A heavily rotated Bayern Munich squad just put three unanswered goals past Hannover 96, and no one got hurt in the process. For a match like this, as Real Madrid loom on the horizon, that is a resounding triumph. Here are my picks for the top players today, as some of them played in truly unconventional roles.
Jersey swap: Philipp Tschauner. You may think it’s typical to reward the opposing goalkeeper, but Tschauner’s performance today was anything but typical. He was outstanding, denying Sandro Wagner and Niklas Süle within moments of one another early in the first half, and again denying Wagner and Thiago in dangerous positions to keep the match scoreless at halftime. His defense may have collapsed around him in the second half, but Tschauner's individual performance was the only thing that gave his team a fighting chance before the score ran away from them.
Tip o' the Cap: Thomas Müller & Sven Ulreich. Hannover had just two shots on target, but what a shot one of them was! Hannover's Timo Hübers agilely flicked an aerial free kick from Pirmin Schwegler directly into the corner of Bayern's goal, but Ulreich dove and swatted the shot away, despite the fact he cannot have even seen the ball until the last instant before it would have crossed the line. It was a world-class save; that is no exaggeration.
And the second half of this double-header: Thomas Müller. Müller came on at halftime for Arjen Robben and did his thing. He opened the scoring for Bayern about ten minutes into the second half, off a volleyed assist from Bernat, and Müller likewise was on hand to divert yet another cross from Bernat onward to Sebastian Rudy for Bayern's third goal.
Gold Clap: Niklas Süle. When Bayern announced the starting lineup, all of us collectively scratched our heads: Jerome Boateng, débutant center-back Lukas Mai, and Niklas Süle? It turned out that Süle replaced Javi Martinez as Bayern's central defensive midfielder. To be perfectly frank: Süle showed me he can do far more than I ever suspected. Süle was dominant in the defensive midfield. He had the second most number of touches and passes after only Thiago Alcantara, and yet he still managed a 90% passing rate, while also successfully completing three tackles (as many as Boateng). Süle contributed on offense in ways I never thought possible: now lobbing a beautiful cross to Wagner, now running into the box himself, now taking a shot. Javi Martinez has moved back and forth between center-back and CDM; perhaps Niklas Süle can—and should—too.
Standing Ovation: Sebastian Rudy. Sebastian Rudy has toiled in obscurity for much of the season, but his efforts were at last rewarded with a delightful goal just before final time. That was hardly the entirety of his contribution to the team today. Playing as a two-way midfielder ahead of Süle, Rudy’s performance overshadowed Colombian icon James Rodriguez himself. In addition to his key passes, Rudy's excellent corner kick gave him a well-deserved assist on Robert Lewandowski's goal. Rudy's late goal, scored off an assist by Müller just before the conclusion of the match, was long overdue. With better luck, he could have had a handful of goals this season. Be that as it may, the good news for Bayern is that Rudy is playing with the dedication and confidence that mark him as a valuable team player and a versatile midfielder for the future.
Meister of the Match: Juan Bernat. Have yourself a game, little Hobbit! Juan Bernat was amazing today at left-back. Playing behind two midfielders on Bayern’s left flank—James Rodriguez immediately ahead of him and Thiago Alcantara improvising on the left wing—Juan Bernat was both productively aggressive and rock-solid on defense. Bernat decisively blocked a shot by Niclas Füllkrug in the 26th minute that would have surely been a goal for Hannover, and seconds later served up a stunning cross for Sandro Wagner that was idled by an excellent save by Tschauner in turn. It was again a pass from Bernat from an advanced position that found Thomas Müller, who opened up the scoring for Bayern, and Bernat similarly served the ball to Müller just before the final whistle, leading directly to Rudy's goal. Bernat may not be much of a goal-thread himself, but his ability to coordinate with true offensive players makes him a very attractive option at left-wing.