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Five observations from Bayern Munich’s nervy 1-2 win over Werder Bremen

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It was far from a perfect performance, but this is something we can build on.

01 December 2018, Bremen: Soccer: Bundesliga, Werder Bremen - Bayern Munich, 13th matchday in the Weserstadion. Bavaria's Thomas Müller (r) cheers with Serge Gnabry after his goal to 1:2.
Thomas Müller cheers with Serge Gnabry after his goal to 1:2.
Photo by David Hecker/picture alliance via Getty Images

Serge Gnabry stepped up when Robert Lewandowski faltered

Serge Gnabry, welcome to Bayern Munich! After several games with questionable output, it looks like our speedy German youngster is finally bringing the goods home. Deployed in a more central position than he has been used to this season, Gnabry showed what he had been missing from his game all this time.

At first, Niko Kovac was making the mistake of using him like Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Kingsley Coman. However, those players are out-and-out wingers, while Gnabry is more of a wide forward. Now, instead of being asked to hug the touchline and cut inside, Gnabry is playing like he was always meant to: slightly wide of Robert Lewandowski, and using his pace to run into the space between the center-back and fullback. His two goals on the night are a testament to this altered role — they were more akin to what a striker might score rather than a winger.

It’s a good thing he scored them, because our actual striker was quite poor. Robert Lewandowski showed none of his usually clinical marksmanship, but instead poor finishing and delayed decision-making throughout the game. Considering the game he just had against Benfica, it was an unexpectedly lackluster performance from the Polish hitman.

Had Lewandowski played up to the level that he is capable of, Bayern could have won the game by at least three goals, if not more.

Niko Kovac has finally found the key to using Thomas Müller

Two goals against Fortuna Dusseldorf, an assist against Benfica, and now a pseudo-assist against Werder Bremen — it’s safe to say Thomas Müller looks like he’s enjoying himself again. Thanks to some awful finishing from Lewandowski, he couldn’t notch up an actual assist, but der Raumdeuter still managed to collect a staggering 4 key passes from open play. In addition, he had three shots, two of which had to be blocked by defenders.

It seems like the key to this resurgence is the fact that Müller is back to playing behind the striker, with two actual wingers on either side that can complement him. His superb chemistry with Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka also helps — the German midfield core has been a revelation recently. If Müller keeps playing like this, Bundesliga defenders will be in deep trouble.

Now, c’mon Opta, does this really not count as an assist?

The Joshua Kimmich-Leon Goretzka partnership is worth keeping

Joshua Kimmich put in another excellent midfield performance on the night, but the man worth talking about right now is Leon Goretzka. The main criticism of Goretzka’s play this season has been the fact that he seems unfocused and disinterested in defending. Well, it seems the former Schalke man has taken these criticisms to heart, and rectified his mistakes.

Goretzka’s performance against Werder Bremen was an uncharacteristically grown-up one. It makes for an unexciting highlight reel, but the result speaks for itself. Goretzka delivered a mature box-to-box performance, getting back when needed and staying back to help the defense instead of rushing forward at the first opportunity. He and Kimmich seem to have an understanding with each other — one that Jogi Löw might want to take notice of — as the two formed a dynamic and robust partnership in the center of the pitch.

While Joshua Kimmich might earn all the accolades tonight, Leon Goretzka should be praised for an excellent supporting performance. It may not look spectacular, but spectacular can come later. For now, this kind of thing is what Bayern needs, and we would like to see more of it.

What is it with Bundesliga referees?

Did Christian Dingert attend the Viktor Kassai school of refereeing or something? Between him and Bastian Dankert, it seems that competition for the “Worst Referee in the League” award is going to be tight this year. I won’t dwell on this for too long, but it’s incredible that Bremen managed to finish the game with 10 men. It’s even more incredible that Bayern finished the game with just one injury — given the way that Joshua Kimmich and Serge Gnabry were targeted.

Bayern Munich can chalk this up as another performance won despite a terrible referee. I hope the team gets a competent one next week; otherwise there’s no telling how many players we could lose.

The nervy moments in defense continue

Once again, Bayern Munich conceded an almost comedic goal from from the weakest of chances. Yuya Osako should never win a header inside a box with Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, and Niklas Süle, but he did. Bremen barely created any quality chances, but they still managed to give the Bayern defense fits. In the first half, aside from the goal, Manuel Neuer was forced to make two big saves. Meanwhile in the second, Claudio Pizarro sent a shot just wide.

The defensive blunders seem to have no end in sight. It just cannot go on. All the good work done by the attack is being erased by momentary lapses in concentration. Bremen may not have capitalized, but other teams will. If Niko Kovac can’t get these issues under control, it’s inevitable that Bayern will continue to drop points this season.

Miscellaneous observations

  • This Kovac Bayern is far too nice to its opponents. Werder tried to turn the game into a wrestling match, and we just let them. In contrast, Kovac’s Frankfurt played like a bunch of thugs — perhaps Bayern should take a page out of that book. Let’s go full Atletico Madrid and see how the Bundesliga deals with it. Oh how I wish we still had Arturo Vidal.
  • Franck Ribery was finally having a good game ... aaaaaaaaaaand he got injured. Seriously, this is a curse. Ribery just had his best game of the season against Benfica, and he looked like he was capitalizing on that form against Werder. If not for the terrible ref, he would have won a penalty when he was fouled in the box. It just feels like Bayern can’t have nice things this season.
  • Kingsley Coman had an excellent return performance. He was unlucky not to get an assist, but he still managed five completed dribbles with an 83% success rate, and one key pass that really should have resulted in a goal. Considering the fact that he came onto the pitch without a warm-up, that speaks volumes about his quality.
  • The team showed an ability to counterattack that has been missing so far this season. Passes were played forward quickly and into the feet of willing and able runners. It didn’t result in a goal, but hopefully the trend continues. Unlike the defense, the attack really seems to be coming together as a unit.
  • Bayern Munich became far too passive after scoring and let Werder come at them. That’s something the team needs to work on going forward.