Thomas Muller is the lifeblood of the offense
If there was ever any doubt as to how much Bayern Munich rely on Thomas Muller to make the offense tick, then this game should lay it all to rest. Returning to the starting lineup after a prolonged spell on the bench, Muller didn’t take long to prove his worth, as he sent in a splitting pass to Robert Lewandowski withing two minutes of kickoff. It was just a sign of things to come.
Despite being deployed on the right wing, the Raumdeuter was in his element the entire game. His runs and passes bent the Gladbach defense all out of shape, while his regular link-ups with James Rodriguez and Joshua Kimmich were beautiful to watch.
His presence seemed to liberate the Bayern attack — Lewandowski received constant support, James always seemed to have someone to pass to, and Kimmich had someone to aim for in the box. Bayern’s xG ballooned from a mediocre 0.64 against Berlin to a massive 5.95 against Gladbach.
In all honesty, it’s hard to do justice to the impact of Muller’s presence on the game in such a short space. (Maybe a Film Room analysis is in order?) Therefore, let’s look at some stats. Thomas Muller vs Borussia Monchengladbach:
Key passes: 3
Expected goals: 1.28 (second highest after Lewandowski)
Expected assists: 1.08 (highest on the team)
However, stats don’t tell the entire story. Muller was constantly giving directions to the other attackers, telling them where to pass and when to run. He brought balance and fluidity to a offensive lineup that was in desperate need of it. Clearly, Lewandowski knew what he was talking about when he called for him to start.
Actual brick walls aren’t as solid as Javi Martinez
What’s happened to Javi Martinez? Ever since Liverpool, the Basque midfielder has been playing like he did in 2013. Once again, Javi was the rock in Bayern’s midfield, shielding the defense from all of Gladbach’s best efforts. His goal was also a textbook bullet header, making best use of his height and aerial prowess. This was peak Javi.
Honestly, who thought he was still capable of performances such as these? Even under Heynckes last season, Javi couldn’t replicate the lofty heights of his treble-season form. It seems like someone has flipped a switch inside his head. Could it have something to do with the meeting he had with Rummenigge a few weeks ago? Maybe receiving the assurance about his future helped Martinez up his game?
Whatever it is, we’re glad Javi is back and playing at such a high level. Adrien Rabiot? Who needs him?
The offense continues to be wasteful
It may seem strange to criticize the offense on a night that they scored 5 goals, but in truth Bayern’s finishing was abysmal. Robert Lewandowski was the main culprit, failing to convert at least three big chances. i.e. shots with an xG higher than 0.35. Serge Gnabry was also at fault, as he was once again guilty of some poor shot selection and decision-making.
While the final score reads 1-5, people might forget that the game was poised in a precarious position at HT, when Bayern were just one goal ahead. Considering the chances the team had in the first half, the game should’ve bee put to bed by then — instead, poor finishing meant it hung on a knife’s edge.
This didn’t come back to bite Bayern this time, but it’s worrying that the finishing issue refuses to get better. The second leg versus Liverpool is looming, and Bayern will need to score a goal from very limited chances against them. Bayern’s forwards need to learn how to become more clinical soon.
- A lot of the plaudits will go to Martinez, but Thiago was no slouch either. His passing and interceptions helped Bayern win the midfield battle, and the assist for Lewandowski’s goal was sublime. A poor touch leading to a dangerous Gladbach counter in the second half was the only blemish in an otherwise impeccable performance.
- After three poor performances in a row, James looked like a changed man. He really seemed to enjoy having Thomas Muller to link up with, as the Colombian could really show off his vision and passing range. James was unlucky not to get a goal or an assist, which goes back to Bayern’s aforementioned finishing issues.
- Another solid performance from Jerome Boateng — it’s good that he seems to be regaining confidence, we need him to be an active part of the center back rotation.
- Rafinha had a solid game as well — no real mistakes in defense, and a good supporting performance to Gnabry. Because of him, Bayern were able to absorb the impact of David Alaba’s injury without dropping points.
- Niko Kovac finally did what we’ve been calling for and allowed the youngsters onto the pitch in the final minutes of the game. Alphonso Davies, Woo-yeong Jeong, and Renato Sanches all made appearances after Bayern put the game to bed. From now on, ten minutes here and there every week should be the aim going forward.
- Speaking of Woo-yeong Jeong, he looked confident and disciplined in his cameo, and his defense-splitting pass to Joshua Kimmich resulted in the penalty that Lewandowski scored. Not a bad outing for the South Korean youngster — hopefully he sees more senior team appearances in the near future.