An energetic, periodically unstoppable and incredibly offensive Bayern Munich display
First off, what a testament to the beautiful game this 16th round cup-tie was! Germany’s biggest club of all time faced an erstwhile local amateur club hailing from a village of some 3,000 inhabitants in a football match that defined the charm of the DFB-Pokal. [Ed.: Well, except that Hoffenheim has their own billionaire investor, but, hey! They’re not owned by Red Bull!]
Bayern Munich looked about to run away with the game after Joshua Kimmich’s corner found a flying Robert Lewandowski ten minutes before stoppage time. Nazareth-native Munas Dabbur tested Munich’s hearts after he scored his first goal in the 82nd minute and his second ten minutes later. Bayern had to hold on for the remaining two minutes of stoppage time before emerging victorious after referee Sascha Stegemann blew the final whistle.
Hanso Flick made Bayern play fascinating offensive football. At times, Bayern played in a 3-2-4-1, with Benjamin Pavard joining David Alaba and Jerome Boateng as center-backs while Canadian revelation Alphonso Davies played as a left-winger. Philippe Coutinho roamed to the center, allowing Davies to ravage the left-side of the field. Gnabry switched sides whenever he saw fit, and Thomas Müller looked like a kid on a playground as he zigzagged through the Hoffenheim back-line, finding space wherever necessary.
Joshua Kimmich played superbly as a deep-lying playmaker, and Bayern’s never-ending high-line allowed Jerome Boateng and the excellent David Alaba to split Hoffenheim with well-executed through-balls.
As a result, Bayern looked unstoppable in the first half, and gave a team performance that looked as if they could beat any team in the world. Flick’s entertaining, high-pressing, offensive football is also pleasing on the eye. If Bayern scored half of their chances, the game would have been over by the 70th minute.
A nail-biting finish
It did not have to end that way. Both Müller and Lewandowski had a wasteful evening in front of the goal — which of course can happen. Hoffenheim started to rack up several goal opportunities 20 minutes from full time, and perhaps Flick thought they would be discouraged by Lewandowski’s second goal in the 80th minute. The decision to give Joshua Zirkzee, Mickael Cuisance, and Alvaro Odriozola playing time was, on the one hand, admirable, since they are three young players who want more game time, but, on the other, it caused Bayern to lose their shape. It might be easy to argue with the result in hindsight, but it was obvious that Bayern did give Hoffenheim more space in the final third.
To blame the last two goals solely on the substitutes, however, is also misleading. Bayern’s second half was far from the incredible quality they showed in the first, something that could be explained by Bayern’s very aggressive tactics. Hoffenheim caught out the high Bayern back-line on a number of occasions in the second half. That is something Bayern and Flick need to consider going forward.
From the unknown to the biggest of stages: has Bayern found a diamond in the rough?
The beauty of the DFB-Pokal is that it doesn’t matter how you win... as long as you, well, win. Today Bayern was unstoppable in the first half and vulnerable in the second. Is the glass half empty or half full?
In my eyes, it is half full.
It is extremely impressive how Hans-Dieter Flick has imposed his tactical ideas so successfully in limited time and on a limited squad. He couldn’t have had a better start to the new year. Bayern are prime contenders for the Bundesliga, the Champions League, and, of course, the DFB-Pokal. What is so impressive is that Flick managed this with a team that was low on confidence after a poor start to its Bundesliga campaign, and one that was missing key players.
Flick, whose last coaching job was with Hoffenheim in the fourth division fifteen years ago, has gone from being a temporary solution in a bad situation to a legit contender for a long-term contract.
Hoffenheim is far from a bad team. Currently sitting 7th place in the Bundesliga, they have had a surprisingly good season considering they lost their main architect Julian Nagelsmann to RB Leipzig. Although Bayern were clear favorites before the game started, it was the way they played against a solid Hoffenheim side in the first half that was so impressive. Flick’s men completely outplayed Hoffenheim, and they did so with a new tactical set-up.
Flick has gone from Jogi Löw’s right-hand man to an exciting emerging manager. Has Bayern found a diamond in the rough?
Bonus observation: The Bayern supporters inside the stadium were fantastic tonight.
The DFB-Pokal at its best: