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Three Observations from Bayern Munich’s 3-1 friendly victory over Real Madrid

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Bayern was able to overcome a red card and a few mistakes to secure the win.

FC Bayern v Real Madrid - 2019 International Champions Cup Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

Bayern Munich met Real Madrid in Houston hoping to give more experience to young players, gain more match fitness, and still avenge their loss to Arsenal just days before. Real may have been able to muster lots of chances in the first half (a big thank you to Karim Benzema for his much-helpful profligacy), but the game was all Bayern, particularly in the second half. Goals from Corentin Tolisso, Robert Lewandowski, and Serge Gnabry were enough to ensure an untimely Sven Ulreich red card and resulting goal weren’t enough to catch the Bavarians. It may have been a preseason game, but there are still valuable observations we can take from this fixture. That being said, here are three observations from Bayern’s win:

Thomas Müller up top

We’re accustomed to Thomas Müller playing behind or alongside a true number 9, where his Raumdeutering is perhaps best used. However, Niko Kovac decided to use this preseason game to experiment with Müller in the main central role in attack. His decision seems to have paid off. Müller played the first half of the game, and provided the decisive pass in the crucial opening goal with a great read of the defense to play David Alaba in behind. Beyond that, he provided his usual smart, defense-stretching runs, but despite their effectiveness they didn’t yield any fruit.

The decision to play Müller at striker could be Kovac testing to see just how comfortable the 29-year-old is playing there. A place Bayern have been lacking in recent years is a competent backup for Lewandowski, but with Müller looking satisfactory there and Fiete Arp coming as another weapon, the depth there is looking promising.

Fiete Arp under pressure

Speaking of Arp, the 19-year-old signing from Hamburg has been surprisingly solid in a rather unexpected role. Rather than playing him at his natural position of striker, Kovac has decided to test him out at his secondary left-wing, and today even on the right. Arp has definitely done well for a teenager thrust into a new team and a not-so-familiar role. Today, however, there was one area that stood out in needing work.

What makes most Bayern players great is how cool and confident they are under pressure, being able to withstand double and triple teams and keeping counter-attacks alive or spurring them on because of it. Think Thiago. He always has his head up and knows exactly what to do with the ball when under pressure. Now to juxtapose that with this game’s Arp. There were a number of times (I counted three good examples) where the teenager was near the touch line and was getting closed down by a couple defenders. Now, where Thiago would find a way to play the ball away from pressure to keep possession, Arp would put his head down and try to dribble through it. All three times he lost the ball, and Real could attack right away. Of course, it’s a lot to ask for a 19-year-old to already have a Thiago-esque skillset in addition to how refined he already is. But improving that facet of his game can only make him even more dangerous as a player, as well as integral to Bayern’s future.

A rejuvenated Manuel Neuer

Within the first few minutes of the game, the commentators mentioned how Manuel Neuer would like to keep playing a while longer, but they weren’t convinced of his ability as his older age. It seems like Neuer heard this criticism, because by the end of the first half, he had made saves that only he in his prime could make. Going away from the ball he was able to reach back and push it away. He denied close range efforts on numerous occasions. By halftime, we forgot all about his early blunder of a shanked pass that gave up a corner. This kind of unbeatable Neuer is what Bayern needs, and especially what he himself needs. Multiple injury-plagued years have done nothing but made soccer fans and pundits everywhere question his abilities. Well, buckle up. Manuel Neuer heard those doubts. He wants you to know that he’s back, and boy, is he still good.