Uninspired Loss in Spain
The big news prior to the match was that Alphonso Davies was available and in fact made the starting lineup. Nagelsmann set up with Manuel Neuer in goal, Benjamin Pavard, Dayot Upamecano, Lucas Hernández and Davies in defense. Joshua Kimmich and Jamal Musiala started in midfield behind Kingsley Coman, Thomas Müller and Serge Gnabry with Robert Lewandowski at striker.
From the start, Villarreal played with a lot of energy and made life difficult for the Munich side. Bayern for their part looked lethargic in the extreme.
It would take eight whole minutes for Villarreal to take the lead. Giovani Lo Celso dribbled up the right wing as Musiala defended and Davies covered Gerard Moreno. Lo Celso passed wide to Moreno then ran pas Musiala who went in the opposite direction giving Lo Celso acres of space inside the box. Moreno found Lo Celso who forced Hernández to cover him leaving Dani Parejo open in the center of the box. His shot was deflected in by an equally open Arnaut Danjuma to make it 1-0.
If the Bayern faithful thought this might spark some energy in their players, they were completely wrong. Bayern played out the rest of the half in a daze. A lot of possession but little to no real chances created.
The passing in the final third was particularly bad, partially due to the excellent energy and work by the Villarreal defenders, but also because of careless mistakes by the Bayern attackers.
Close to the end of the half, Villarreal looked to have made things worse after Francis Coquelin hit a cross across goal that happened to go in off the far post. Luckily for Bayern, VAR review showed that Coquelin was a good yard off sides and so the teams went into halftime with the score 1-0.
Nagelsmann made no changes at the half and while Bayern looked slightly better, it did not result in anything significant up top. In fact, Villarreal would arguably have the best chances early in the half.
In the 62nd minute, Leon Goretzka and Leroy Sané replaced Müller and Gnabry, respectively. Moving Musiala up the field and putting Goretzka next to Kimmich made this side look far better than it had to that point.
However, that was not enough for Bayern to find a breakthrough. Bayern increasingly controlled the game but it was still Villarreal that had the better opportunities. Ultimately, Bayern would be forced to settle for a 1-0 defeat leaving a lot of work to do next week in Munich.
Apart from the obvious lack of energy, the performance today was highlighted by the lack of clinical passing in the final third especially. The front line consistently put terrible passes into their teammates.
Seemingly every time they finally got themselves into a position to break down Villarreal, they would make a pass that was just too heavy or too light or too far left or right. It was infuriating to watch, not least because you know they are capable of better.
Those mistakes were not limited to the attack though. Neuer had an uncharacteristically shaky performance highlighted by giving the ball away while playing the ball near the center circle and helplessly scrambling back towards goal as he futilely watched the ball go just wide.
While some on social media were critical of Nagelsmann’s decision to start Davies and the performance of the defense, my overall impression was that those two factors played very little into the ultimate result.
Davies actually saved Bayern a few times including a last ditch tackle it would be hard to imagine anyone else at Bayern’s disposal making to keep Villarreal from having an open shot on Neuer.
However the insistence of Nagelsmann and Bayern’s hierarchy to use Musiala as a six leaves me personally baffled. While I understood it when Goretzka was out and there were a significant amount of injuries in that position, I still find this undesirable solution.
Musiala can play in that position. Müller can play in that position. That doesn’t mean that they should though. Especially in a match like today where Villarreal played a fairly physical style, Musiala’s size is a huge disadvantage to him as a six.
He’s also not totally accustomed to the responsibilities of the position, as his role in the goal proved. Musiala has had great performances this year. A few of them were even in that position.
However, all of the things we’ve seen that have made him a fan favorite are in the attacking half of the pitch. His creativity and dribbling. His spark and energy. His ability to create when there seems to be nothing available.
Yes his effort and abilities make it so he can play deeper, but that should be as a last resort. I would much rather see Nagelsmann and Bayern give other players who are more suited to that position long term a start if Goretzka is not fit enough to play back to back matches.
This is obviously the biggest issue from this match. Bayern did next to nothing on the offensive end. They had four total shots on goal for the match. Of those four shots, two were from outside of the box and two were from the edge of the box. All four were essentially directly at the keeper.
Looking at all of their shots, 15 of their 22 shots came from outside the box. While Villarreal deserves a lot of credit for their effort and organization, there was also a complete lack of creativity from the Munich side.
Lewandowski touched the ball 29 total times in the match and had two shots. Müller also had 29 touches of the ball but zero shots. Bayern were completely unable to get them involved on the night. Every attack went down the wings and almost nothing came from them.
While I thought Davies was good enough, especially on the defensive end, he did struggle to get things going offensively. He looked a little rusty, which is to be expected, however it did really hurt the wingers to not get the support that he usually provides in the overlap.
Pavard didn’t offer much more and when combined with the less than convincing midfield play, there was very little on offer in the middle and it was far too easy for Villarreal to shut down the wingers as they struggled to make any headway.
Nagelsmann and the Bayern players will have a week to get things back on track. I think we all expect a response and at least a far more inspired performance come next week. Whether it will ultimately be enough remains to be seen. All we can do is hope that they continue to get more healthy and start to perform at the level we know they’re capable of.