Initial reactions and observations
No shocking defensive lapses marred today’s performance. Bayern Munich looked like they were in control for nearly the entire match, barring a stunning entrance in the opening minute of the second half by Gedson Fernandes. Gedson leaped over a slide-tackle to put himself on the receiving end of a one-two and quickly score past Manuel Neuer. But that was the only blemish of the game.
Perhaps the most encouraging sign for Bayern: glimpses of the old Manuel Neuer. Neuer looked like himself for the first time in a long while. Personally, I thought the key moment of the match was his aggressive slide-tackle on Rafa Silva, who was already streaking away past the center-backs to recover a long ball intended for him. We’ve seen scenes like this result in shots and goals too often this season. Because Neuer rushed him and took him out, no shot was ever made. It was a sweeper-keeper move that Bayern has missed dearly.
Bayern was clearly superior to Benfica’s hapless defense. Arjen Robben put on a clinic in eluding defenders. Robert Lewandowski demonstrated his superiority on set-pieces, and Thomas Müller and Leon Goretzka both played well in generating chances.
For Lewandowski, his brace today were his 50th and 51st Champions League goals.
Franck Ribery at least scored his first goal this season and his first Champions League goal in a very long time.
And what about the narrative? What’s next for Bayern Munich and coach Niko Kovac? We do not know for sure whatever Niko Kovac told the locker room after their embarrassing 3-3 draw to Fortuna Düsseldorf. He allegedly said he still “wanted to do something” before he’s gone. He, and the team, did.
Bayern play 7th-place Werder Bremen on Saturday and FC Nürnberg after that. Will Kovac and the team keep living one day at a time?
FULL TIME: Bayern 5, Benfica 1
90+1 — Two minutes of extra time will be played.
90’ — All quiet as the match winds down.
87’ — Yellow card for Semedo for a rude challenge on Jeong.
86’ — Benfica try to attack, but Neuer dives on a weak cross by Seferovic.
81’ — Substitution for Bayern: Woo-Yeong Jeong makes his debut, replacing Thomas Müller!
77’ — GOAL BAYERN! The offense creates even more chaos in Benfica’s penalty area. At last someone strikes the ball toward the goal — it’s Ribery! The Frenchman has scored his first Champions League goal since 2015. It’s been a long time coming. Ribery then immediately makes way for Sandro Wagner. Chapeau!
76’ — Substitution for Benfica: Fejsa is replaced by Semedo.
72’ — Substitution for Bayern: Benfica’s own product Renato Sanches replaces Robben. Sanches lines up on the right. It looks as if he’ll simply take over Robben’s role on the right wing.
70’ — Bayern pepper Benfica’s penalty area with shots and chances. Robben is denied in the air by Ruben Dias, Goretzka is denied by Odisseas, and the frantic play finally comes to an end with an offside call on Robben.
67’ — Korean youngster Woo-Yeong Jeong is among the players warming up for Bayern Munich. Could he make his Champions League debut?
63’ — Thomas Müller has a go at goal on a run up the middle. He finds Alaba out wide and rushes the near post, trying to connect with Alaba’s cross, but Odisseas gets there first.
59’ — Substitution by Benfica: Jonas makes way for Seferovic.
51’ — GOAL BAYERN! The Kimmich-Lewandowski connection strikes again. Lewandowski scores his 51st Champions League goal, and his second of the match.
49’ — Just as Benfica are playing more confidently, a turnover translates into a solo run by Ribery, who drives again into the penalty area and shoots. Odisseas parries the threat.
46’ — GOAL BENFICA! What an entrance by Gedson! The youngster creates a one-two with Jonas with his first touch and blows by Bayern’s defense to shoot the ball into the net past Manuel Neuer. Benfica take one back.
Kickoff to the second half — Benfica make a substitution at the beginning of the second half: Pizzi makes way for 19-year-old Gedson Fernandes.
Halftime — The first half has been all Bayern. Although possession has been roughly split between the two teams, Bayern Munich has controlled the game. Arjen Robben has been devastating, twice eluding Benfica’s back line to find the back of the net — first the top left corner, then the top right. Only Franck Ribery has struggled, finding himself pinned out left. He squandered his one breakthrough moment with a shot directly into the keeper.
Benfica has done virtually nothing on offense, but perhaps the most significant defensive play by Bayern has been Manuel Neuer’s sweeper-keeper aggressiveness. Neuer personally shut down two promising chances. David Alaba also defused a dangerous situation with a timely sliding block.
45’ — Benfica makes a little noise in Bayern’s penalty area, as Almeida manages to take a shot just outside the goal. That’s it for them.
42’ — Bayern is taking its time, breaking up Benfica’s efforts to win the ball with a series of short, fast passes in the backfield while looking for openings forward.
36’ — GOAL BAYERN! The offense is steaming ahead faster than I can type. First Robben delivers a would-be assist to Thomas Müller, drawing a save from Odisseas. On the ensuing corner-kick, though, Robert Lewandowski connects, heading the ball down and into the goal off the post. It is his 50th — 50th! — Champions League goal.
33’ — Yellow card for Franck Ribery for a dangerous high kick.
31’ — GOAL BAYERN! Double-Dutch: Thomas Müller finds Robben yet again with ample space. Robben evades Benfica’s hapless defenders and puts the ball into the back of the net.
27’ — Benfica come within a hair of taking a shot as Alaba loses his man Rafa out wide. But Alaba makes up for it by blocking Rafa’s cross with a timely slide. Benfica can do nothing with the resulting corner kick.
25’ — Robben receives a yellow card for inadvertently kicking a defender.
24’ — Robert Lewandowski fires a wicked shot on target, forcing a great save from g.
23’ — After Benfica clear a free kick, they fire a long ball for Rafa Silva, who looks like he’s about to beat Boateng and Süle in a footrace. But — a sight for sore eyes — he runs square into Manuel Neuer who snuffs out the chance with a tough tackle. Sweeper-keeper stuff.
21’ — Lewandowski launches a long pass forward for Robben, forcing Odisseas to rush out and head it away from danger.
19’ — Benfica’s defenders strangely leave Ribery a wide-open space to run into in their penalty area. The Frenchman drives toward the goal and shoots, but it’s an easy catch for the keeper.
13’ — GOAL BAYERN! Arjen Robben scores a spectacular goal. As Thomas Müller makes an overlapping run, Robben somehow manages to dribble through a triple-team of Benfica defenders and shoot from a tight angle into the left-hand corner of the net. Simply spectacular.
8’ — Bayern getting bogged down in the midfield, as Kimmich and Goretzka try to find an opening through Benfica’s press. Rafinha concedes a free kick on an overeager tackle.
5’ — Free kick for Bayern from an advantageous position outside the box, but Benfica head Kimmich’s delivery back out.
2’ — Lewandowski finds Robben out wide, but his cross intended tof Ribery rolls right out.
kickoff — And we are off! The ball is rolling.
The lineup is here. Niko Kovac has opted to place Joshua Kimmich in the midfield ahead of Jerome Boateng and Niklas Süle, while Rafinha covers at right-back and Alaba at left-back. Ahead of them, Arjen Robben, Leon Goretzka, Thomas Müller, and Franck Ribery make up an offensive line with Robert Lewandowski at striker. Surprisingly, Renato Sanches remains on the bench.
Here we are: Bayern Munich host SL Benfica in their second-to-last match of the Champions League group stage. In September, Bayern beat Benfica away 2-0 with goals by Robert Lewandowski and hometown “Golden Boy” Renato Sanches. Benfica, currently third in the group with 4 points, is now fighting for its survival.
Benfica has come to Munich at a critical time for the home team. After conceding a lead to Fortuna Düsseldorf at home and parting 3-3, coach Niko Kovac’s tenure at Bayern may be nearing the end. Bayern are fifth in the Bundesliga table, nine points behind Borussia Dortmund. The club is in crisis. President Uli Hoeness declared on Saturday that Kovac would be the coach for this game, but how long he remains coach after it is another question.
Some suspect that the front office has already decided to dismiss him, and Kovac may believe that himself. In a speech to the team, he allegedly declared that he still wanted to do something before he left, and the most obvious interpretation is a decisive win. But can he rally this team to perform accordingly, if not for him, then for its own pride?
Location: Allianz Arena, Munich, Germany
Time: 9:00 pm local time, 3:00 pm EST
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