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Five observations on Bayern Munich’s 2-2 draw against a tenacious Wolfsburg

Wolfsburg gave it their all, and it paid.

FC Bayern Muenchen v VfL Wolfsburg - Bundesliga Photo by Sebastian Widmann/Bongarts/Getty Images

Bayern Munich’s defense still too raw

Wolfsburg gave a spirited performance in the first half of the game, as Martin Schmidt’s team pressed relentlessly in an attempt to provoke an error by Bayern’s defense. The effort produced a few tense moments, but Bayern’s midfield and back line held firm. Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng showed the chemistry that made them champions together for the German national team, and both made key tackles to defuse dangerous chances for Wolfsburg. That trend failed to hold late in the second half, though, when a brilliant cross from Paul Verhaegh found Daniel Didavi, who slipped past Boateng to score.

It was Boateng’s first full game since recovering from his long-term injury. Hummels has been the de facto leader of Bayern’s defense for months, but Boateng could be ready to take the reins again. The question now is whether he truly is ready to start next week against Paris Saint-Germain.

Robben neutralized

By the time Robert Lewandowski converted Bayern’s first goal, a pattern had emerged: Bayern’s forward progress on the right had effectively been neutralized by Wolfsburg’s defense. In concrete terms, Arjen Robben and Joshua Kimmich saw the ball half as often (14 and 19 touches respectively) as Rafinha and Franck Ribery. Wolfsburg left-back Gian-Luca Itter already had a game-leading four tackles by halftime. With two of Wolfsburg’s best players ahead of him - Yunus Malli and Max Arnold - Itter essentially negated Robben, forcing him to play centrally. That proved to be the right move: Robben scored on a shot from the center that took a very fortuitous deflection off of Rafinha. But Robben’s (and Kimmich’s) inability to create chances from his proper position is worrisome.

1-0 penalties cannot be taken for granted

For the third time this season, Bayern has scored its first goal in the form of a penalty kick. Besides Wolfsburg today (32’), the others came against Anderlecht (12’) and, skipping Mainz, Schalke (25’ - handball). Each time, Lewandowski has converted the shot for a goal with his incredible slow-motion technique. He takes penalties like a gun-slinger squaring off for a shootout. As he approaches the ball, he waits for the goalie to twitch and then guns him down.

For Bayern, Lewandowski’s penalties have also had their fair share of good fortune. The handball call against Naldo went in Bayern’s favor; the foul today was also relatively debatable. Bayern has capitalized on all these opportunities, but the team cannot count on them, especially against superior competitors. The team must show more offensive creativity instead. That may mean benching Robben for James Rodriguez.


Neuer would have caught it. What else can you say? Sven Ulreich played a statistically good game this past weekend at Schalke, but he repeatedly looked on the brink of disaster. Ulreich was en route to a similar performance today - making the stops but then failing the eye test. Then Maximilian Arnold launched a free kick from a dangerous, but fairly distant position directly at him. Ulreich elected to slap the ball away with one hand. It deflected into the net behind him.

There is no point in elaborating on the shortcomings of a backup goalkeeper. The more important lesson is that Ulreich’s performance today reminds us of the thin margin for error that Bayern now face in every match, especially those against more dangerous teams than Wolfsburg. Ulreich faced only 3 shots on target; two scored, and one went through him.

Subs? Too little, too late

It often seems that Carlo Ancelotti would prefer not to make any substitutions at all. Now that he has embraced rotation, he would prefer to spare his bench completely for the game ahead. Today, his hand was forced by Vidal, who collected a needless yellow card early on. Vidal made way for Corentin Tolisso just after the hour mark. Otherwise, Ancelotti held course until Didavi equalized the game. He then brought on James Rodriguez (84’) for a frustrated Robben and Kingsley Coman (85’) for Ribery. Momentum immediately shifted in Bayern’s favor, as James in particular was involved in some promising plays, but time ran out.

If James and Coman are destined to start against Saint-Germain, they will still have fresh legs, but if they do not, Ancelotti’s reluctance to relieve Robben and Ribery may have cost Bayern the match for nothing.

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