After Bayern Munich dominated Chelsea for the first 30 minutes of the game, Chelsea came back into the game in the final 15 minutes of the first half. Bayern played well but went into the halftime break frustrated not to have scored a crucial away-goal. Clues that Bayern was the better team were present — but so was the ghost of 2012.
A clinical and overall fantastic second half by Die Roten followed. Bayern now has a foot and a half in the quarter-finals of the 2019/20 edition of the Champions League. Here are BFW’s observations on yet another triumph in London:
A game won in the midfield
Chelsea was very much in the game until the first goal. After Gnabry’s opener, a very clinical Bayern exposed the gap in class between them. This was in large part due to a fantastic performance by Die Roten in the middle of the park. Winning most 50-50 battles, retaining possession, and transitioning with devastating speed from midfield to attack were key in today’s victory.
Flick decided not to change his tactical set-up at halftime. Bayern played offensively throughout the game with their standard high-press and offensive full-backs. Bayern dominated possession and, thanks to the brilliance of Thiago and Joshua Kimmich, played through Chelsea’s press with ease. Further up the pitch, both Thomas Müller and Robert Lewandowski were fantastic, as they roamed between the Chelsea back-three providing build-up play for Bayern’s wingers.
Muller’s constant running provided the crucial link between the offense and midfield. Chelsea’s midfield, who missed N’Golo Kante severely tonight, was thus out-manned the whole night. While Ross Barkley played higher up the pitch, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic were often left alone to fight a losing battle between Thiago, Kimmich, and the ever-running Thomas Muller.
Interim only for tonight
It is hard to imagine that this is the same side that a bit more than three months ago suffered their biggest defeat of the 21st century against Eintracht Frankfurt. In a loss that was spurred by Jerome Boateng’s 9th-minute sending off, Niko Kovac left as Bayern’s head-coach a few days later. His assistant coach Hansi Flick took over.
Flick took over a team that was low on confidence and, by the end of 2019, so injury-ridden that they struggled to fill the bench with more than one professional player. Despite the limited squad and the complications that come along with it, Flick quickly implemented his own playing philosophy. It is hard not to overstate the overwhelmingly positive effect he has had on Bayern Munich, transforming it from a team in crisis to one of the leading Champions League favorites. Let’s hope Bayern Munich announces Hans-Dieter Flick’s contract extension the next thing in the morning.
Rejuvenated individual performances
What is so impressive is how Flick has managed to get the most out of certain individuals. Thomas Müller was benched by Kovac and is now back arguably playing in the form of his life. The Bayern-faithful was fantastic today as he was Bayern’s most creative player throughout the first half and large parts of the second.
Also, Jerome Boateng’s comeback from being frozen out by the club for two summers in a row is incredibly impressive. One would think that the constant summer transfers regarding the recently-dropped German international would affect his professionalism, yet this season Boateng has proved that he is still a solid center-back who can provide consistent performances at the highest level.
Tonight, Boateng won the battle against Oliver Giroud and later against Tammy Abraham who both failed to provide Frank Lampard’s Chelsea any type of build-up play. Boateng might not be the player he once was, but he is still a world-class option to have.
The ultimate silver-lining?
Niko Kovac already tested David Alaba as a center-back and Alphonso Davies as a left-back, yet I struggle to remember the last time I’ve seen this clear of a silver-lining to an injury crisis.
The last time I can remember a domestic injury working to Bayern’s advantage was when Toni Kroos was injured in the 2013 Champions League quarter-final against Juventus, forcing the much more energetic Thomas Müller to play between Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben. Much keener to track back defensively, Muller’s performances in the attacking-midfield were crucial in Bayern’s legendary 7-0 thrashing of FC Barcelona.
Even that, however, was hardly as surprising as David Alaba and Alphonso Davies surpassing Bayern supporters expectations, and doing so in unfamiliar positions. Although neither player was completely new to his respective position, they were more or less forced to play there due to the injuries. It is incredible that Flick (and the club) now must decide whether they should ever return to the positions they started off this season.
Words on how good Alphonso Davies is and can be might feel overstated at this point. The 19-year-old with four lungs is so incredibly fast that he can allow himself to be defensively naïve in his positioning at times. There were many situations tonight in which Davies gave the Chelsea wingers meters of unnecessary space to exploit, only to catch up with them in a matter of seconds.
Offensively, Davies has been a revelation, and his gazelle-like sprints split Chelsea’s defense open in the second half.
For the second time this season, London is Red.