Christian Streich utilized an all too familiar game plan
SC Freiburg manager and Bundesliga mad scientist, Christian Streich always seems to find a way to frustrate top German sides when they visit the Schwarzwald Stadion and today was no different. Freiburg broke down Bayern Munich on the counter on multiple occasions, opting for a controlled pressing approach. Streich’s men were content to sit in a compact shape when Bayern had possession deep in the final third, while also pressuring the ball when Bayern had the ball in their own half in order to interrupt the back-line’s build-up play and force turnovers.
If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen all took a similar approach, which allowed them to frustrate the Bayern attack and capitalize on quick counter-attacking opportunities. The Bavarian giants no longer exercise the same control and calmness on the ball when building from the back. When utilized effectively, this high, aggressive press can completely interrupt the rhythm of Bayern’s attack.
Abysmal finishing proved costly
Despite Streich’s approach, the Rekordmeister had more than enough opportunities to kill off the brave challengers. From 27 total shots and 8 on target, Die Roten racked up an xG of 3.24, in comparison to Freiburg’s .72 xG tally. Although credit must be given to Freiburg ‘keeper Alexander Schwolow and his 7 saves, Bayern Munich’s finishing was absolutely abysmal.
Robert Lewandowski was the chief offender among Bayern’s attackers. The Polish striker finished with 2.13 xG and 1 brilliant goal. His brilliance on his first and only goal, however, cannot overshadow his truly shocking misses from point-blank range. At this point in the Bundesliga campaign, the prolific number 9 has under-performed his xG by almost 9 goals. Lewandowski remains an important and talented player, but his once lethal finishing is now becoming a concern.
He was not the only one. Thomas Müller, Leon Goretzka, Serge Gnabry, and James Rodriguez all missed good chances. But Lewandowski cannot complain about a lack of service with each of the aforementioned players finding the Bayern striker in dangerous positions.
Niko Kovac’s substitutions raised eyebrows
With the game in the balance and two substitutions left at his disposal in the 73rd minute, Niko Kovac brought on Niklas Süle as a like-for-like change with Jerome Boateng, and Franck Ribery to replace Kingsley Coman. Bringing on Ribery is not inadvisable, but the decision to bring Süle on for Boateng, instead of Renato Sanches for one of the tiring midfield three, is a little baffling. The game needed an injection of creativity and more direct play, but the former-Frankfurt boss chose to shore up the back line.
In a less head scratching move, Kovac opted to bring Thomas Müller off in favor of Serge Gnabry in the 55th minute when it seemed the Raumdeuter had much more to offer the match. James Rodriguez was likely Bayern’s best player on the afternoon and taking off either him or Muller at this point seemed irresponsible. Perhaps the Croatian manager could have opted to exchange Gnabry with Goretzka or Coman, or held off for another ten minutes or so.
These decisions may have been predetermined to limit minutes and keep players fresh for the upcoming run of games, but dropping points was not an option this afternoon. Obviously hindsight is 20/20, but these substitutions did not seem to fit the needs of the team at each point of the match.
Der Klassiker will decide the season
With BVB’s 2-0 stoppage time victory over VFL Wolfsburg, Bayern are now 2 points behind the league leaders. Niko Kovac will be coaching for the title and possibly his future in next weekend’s titanic clash between the two German giants. The Bavarians still control their destiny as a victory puts them ahead in the table by one point. A draw or a loss would likely mean an end to their title hopes. This is the Bundesliga title race we have all been waiting for.
Does Bayern have what it takes to win the double?