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Five observations on Bayern’s last-minute win over Freiburg

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Bayern’s midfield woes nearly cost them the game.

Bayern Muenchen v TSG 1899 Hoffenheim - Bundesliga Photo by Boris Streubel/Getty Images

Thomas Müller’s struggles continue

As expected, with Thiago Alcantara sidelined by an untimely injury during his training camp, Thomas Müller returned to his favorite place, lurking forward behind Robert Lewandowski in a 4-2-3-1 lineup. The result fell far short of all our hopes, as Müller simply could not find his way consistently into the game for the full ninety minutes of play. Müller received several opportunities to make something happen near Freiburg’s goal, but nothing came of any of them – let alone his unlikely effort to win a penalty. While Müller failed to record a shot, he did succeed in making a handful of key passes. That, however, still falls far below his lofty standards.

Ancelotti’s shifts and overloads: a work in progress

The offense today featured a variety of interesting shifts, side-swapping, and overloads. Bayern’s wingers continue to switch sides at key moments in the hopes of catching the defense off guard. Today, at different points in the game, we saw Douglas Costa drift over to the right to support Arjen Robben, we saw Robben in turn drift over to the left later in the game. At one point, Mats Hummels dribbled his way clear into Freiburg’s penalty area while Xabi Alonso hung back to cover his place in the back line. Hummels in fact showed best how such surprising moments can be productive, very nearly scoring a great header on one such occasion. The overall effect, however, was underwhelming, as Bayern’s best chances came from its wingers playing on their usual sides: Douglas Costa and Ribery on the left, and Robben on the right.

Who is the defensive midfielder we need?

Xabi Alonso was in charge today, but played a game to forget. Alonso looked painfully slow in the opening half of the game, when Freiburg focused all its energy on fast-paced high-pressing. Alonso was forced to take shelter in the blitz with Hummels and Javi Martinez and send long passes over Freiburg’s heads in an attempt to bypass the midfield altogether. Needless to say, his passing game was bad – only an 83 percent success rate. Alonso’s lack of speed and associated lack of accuracy made it extremely difficult for Bayern to build up play and bring the ball forward. His lack of pace also proved a liability when he was nearly caught by Freiburg’s early pressing, drawing a yellow card for a nasty tactical foul after being dispossessed. Joshua Kimmich entered the game in the second half to replace an injured Arturo Vidal, but one cannot help but wonder whether he should perhaps have started in place of Alonso, albeit sacrificing experience for pace.

The key to Freiburg’s success: an injured, isolated Vidal

Vidal started today alongside Alonso, but he might as well not have started at all. The rib injury he suffered in the Telekom Cup proved more serious than it at first seemed, and he had to leave the game early in the second half. While he played, he was forced to bear the brunt of Freiburg’s pressing head on, as Alonso was too slow and positioned too deep behind him to give him a consistent partner, he struggled to keep the ball and find an opening. None other than Lewandowski could be seen repeatedly dropping back to help relieve the pressure, paradoxically playing behind Müller when we all expected the opposite. Freiburg’s ability to control the midfield cost Bayern dearly. Their opening goal began with Lewandowski being dispossessed in the midfield, and then a lightning-fast succession of passes brought the ball into danger in the blink of an eye. Vidal just could not do it all.

Lewandowski is working too hard

At some point in the game, Lewandowski took an elbow to the head while contesting a ball in the midfield and fell to the ground. We all breathed a sigh of relief when, as usual, it proved to be nothing serious, but the work Bayern’s phenomenal striker has been investing in his team may be getting out of hand, and Carlo Ancelotti should take care. Today Lewandowski scored a brace and carried his team to victory, but when he was not prowling Freiburg’s penalty area, he could be found again and again well behind Bayern’s front line, fighting for the ball alongside an outmatched Vidal and sluggish Alonso. Lewandowski lives and breathes attacking soccer, and if no one can get the ball to him, then he will go and get the ball to someone else – whether Robben or Costa or whoever – and then dash forward to catch a cross or rebound. But while his willingness to defend and create is commendable, it is a sign of trouble when Lewandowski is constantly playing in the midfield. If the current double-pivot of Alonso and Vidal forces Bayern’s striker to compensate, Ancelotti should weigh alternatives. Lewandowski is too precious to risk.