3 Things We Noticed: FC Bayern – RB Leipzig 3-0 (3-0)

The last game of the year was a big one: on Wednesday evening, Bayern hosted RB Leipzig. The guests needed a win to go past Bayern and top the league table through the winter break. Author: Justin • Translator: Bettina

The newly promoted team had two doubtful players before the game in Keita and Halstenberg, but both got fit in time. Carlo Ancelotti, too, could mostly use the same players he had available in previous games, although injured Boateng of course left a big hole in the squad.

Bayern Munich vs RB Leipzig, starting formations Bayern Munich vs RB Leipzig, 21.12.2016, starting formations.
The match stats.(Graphics: Lukas)
The statistics of this match.
(Graphics: Lukas)

3 things we noticed:

1. Vidal and Alonso on fire when needed

Before the game, Carlo Ancelotti’s starting eleven caused raised eyebrows all around – including mine. But the coach proved that he was right and trusted both Vidal, who hadn’t seemed physically fit recently, and Alonso, who had played bad passes all round.

In a generally impressive early phase, Bayern had a 70% win rate in their duels, due mostly to these two players. Vidal won five balls before half-time, Alonso won four. In addition, Vidal played great passes and positioned himself exceptionally well. It felt like the Chilean single-handedly ended every single Leipzig counterattack.

Alonso’s performance was even more suprising, given how erratic he had played in recent weeks and how easy it had been to put him under pressure. Leipzig’s aggressive pressing, however, didn’t faze the routinier in the slightest and only 3 of his passes missed their goal in the first half, and they weren’t important ones. Alonso put his team mates into promising positions vertically, helped out the centre-defenders in build-up play, and crowned his performance with a goal.

It looks like the 35-year-old can still play at highest level, even though of course one game is not enough to be completely sure. Alonso will have to question himself during the winter break, and then continue playing at this level in the second half of the season. If he manages that, he will play an important role for Bayern even in 2017.

2. Triangles, intensity, Costa

Mats Hummels had demanded a top quality performance ahead of the game, claiming that just standard wouldn’t be enough. His team delivered accordingly, and the defender’s new hair colour (owed to a lost bet) wasn’t the only change in Bayern’s way of playing. The offensive game, too, seemed brand new. Leipzig’s pressing turned completely ineffective because Ancelotti’s team built connections continuously, moved constantly, and seemed to have superior numbers all across the pitch – even before the red card.

Bayern’s pressing was more aggressive and effective than it had been in a long time. There were plenty of won duels high up the field, resulting from a well-tiered team, but also from Thiago in an offensive midfield role who presented himself as a fantastic duelist. Bayern’s number 6 kept instructing his team-mates, had intelligent runs himself, and generally lifted the game against the ball to a higher level. In addition, Thiago was an important passing option in both half-spaces and was excellent once again. The Spaniard is most likely Bayern’s player of the season so far.

However, Douglas Costa, who hadn’t always been convincing, seems to be on an upward trend towards the end of the calendar year. The Brazilian had 5 key passes, 4 shots, and 6/7 duels won. He positioned himself well, showed excellent diagonal runs, and his crosses were always dangerous. Douglas Costa has built a foundation for a claim to more starts, and it looks like Franck Ribéry has serious competition. Good for Bayern.

Carlo Ancelotti had reason to celebrate. (Photo: GUENTER SCHIFFMANN/AFP/Getty Images)
Carlo Ancelotti had reason to celebrate.
(Photo: GUENTER SCHIFFMANN/AFP/Getty Images)

3. The league isn’t won yet

Bayern Munich will go into the winter break in the Bundesliga’s top spot, successfully finishing a difficult first half of the season. Reaching this first goal with such an impressive scoreline against their best pursuers so far also sends a strong message to the rest of the league: the only way to win this league is to go past Bayern. It should be so obvious that it doesn’t need to be stated, but the truth of it was questioned – with good reason – during the course of this season.

There were good reasons for that. The record champions couldn’t show the performance that is needed to finish in the top spot throughout many games. In some games, there was luck, in others, high pressing completely overwhelmed them. The area that needed the biggest improvements was the midfield; Ancelotti had to tweak personnel and tactical line-up several times before he ended up with a 4-2-3-1 that finally covered the central offensive midfield and at the same time simplified build-up play.

Against Leipzig, the team skilfully played around their opponent’s pressing traps and put themselves into dangerous spots again and again. Hummels continuosly found his team-mates with his passes and his dangerous vertical play played an important role, but Alonso, too, profited from this support. Bayern showed their best performance under Carlo Ancelotti and managed, to first time, to go all the way.

However, that doesn’t mean the league is over, yet. Bayern is in a very good spot, and the distance to the teams behind 3rd place is huge. Still, it’s essential to keep up the focus, to build up more continuity, and to play a second half of the season that will show a massive improvement on what we have seen so far. The way Bayern tore apart their opponent today should give us hope, encourage us, and whet our appetites for 2017.

FC Bayern – RB Leipzig 3-0 (3-0)
FC Bayern MunichNeuer – Lahm, Martínez, Hummels, Alaba (67. Bernat) – Thiago, Alonso, Vidal (75. Kimmich) – Robben (46. Ribéry), Lewandowski, Costa
BenchUlreich, Rafinha, Müller, Sanches
RB LeipzigGulacsi – Bernardo, Ilsanker, Orban, Halstenberg – Keita (46. Kaiser), Demme – Sabitzer (82. Burke), Forsberg – Werner (59. Selke), Poulsen
BenchM. Müller, Schmitz, Kalmar, Khedira
Goals1-0 Thiago (17.), 2-0 Alonso (25.), 3-0 Lewandowski (45./penalty)
CardsYellow: Vidal / Sabitzer, Red: Forsberg (30.)
RefereeFelix Zwayer (Berlin)
Attendance75,000 (sold out)

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