Blundering Bayern drop crucial points against struggling Nürnberg: Three takeaways
In what was one of Bayern’s worst games of the season, they were lucky to even earn a point against their unheralded opponents. Struggling for rhythm, the men from Munich were staring defeat square in the face until Nürnberg missed a late penalty – only to blow it themselves just moments later.
Yesterday, Borussia Dortmund blew it big time in the Revierderby against Schalke 04. Unbeaten at home all season, Bayern’s title-chasing rivals lost the plot against their local arch-enemy, finishing with nine men en route to a catastrophic 2:4 defeat. For many pundits and observers, it signalled the end of Dortmund’s title challenge. After all, Bayern were up against struggling Nürnberg the following afternoon, and were expected to score a bag full of goals and stretch their advantage at the top to four points.
The problem is that football does not quite work like that, which gives the game its eternal charm. While coach Niko Kovač and the Bayern players may have been guilty of underestimating their opponents, Nürnberg were not going to turn up to simply roll over. Right from the start, one sensed that it was going to be a struggle.
It was not just a case of everything going wrong, but nothing going right. Had FCN keeper Christian Mathenia not got a hand on David Alaba’s stunning free-kick in the 23rd minute, things might have turned out differently. Instead, it set the pattern for the remainder of the contest. Bayern were nowhere near their potent best, continually fluffed their lines, and just to compound matters there were some strange decisions from the coach.
Having followed football and a number of other sports for many years, one thing I have learned is that it’s never a good idea to underestimate a struggling team. I go back to the Cricket World Cup of 1992, when Pakistan’s underrated side, on the brink of elimination, turned the corner. Ahead of their make or break final group phase game against hosts and reigning champions Australia, Pakistan captain Imran Khan described his team as “cornered tigers”. They eventually went on to win the tournament.
Nürnberg’s battle is against relegation, and it is highly unlikely that they will survive come the end of the season. But against Bayern, they played like cornered tigers. The team that has everything to prove, but nothing to lose. When up against a team that takes their talent for granted, rabbits are often pulled out of the hat. So it proved today. Bayern could have snatched victory right at the death, but they would not have deserved it. Indeed, one could argue that they hardly deserved a point. Nürnberg’s late penalty was questionable, but no Bayern fan would have denied them their moment of glory had Tim Leibold not struck the base of the post.
The problem was in the starting lineup and the personnel changes that followed. Serge Gnabry has been been Bayern’s player of the season, yet he was left on the bench. When the winger did arrive in the second half, he made a difference and scored the crucial equaliser. Unless he was injured, the decision to sub out Thomas Müller was bizarre, as was hooking out Javi Martínez for James Rodríguez. Meanwhile, the ineffective Leon Goretzka remained on the pitch.
I have defended the coach at nearly every opportunity, but today his staff management was questionable at best. Added to the team’s lucklustre and self-entitled attitude, it made for an ugly and forgettable performance. The only thing we can hope for is that the team learn from this, and approach next week’s very similar fixture against Hannover 96 with a clearer sense of purpose.
The coach made some duff decisions, the team were awful, and goal machine Robert Lewandowski was nowhere to be seen. We can spend all of the next week discussing the negatives. But what is done is done. Two points have been dropped, and a massive chance to put one nail in Dormund’s title ambitions has been spurned. It is hard to take a positive spin on things, but we can see a silver lining if we really want to. With three match days remaining, the last thing we want to do is kick off more arguments.
Yes, Bayern blew their chance opening up a four-point advantage over Dortmund. But before the weekend, nobody was expecting Lucien Favre’s men to get hammered at home by Schalke. If any Bayern fan was asked what the table would look like by Sunday evening, they would have had us a point in front. Yet we are have a two-point advantage. It means that with our superior goal difference, we can afford one more draw from the remaining three matches.
To some, this may sound like polishing a turd. OK, yes, it is. But should we win the title on goal difference, we will look at Leibold’s late penalty miss with a little more affection. Not quite Kutzop 1986, but right up there with the rest of those memorable moments shared over a beer with fellow Bayern fans. We would also forget about Kingsley Coman’s fluffed chance at the end, when he failed to make the most of a one-on-one with Mathenia.
What we have to do now is forget about this shit show, and move on. We are still in front, and the title is in Bayern’s hands.