What time is it? It’s Mullertime!
If there was ever a doubt about the quality of Thomas Muller, then let this game be the one to silence all the critics. Muller was an absolute demon against the Hoffenheim defense, and perhaps the only player they didn’t have a strategy to handle. His linkup play and runs behind the defense were the only things that Hoffenheim couldn’t stop with their rough style of play, and it eventually clinched a hard-fought victory for Bayern Munich.
If it weren’t for some refereeing nonsense, Thomas Muller would’ve had at least two goals and an assist. As it stands, he only gets one of each. The first goal was classic Raumdeuter, a la the Juventus 2016 94th minute equalizer. Muller lost his markers and headed in a bullet of a delivery from a Joshua Kimmich corner.
The assist, meanwhile, was almost comical in its simplicity. Joshua Kimmich had a throw in, he threw it to Muller who laid it off for Arjen Robben who easily scored. There wasn’t a Hoffenheim defender near the man. Oliver Baumann couldn’t believe what had happened. It was an impeccable example of vision and game-awareness. Fans often complain about Bayern’s apparent lack of flair compared to some other top teams — but simplicity of Thomas Muller’s genius is more valuable than even the flashiest of dribbles.
Hoffenheim tried to assault our players, and the referee let them
Okay, this is the part where I give credit to Julian Nagelsmann for his initative, but also curse his guts for it. The way Hoffenheim played, you’d think there were eleven Sergio Ramoses on the pitch. They were thuggish, brutal, and completely shameless in their attempts to disrupt Bayern’s rhythm and injure our players. What’s worse — it worked.
The Bavarians lost Kingsley Coman late into the first half, and in the second half Hoffenheim’s brutality made the team lose control of the game. Referee Bastian Dankert deserves the blame for this and more. His incompetence is the reason why Kingsley Coman is injured. His incompetence is what let Hoffenheim commit twenty-one (21) fouls over the course of the game. When a player tackled Thiago, studs up and with no contact on the ball, Dankert didn’t even show a yellow card. Add to that the terrible call to rule out Thomas Muller’s second goal, and you have a performance approaching the level of the famed Viktor Kassai of Bavarian lore.
If Bayern are subject to more refereeing performances such as this one, then it won’t be long before we run out of players to take the pitch.
Bayern Munich needs to work on its pressing
Okay, let’s talk about tactical stuff for a second. Before Hoffenheim slide-tackled our game plan to bits, Bayern Munich showed some glaring weaknesses when off the ball. Niko Kovac’s system employs a counter-press to win the ball back before the opposition can reach dangerous positions — it’s a key part of the system. Yet, the Bavarians’ counter-pressing on the night was a shambolic mess deprived of any cohesion or energy.
The only players who consistently pressed were Thomas Muller and Thiago Alcantara, and their isolated efforts weren’t enough to disturb Hoffenheim’s possession. A breakdown of the pressing was what caused the Hoffenheim goal. Jerome Boateng should’ve closed down the ball after his teammates pried it off Szalai, but instead he was caught ball-watching which allowed Szalai to regain the possession and score a goal. That cannot be allowed to happen.
Fixing Bayern’s pressing game will have to be at the top of Niko Kovac’s to-do list in the coming weeks.
Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery weren’t that bad actually
Credit where it’s due, Bayern’s ageing winger duo weren’t too bad on the day. Ribery was the one who won the (somewhat dubious) penalty that let Bayern go 2-1 ahead, while Robben scored twice. The first one was a penalty rebound that was ruled out for ... encroachment? I think that was the reason, but to be honest, the game become a complete blur once Dankert started consulting VAR. The second goal was a sublime finish under no pressure courtesy of a nice layoff by Thomas Muller. That may not sound like much, but Robben had the presence of mind to link up with Muller in the first place.
The two veterans are probably past their sell-by date but occasionally show that they still have something left in the tank.
This game will have repercussions for the entire season
Let’s not mince words here — Kingsley Coman’s loss is a devastating blow, and it will affect Bayern Munich heavily going forward. It’s unlikely that the club will splash out for Ante Rebic or Anthony Martial this late in the transfer window, so so this probably means that we’re down to two wingers for the foreseeable future — possibly the entire Hinrunde.
Another, slightly less obvious concern — Bayern were clearly rattled by Hoffenheim’s aggressive play. What if the rest of the Bundesliga gets the idea that playing a violent game gives you a chance of beating Bayern? If other Bundesliga coaches watch this game and decide that they’ll copy Nagelsmann’s thuggishness, then we could be in for a long and hard season — especially if the refs continue to be as incompetent as Dankert was in this game.