Bayern Munich made hard work of it, but ultimately earned a 1-0 victory over FC Köln thanks to a 60th-minute strike from Robert Lewandowski. Considering how many injuries Köln are currently dealing with, Bayern’s performance was far from convincing, but the three points ensures that they’ll finish atop the Bundesliga table going into the Christmas break.
Bringing on James Rodriguez and Kingsley Coman completely changed the match
Jupp Heynckes made the tactical decision to bring on both James Rodriguez and Kingsley Coman at the halftime break to replace Corentin Tolisso and Arturo Vidal. Neither Vidal nor Tolisso were having poor matches, per se, but with Sebastian Rudy also on the pitch, Bayern’s play for the majority of the first half was far too narrow against a Köln side that were set up to sit back and defend for their lives. Despite controlling the overwhelming majority of possession, Bayern lacked true pace in the advanced wide areas of the pitch and had to rely on forward runs from Rafinha and David Alaba.
Once Coman and James were introduced, Bayern started to open Köln up, creating larger spaces for the attacking players to run into. The forward, attacking verve that had been missing in the first half was almost instantaneously restored once the pair had be on the pitch for a few minutes. To be fair, Coman was a bit wasteful with some of his crosses in the final third, but his mere presence constantly gave Köln something to worry about; his blistering pace and interchangeability on the flanks forced defenders to gravitate towards him, which left open spaces for his teammates.
Niklas Süle was refreshingly exceptional once again alongside Jerome Boateng
Allowing for the uncharacteristically bland nature of the match and how little Köln got forward, Süle was arguably one of Bayern’s most consistent performers on the pitch. Both he and Jerome Boateng spent most of their time holding their line either close to center circle, or slightly inside Köln’s half, tracking back only on the rare occasion that Köln sprang a counter-attack. It almost felt, at times, that they were defensive midfielders. Sule did an incredible job in the 44th minute to track back and deny Lukas Klünter from registering a shot on target with his outstretched foot. It was one of Köln’s most dangerous counter-attacks of the match.
Süle's passing distribution out of the back was almost perfect once again, as he boasted a pass completion rate of 97%, the joint highest of all Bayern players alongside Alaba - a statistic that’s increasingly impressive given how many aerial long balls that Süle played forward towards Lewandowski, Thomas Müller, and Vidal. Süle gives Bayern constant reliability.
Boateng deserves credit, too, for his peach of a long ball that found Müller inside Köln’s penalty area, setting up Lewandowski’s goal with a lovely cushioned lay off.
Tom Starke was resolute when he had to be
Starke wasn’t often called into action throughout the proceedings, but when he was, he performed his task incredibly well. In a match of this nature, complacency can creep in the longer one goes without touching the ball, but the 36-year-old’s veteran experience stood firm. There weren't really any instances where he showed signs of nerves or panic.
A few of his saves ultimately saved what could’ve been an incredibly embarrassing 1-1 draw for Bayern, especially towards the end of the match when Köln surged in a desperate, fleeting search for an equalizer. He made an exceptional save in the 87th minute, diving to his left to deny Klünter after the striker had muscled his way into Bayern’s 18-yard box.
Plain and simple, Starke made the saves he had to and Bayern got the three points - exactly what the team needed in the absence of Manuel Neuer, Sven Ulreich, and Christian Fruchtl.