaged situations.
Not everything worked perfectly, but the mixture of patience and precision guaranteed a mostly safe build-up game. This is something Kovač will be able to build upon in the coming weeks.
4. Lahm-like performance
Joshua Kimmich’s performance against Benfica was particularly noteworthy. The right-back sometimes moved in, then occupied the spaces in midfield. Sometimes he also offered himself deeply to create a three-way chain in the back. But especially under pressure he showed what a great understanding for space he has.
Through his constant glances over his shoulders he was always in control of the situation and freed himself from the opponent’s pressing with seemingly simple body deceptions. The balance between offense and defense was often criticized with Kimmich. On this evening he excelled with a small Lahm-like performance.
5. Where is FC Bayern?
This was the question many fans of the record champions asked themselves before the duel with Benfica. The Portuguese were indeed the expected yardstick. The fact is that Bayern handled the high pressure well overall and always found solutions. It is also a fact that some frivolous ball losses can quickly spoil an evening like this.
All in all, however, the conclusion remains that FC Bayern has a clear fingerprint under Kovač. Defensive work, intensity, counter-pressing and attitude are already at the highest level. The ball circulation and the position play must be improved upon. Especially in the precision of the individual actions, there is still a lot of work to be done. However, if you draw your first small line after this game, you will get a very positive interim result, which should make Bayern fans excited about the upcoming challenges.