Ups and Downs
Coming into Wednesday’s Champions League matchup with Dynamo Kyiv, the Munich side was already in a very strong position in their group. That would be solidified even further following this match day as the on paper rivals Barcelona were blown out by Benfica and Bayern went on to drum the Ukrainian side 5-0.
Nagelsmann started the match with an interesting lineup with Manuel Neuer, Niklas Süle, Dayot Upamecano, Lucas Hernández, Alphonso Davies, Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka, Serge Gnabry, Thomas Müller, Leroy Sané and Robert Lewandowski.
While this could be looked as a classic Bayern 4-2-3-1, it really played more as a 3-2-5. Davies, Sané and Gnabry rarely were called upon to provide any deep defensive duties and instead focused on breaking down the Kyiv defense, which Davies and Sane did with regularity on the left side of the pitch.
The reality is that there would be very little need for defense from any of Bayern’s players save for a few moments sprinkled throughout the match. From the opening whistle the team was in control and looked far more comfortable than they had just a few weeks ago.
The players appear to know where they and their teammates were supposed to be. They appear to have a better feeling for how they move and are starting to pick out passes with far more ease. While there are still a few problems here or there, the rapid improvement has been wonderful to watch.
The goal scoring started in the 12th minute as Bayern were awarded a penalty as a result of a handball. Lewandowski stepped up and casually slid it into the corner of the goal 1-0. Then in the 27th minute, Thomas Müller played in a ball to the striker who had created space from his defender and blasted it past the helpless Dynamo keeper.
The half would end 2-0 and Kyiv would put in a good showing at the start of the second half. However around the 60 minute mark, things started to change. It would take a little more time but eventually in the 68th minute Süle cleared a ball to Sané who hit a perfect pass to free a running Gnabry. Gnabry took a couple of touches into the box and hit a scorcher past the goalkeeper 3-0.
Six minutes later, Sané would get in on the scoring himself. Having played an excellent game to that point, the winger took the ball outside of the box on the left and seeing some confusion hit a shot from a seemingly impossible angle that threw off the keeper and resulted in Bayern’s fourth goal. Finally in the 87th minute, Benjamin Pavard would find Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting with a cross that the striker was able to head in 5-0.
Nagelsmann would line up exactly the same way against Frankfurt as he did the midweek match against Kyiv. The match itself would start off with Bayern in completely control. They had the majority of possession and created multiple chances early but failed to find a breakthrough.
That breakthrough would eventually come though through the foot of Goretzka. In the 29th minute, Bayern would win the ball back well inside the Frankfurt half. From there Müller took one touch to move it to Lewandowski who one touched it into space for an oncoming Goretzka and the midfielder took the open chance and buried it in the low far corner past Kevin Trapp 1-0.
However, the lead would be short lived. Naturally the goal would also be scored by Martin Hinteregger from a set piece. In the 33rd minute, the Austrian central defender would get himself wide open on a corner kick and head it past Neuer to make it 1-1. This latest goal even made me wonder that if you had only seen Hinteregger’s performances against Bayern over recent years, wouldn’t you naturally assume he was one of the best center backs in the world?
The remaining twelve minutes saw Frankfurt far more involved and confident in their play. Both teams would end up with seemingly can’t miss chances. First Neuer would rescue Bayern after Almamy Touré found himself wide open in the box one on one following a Davies error. Just a few minutes later, Sané would put in a perfect pass to Gnabry just outside the six yard box but the German winger would mishit it and put it off the post, meaning the half ended 1-1.
The second half would start with Bayern having the majority of possession again and a significant amount of chances. However, Kevin Trapp played an exceptional game in goal for Frankfurt and managed to repel nearly everything that Bayern threw his way making some remarkable saves. The most notable of which came from a beautiful cross put in by Süle to Lewanowski who headed from in the six yard box but the Frankfurt keeper managed to stick his foot out and make an incredible save at point blank range.
Up until the 83rd minute, it seemed as though Bayern would be the most likely team to find a breakthrough and win. However, that minute turned the game on its head. Filip Kostic would get the ball on the left edge of the box, take a few touches while no Bayern defenders really closed him down and he took a shot. While it was hard hit and low, Neuer misplayed the shot and it went right past his left arm and into the net 1-2.
From there Bayern put in a last ditch barrage to get something out of the match but again Trapp came to the rescue and Bayern were forced to accept a rare defeat at the Allianz in the Bundesliga.
Leroy Sané once again had an impressive couple of games this week. The German winger has taken massive steps forward since his slow start to the season and has seemingly won over even the biggest of doubters.
Since moving to the left wing following Coman’s injury, he and Davies have formed an excellent bond and become the driving force of Bayern’s offensive attack. Both players have been in excellent form over recent weeks but Sané has been truly exceptional.
The German winger has seemingly been involved in nearly every dangerous opportunity that the Bavarians have created. With three goals and four assists in September, he is finally showing the skills that made everyone so excited when he joined last year.
His movements, dribbles, passes and shots have all been excellent. However, it might be his overall effort that has really turned the momentum. He has consistently worked to regain possession when it’s lost. His work against the ball has favorably reminded me of Thomas Müller and Jamal Musiala and has made a huge difference given how high up the field Davies tends to play.
At the moment, he has been the most consistent player for Bayern outside of maybe Lewandowski and Neuer, and even that is a conversation. Either way, it is a massive boon for Nagelsmann and Bayern to have this type of production and consistency on the wing where there have been notable ups and downs over recent years.
Ever since the return from the previous international break, Bayern has looked far better. Their passing has been cleaner and crisper. Their movements seem more organized and understood within the team. There seems to be a better understanding of what Nagelsmann wants and expects and also between the players themselves in terms of what they expect from one another.
However, there are still moments where they revert. Those moments had not had a huge impact until Sunday’s matchup with Frankfurt when a combination of tremendous goalkeeping, missed opportunities and fortunate breaks for their opposition finally made them pay.
Bayern controlled the match 70% of the time. However, that other 30% was riddled with careless mistakes and easy opportunities for Frankfurt. These problems run throughout the team but a few players have been particularly problematic.
For some reason, Goretzka has been perhaps the most prone to these mistakes this season. He has just looked a little off, especially compared to his stellar form of the last two years. Far too often he seems to be on a completely different page than every other player. His passes have too much power and are often inaccurate. His movement is a step off or the opposite of what his teammates expect. It has been that nagging bit of sand in an otherwise well oil machine far too often.
It’s also hard to pinpoint where the problem exactly stems from. I’ve found myself wondering if it’s the new system, having new center backs or even a nagging injury. Perhaps its a combination of all three. However, you have to wonder if Sabitzer might start to see increasing match time if things don’t improve sooner rather than later.
He’s far from alone though. Davies still has the odd lapse, that tends to be exceptionally costly given his position. The same is true for all of the defenders as Pavard, Süle, Upamecano and Hernández have all had their moments, though most often this season they have been fortunate enough to not be punished for them. Even Neuer had that bad miscue on the second goal against Frankfurt. Especially given his form ever since he came back from injury in 2019, any mistake on his part seems notable. That goal would be expected to be saved by nearly any goalkeeper in existence, but on this day it beat arguably the best.
Looking back over the last few weeks, you have to question how much our sense of improvement was Bayern’s doing and how much of it was simply poor play from their opponents. Again, the most likely answer seems to be a combination, but the next four matches will likely tell us a lot more as they travel to face Leverkusen and Benfica, are home to Hoffenheim and then travel to Gladbach for the next round of the DFB Pokal. That is not an easy schedule and if these little mistakes are not corrected, they could very well find themselves in a bad spot coming out of it.
Yes, I am labeling a week in which our star striker scored a brace against Kyiv as a struggle. Yes, I know that seems ridiculous and harsh. However, given his lofty standards, failing to score in two consecutive Bundesliga matches and two out of three matches total does give me pause.
To be fair, only several seemingly miraculous saves prevented the striker from scoring against Frankfurt, however he also seems to be a little less involved in recent matches. Nagelsmann’s attack has focused on the wings (specifically the left) far more than the center of the pitch.
Lewandowski and Müller have spent more time off the ball looking for space than on the ball trying to create it. While we all know both of these players are extremely capable of playing a variety of systems, it still feels as though the club needs to find a way to get them involved earlier in the build up and press through the center more often.
As great as Sané and Davies have played, this team is at its best when their star striker and the man behind him are firing on all cylinders. Finding a way to get more of the team involved both centrally and on the right, is something that Nagelsmann needs to iron out.
While I think many of us will not be overly concerned about Lewandowski and Müller, the right is far more challenging as Pavard has struggled in form and there doesn’t yet seem to be a firm second option between Süle and Stanišić who are both unlikely to provide significant offensive support as much as we all might love a good Sülinho moment. It has left the team feeling less balanced than they should and I think partially resulted in the lack of service and attack through the center of the pitch.