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Three observations from Bayern Munich’s grinding 2-1 win over Celtic in the Champions League

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Direct play, squad rotation and a feisty opponent all part of an important win

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Celtic FC v Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Bayern won in very direct fashion

Striker Robert Lewandowski was left in Munich to nurse a slight leg injury and his goal-scoring prowess was missed as Bayern Munich played with James Rodriguez deployed in a false 9-type role in a nominal 4-3-3 formation. There was not a lot of panache in Bayern’s attacking play.

Both goals were ultimately the type of bullish, direct and physical goals reminiscent of the Premier League in the 1990s as opposed to the normally cosmopolitan side that Bayern currently are today.

  • Sven Ulreich’s length-of-the-pitch punt found Kingsley Coman in the 22nd minute and he managed to slot home a goal in one of the few truly nervy moments for Celtic in defense.
  • Javi Martinez’s winning thunderbolt header in the 77th minute followed a nifty Celtic equalizer and left the Spaniard bloodied for his effort.

It wasn’t pretty, but it was the kind of win that is necessary to advance to the last 16 of the Champions League, which Bayern was able to do.

There was an eye toward Der Klassiker

Jupp Heynckes’ starting XI at Celtic screamed “squad rotation” loud enough for Borussia Dortmund to hear it ahead of Saturday’s Bundesliga Der Klassiker.

Heynckes made six changes from the comfortable weekend win over RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga. In addition to Lewandowski, Mats Hummels, Joshua Kimmich, Thiago Alcantara and Sebastian Rudy were all rotated out; Coman, Arturo Vidal, Niklas Sule, Corentin Tolisso and Rafinha were in the starting XI.

Heynckes is cagey enough to know that if he can get through a Champions League match without any further injuries, afford players a bit of rest, grab a tight victory and keep up his unbeaten run since taking the helm for the fourth time, momentum is squarely with Bayern.

Dortmund should have been taking notes

Speaking of Der Klassiker, if Dortmund looks at this match it could learn something from Celtic’s attacking display versus Bayern.

Celtic’s passing was cutting and incisive, playing with what looked like a 5-4-1 formation featuring James Forrest and Callum McGregor, from wingback and midfield, respectively, terrorizing Bayern’s left side in attack and defense. Moussa Dembele cut a lone presence up front but still created dangerous moments.

Bayern have now failed to keep a clean sheet in 10 straight away matches in the Champions League, a record that will have to change with the club now through to the knockout rounds. It should also be a cautionary tale leading toward Der Klassiker as well. It was a raucous atmosphere at Celtic Park on Tuesday. Westfalenstadion on Saturday will be another level that Bayern will have to prepare for in terms of noise and spirit. Celtic kept the faithful involved and in full throat with a peppy performance, which reached a fever pitch when Celtic got its well-deserved equalizer in the 74th minute. Imagine if Dortmund roundly outplay Bayern for long stretches, snatch a go-ahead goal and deafening noise becomes a cauldron of doom if Bayern is forced to chase down an equalizer.