The chase is on: three takeaways from FC Bayern v TSG Hoffenheim
There is still plenty of work to do and problems to iron out, but the chase is on.
Leon Goretzka’s opening half-season in Munich would have its moments, but it is fair to say that the summer signing from Schalke 04 hardly set the world alight. Injury problems certainly didn’t help. Might 2019 be his year?
In what was a dominant first half for die Roten, the Bochum-born 23-year-old was beyond sublime. Defensively, he was solid. Going forward, he showed flashes of Michael Ballack. As Bayern looked to counterattack, he was always involved.
Having already had a couple of sighters including a firm shot that was well saved by Oliver Baumann, Goretzka netted Bayern’s first Bundesliga goal of the year with a sharp finish after the Hoffenheim keeper had denied Robert Lewandowski.
If Goretzka’s first goal was all down to his positioning and awareness, his second was a wonderful example of skill and timing. Getting on the end of a David Alaba pass that evaded every blue shirt, the finish was both delicate and precise. It also gave the Bavarians a two-goal buffer that was deserved and, in the end, crucial.
For a long time now, Bayern have been unable to put their opponents away. It is a problem that continues to plague coach Niko Kovač, in much the same way as it plagued his recent predecessors.
The first half was nothing short of a masterclass. The passing was slick, the counterattack was fast if not always accurate, and the home side found themselves firmly up against the wall. Hoffenheim’s attack was completely blunted, and Manuel Neuer could have wandered off and not been missed. Bayern could and arguably should have been more than two goals in front at half time.
It was a completely different story in the second half. Some well-considered tactical tweaks by Hoffe coach Julian Nagelsmann upped the ante, and the men in red found it hard to respond. There was panic in their passing, and far too many loose passes. To no great surprise, Hoffenheim found their way into a game that should have been long over.
Nico Schulz’s excellent breakaway goal created a contest, and were it not for a miraculous save from Neuer to deny sub Ádám Szalai, we might have been taking about yet another two-point squandering. In the end, the intelligence of the lately-introduced James Rodríguez, the calmness of Thomas Müller, and the efficiency of Lewandowski sealed the deal.
While we can all be happy with the three points, it is clear that there is plenty of work to do. The jittery spells have become a consistent feature, and the team’s inability to deal with changes in tempo will be a bigger problem against more testing opposition. The positive thing is that it looks like the players are starting to work with the coach.
What was nice to see was the team’s speed on the counterattack, and their willingness to chase the space. Kingsley Coman was able to get behind the opposition defence with relative ease, and the speed of the game allowed David Alaba to show just how good he can be. When new signing Alphonso Davies gets involved, I expected to see this counterattacking game ramped up even further.
There was also that little bit of luck that Bayern had been missing in the Hinrunde. A couple of months ago, Hoffenheim may have snatched a point.