‘Twas a scrappy affair at the Bayer Arena
Both teams came out aggressively, and it was evident on the pitch that neither team would hold back, especially when trying to win 50/50 balls in open play. Referee Daniel Siebert was forced to show four yellow cards in the first half alone (Kevin Volland, Karim Bellarabi, Thomas Muller, Rafinha).
Volland’s yellow-card challenge on Javi Martinez surely left many a fans holding their breath, as Bayern’s number 8 writhed on the ground in pain, holding his left ankle. Replays showed Volland leading with his studs, stepping on Martinez’s ankle in the process. The Spaniard was able to carry on, but the tackle looked nasty nonetheless.
Things cooled off a bit in the second half, and the yellow-card count was kept at four for the remainder of the match. Nonetheless, both teams showed their desire and will today, and Leverkusen certainly didn’t make things easy for Bayern, applying constant pressure even after going down two goals to nil.
Müller leading the line
With Robert Lewandowski out due to a patella issue, it was reasonable to expect Sandro Wagner to take his place. He was, after all, brought in to do exactly that. But to the surprise of many, it was Thomas Müller starting up front, flanked by Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben.
As it turns out, Müller remains rather unproductive playing as the only striker, and the way the game played out proved that a player with the capabilities and skills of Wagner would likely have fit the team - and game plan - better than Müller.
Müller’s difficulty holding up the ball were on full display, especially in the first half. His struggles aerially really hampered Bayern’s ability to win first balls and take command of the ball early. He also picked up a yellow card on an unnecessary foul on Kevin Volland deep in Leverkusen’s half, sliding in with little chance of actually winning possession of the ball.
A win is a win
It wasn’t always pretty, but Bayern got the job done today. Coming out of the gate in the Rückrunde with three points is really all the team could have asked for, especially considering the absence of key field-players Mats Hummels, Joshua Kimmich, and the aforementioned Lewandowski.
The team looked vulnerable on the counter at times today, as they struggled to keep up with the speed of Leon Bailey, Julian Brandt and Volland. Though this will most certainly be addressed by Jupp Heynckes, it’s something they need to shore up before their meeting with Besiktas in February, as they’re strong on the counter and will be keen to get on the scoreboard at the Allianz Arena.
A few odds and ends
- Niklas Süle played as a left-sided centerback today, and though he handled the job well, it was noticeable that he looks more comfortable on the right. Six of his ten starts have seen him partner up with Mats Hummels, and today marked only the third time he’s played a full 90 minutes alongside Jerome Boateng.
- Rafinha made some crucial tackles early in the first half, and there is little doubt he’s one of the best back-up right-backs in the world. While not on the level of a Joshua Kimmich, he does his job when called upon and the fact that he’s made such little fuss about playing second fiddle to the young German has to be greatly appreciated by all at the club.
- If Leverkusen can somehow keep this core of players together, they could prove to be a threat to Bayern down the line. Bailey, Brandt, Kai Havertz and Jonathan Tah are all 21 or younger, and other key starters such as Volland and Dominik Kohr are both under 25. Add in substitutes such as 20-year-old Confederations Cup winner Benjamin Henrichs and 19-year-old Greece international Panagiotis Retsos, and Leverkusen all of the sudden have a team that could consistently challenge for the top spots in the league fairly soon.