Tiresome comeback: Bayern wins “away” at Union Berlin 2:0
The league actually did the impossible: As the very first professional west European football league they persuaded the federal and various state governments of Germany to allow football to return. The start of this third part of the season was away at Union Berlin, very much to the dismay of half of Miasanrot’s staff.
The first lineup after the long break packed no surprises. Hansi Flick kept his trust in the same defence that successfully worked before consisting of Pavard, Boateng, Alaba and Davies, Hernández stayed on the bench. In front of midfield-duo Thiago and Kimmich Goretzka got the nod over Coman, moving Müller to right-wing. Flick explained fielding Goretzka with the Union player’s height and strength from set pieces.
Without their coach Urs Fischer Union started in a 3-4-3 / 5-2-3 formation. Arjen Robben’s old “friend” Neven Subotić played in defence, while their most prolific goal-scorer Andersson was benched at first, making Bülter on left-wing their most effective forward.
In a patchy start, Bayern gave their opponents lots of spaces defending courageously or naively depending on your outlook as it boiled down to lots of critical defensive one on ones duels, promptly leading to Union getting two good attempts on target. At times they were almost man-marking the Bayern players while repeatedly attacking the space behind Alphonso Davies. Still, against the course of play Bayern almost went ahead, but Müller was called offside by a hair’s breadth (17’). Either way, this scene did serve to wake up Bayern as they now took control of the game, playing more forward and diagonal football. When that phase just about dwindled out, Subotić lost track of Goretzka, fouling him at the edge of the box. Lewandowski’s resulting penalty finish was about as ruthless as ever (40’). Nothing of note happened furthermore and with a 1:0 lead for Bayern, the players went into the dressing room one by one with a reasonably safe distance in between each other.
Neither coach made changes to their personnel and the game proceeded to lose itself in a way in various fiery duels in midfield. Around the 60th minute however, it seemed like Bayern pressed higher, tightening their grip around the game and subsequently never proceeding to fully lose it. While they did not in a sense radiate any dangerous vibes, they did not really need to since being a goal ahead occupying Union’s half with typical possession style football was enough. In the 71st minute Andersson and Gentner came on for Ujah and Andrich, additionally, Flick brought on Coman for Goretzka, moving Müller in midfield. A few minutes later Coman could have made an immediate impact, but following a great run by Gnabry, he decided to attempt a cross when shooting was the better option. Fellow Frenchman Pavard did a better job in the 81st minute. He himself got a corner and put Kimmich’s delivery in the net leading to half of the team to conveniently forget the rules for goal celebrations.
Perišić came on for Gnabry and a bit later Cuisance for Müller, while Union substituted Ryerson and Felix Kroos for Bülter and Prömel (85’). The game was decided and in its last sequence of note Manuel Neuer denied the younger Kroos with a good save. Bayern won its comeback-game 2:0 and will now play Eintracht Frankfurt “at home” in a week.
Many a fan shuddered at the thought of ‘ghost games’. Football was supposed to belong to the fans and now it was due to play without them? Without the Ultras? Scandalous! Now I am not exactly sure if it was our all collective withdrawal from football but all in all, the start was a promising one. Much more than I ever expected it, the proceedings on the pitch did resemble “proper” football. All the various screams and cries are off-putting and sound more like Sunday league football then professional sport but a few minutes I got the hang of it, I accepted this new reality. I do of course miss the fans -at the Alte Försterei stadium more than anywhere else- but the fear that this would become a completely different type of sport was unfounded on this first weekend of quarantine-football.
A major idea behind the continuation of football was to bring society back to normal to an extent, now you can and should question the probability of success here and wonder if football is not overestimating its own importance once again but on the pitch things did look a little like everything was indeed back to normal. Even with no supporters in the stands Union left quarantine looking for blood and were as courageous as Bayern was erratic. What in fact was the first game of football either of these sides played for months bared a striking semblance to a typical 26th matchday of Bundesliga right before a big Champions League match. That includes Bayern sort of just waking up after 20 minutes and getting a penalty as equally correct as it was unnecessary. Sometimes in games against promoted sides players suddenly do things they would usually never do, like Gnabry losing dribblings and possession on the half-way line or Davies focussing so much on attack he would leave the space behind him practically unguarded. Including but not not limited to Bayern’s left-hand side the positioning was weak oftentimes and at the start of the match Bayern was banking too much on their own strength in defence, nearly gambling themselves to a deficit.
After the scrap in the first and beginning of the second half, Bayern settled for a sufficient level. Against Union it was enough that Gnabry and Davies attacked better and more purposeful, that Pavard just played an all around good half, that the entire team decidedly pressed Union higher and more successfully. It was all enough to keep a promoted side battling relegation at practically zero attempts on target for an entire half. In German you would say “a good horse only jumps as high as it has to” and it is important to note that it really was not much better than that. The goal that closed the game off came late and only with a set piece, just as the first offside goal was. All in all only few attempts were created from open play. Even matchwinner Goretzka hardly got best marks since if not for his assist, his performance was about as ghostly as the atmosphere in the stadium was.