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Five observations on Bayern’s narrow win over Darmstadt

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It was a mixed bag for Bayern today, but Juan Bernat and Tom Starke tipped the scales in Bayern’s favor.

MUNICH, GERMANY - MAY 06: Juan Bernat of Muenchen celebrates scoring the first goal during the Bundesliga match between Bayern Muenchen and SV Darmstadt 98 at Allianz Arena on May 6, 2017 in Munich, Germany.
MUNICH, GERMANY - MAY 06: Juan Bernat of Muenchen celebrates scoring the first goal during the Bundesliga match between Bayern Muenchen and SV Darmstadt 98 at Allianz Arena on May 6, 2017 in Munich, Germany.
(Photo by Stuart Franklin/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Darmstadt show grit and resolve

Darmstadt came into this game knowing that their fate is sealed. They are bound for relegation. It was only a remote statistical possibility that they might win all three of their own games while the other teams facing relegation lose theirs.

Darmstadt played with a quiet resolve that belied their standing at the bottom of the table. Despite the vast gap in talent, Darmstadt stayed compact and careful, focused on making one pass to the next. At halftime, they had managed 33.3% possession and 74% pass success, despite going down a goal. Those numbers held true for the rest of the game, as Darmstadt battled it out, looking for a chink in the Bavarians’ armor and nearly finding one. But it was not to be: Tom Starke saved Hamit Altintop’s penalty kick. Darmstadt may have been beaten, but they did not lie down and die. Good luck, next season, Darmstadt!

Two midfielders, two stories: Kimmich and Sanches

Carlo Ancelotti’s youthful experiment in Bayern’s midfield produced decidedly mixed results. First the good: Joshua Kimmich was scintillating, almost single-handedly creating a goal for Bayern with a brilliant dribble and deft pass to Rafinha early in the first half. Kimmich finished the half taking the second most passes (after Rafinha) and making every single one: 100% success. Kimmich made way for Xabi Alonso after over an hour, missing just a single pass, completing 58 of 59 for 98%.

As for Renato Sanches, the youngest player on the pitch struggled to contribute meaningfully to the game. Sanches seemed tentative and often ran himself into isolated possessions, seeking to dribble his way out of trouble and then looking in vain for a favorable foul call when he was finally overwhelmed and dispossessed by several Darmstadt players. He has the raw talent – he indeed successfully completed seven dribbles, five more than anyone else – but it will take time for him to develop the vision and passing chemistry to join the first team in the future.

Das war STARK(E)!

That’s how you say, “That was AWESOME!” in German.

Much to everyone’s simultaneous surprise and consternation, Tom Starke stood between the sticks today after Sven Ulreich suffered a season-ending elbow injury in practice. Starke looked much as you’d expect a 36-year-old third goalkeeper to look: rather shaky. He struggled to control the ball, conceded a corner on another attempted save, and was nearly dispossessed inside the six-yard box. Some last-minute footwork rescued the situation and earned Starke a successful dribble, something we normally associate with Manuel Neuer.

Starke proved equal to the task when it mattered most, though, and saved the game for Bayern – his first Bundesliga start in three years! – when he parried a sudden strike by Sirigu that caught Bayern’s defense off guard and a moment later saved a penalty kick by Hamit Altintop. Hats off to Tom Starke!

Missed it by that much

Bayern’s offense had an off day: 23 shots but just one goal to show for the effort. Incredibly, every single player except Tom Starke – including Xabi Alonso, who came into the game after the hour mark – took at least one shot. Thomas Müller had several good chances in the first half, including a great diving header caught by Michael Esser. Müller also had the most cringe-worthy offensive play of the day, mistiming a run through Darmstadt’s defense perfectly so as to be in the perfect position for Ribery to blast a shot off his back rather than into the net. Robert Lewandowski, Franck Ribery, and Douglas Costa fared little better.

The game-winner came instead from a brilliantly taken shot by Juan Bernat (assist: Ribery). Of course, Bernat also was responsible for conceding a penalty kick to Darmstadt on the other end of the field. Such was this game. After about fifty minutes had passed, with a one-goal lead, the rain of shots from Bayern’s offense dried up and only a flurry of shots at the end woke the teams from their sleep. Let’s hope Bayern’s offense wears their finishing cleats to next week’s game against Leipzig.

Welcome back Jerome Boateng

A bright spot on Bayern’s defense today was the performance by Jerome Boateng – a welcome sight after he lost so much of the season to injury. Boateng repeatedly disrupted Darmstadt’s efforts to create shots, holding down a sometimes shaky back line alongside David Alaba. For his part, Alaba defused a particularly dangerous one-on-one situation with an perfectly timed offside trap. Ideally, he will not have to play center-back again this season, if Mats Hummels or Javi Martinez are fit to play alongside Boateng. Next season, we have a trio of Boateng, Hummels and Niklas Süle to look forward to.