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Growing pains for Bayern Munich’s Joshua Zirkzee in second career start

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Bayern Munich’s 18-year-old talent had a tough outing against Augsburg. Sometimes, that is what teenagers do.

Bayern Munich striker Joshua Zirkzee Photo by Matthias Balk/picture alliance via Getty Images

MUNICH, Germany – It must have been tough to be Joshua Zirkzee on Sunday.

The man who played off him, Thomas Müller, scored on his second shot of the game — off a terrific lob by Jerome Boateng. Augsburg goalkeeper Andreas Luthe batted away Zirkzee’s own best chance off the goal line. The man who replaced him, Leon Goretzka, scored the goal that sealed the game in second-half stoppage time.

But those were the circumstances of the Dutch 18-year-old’s second-ever start. Augsburg stopped whatever he tried to do, and everything he tried was executed better by his teammates.

The harshest way to judge Zirkzee’s performance in Bayern’s 2-0 win on Sunday was that it was a far cry from his showing in Sinsheim last week. But it’s hard to top a goal in one’s debut start.

“Fine” would be a more reasonable assessment of Zirkzee’s outing on Sunday. Any striker would have a difficult time against Augsburg’s compact setup — especially in a Bavarian “derby” situation.

There were some unfortunate losses of possession, some misplaced passes, some bad positioning. But Zirkzee did more things that Bayern coach Hansi Flick wanted him to do — namely put Augsburg’s defense under pressure — and he nearly bagged his fourth goal of the season.

Does Bayern, a team locked in a title race, need more than fine, especially since Robert Lewandowski is not expected back until April? Maybe, but that burden shouldn’t be placed on a teenager’s shoulders, especially one making just his second-ever start.

Flick perhaps put it best before Sunday’s game when talking about Zirkzee (h/t AZ):

He’s done really well, but not top … He is a young, very talented player, who is strong in front of goal ... Most importantly, we need to continue to support and encourage him and give him playing time.

One can see that support and encouragement in Zirkzee’s demeanor. Last week ahead of his first career start, the Dutch striker seemed a bit excited, tapping the shoulders of the boy with whom he walked out of the tunnel before kickoff. He appeared much calmer before Sunday’s start — perhaps because he got a full 90 minutes under his belt in Sinsheim.

In the first half, Zirkzee mainly played with his back to goal, with mixed results. His touch was heavy, and his hold-up play frequently resulted in Augsburg gaining possession. The only player he seemed to combine well with was Alphonso Davies, a fellow teenager with whom Zirkzee usually leaves the stadium.

But something seemed to click in the second half. Much like the beginning of the Hoffenheim game last Saturday, Bayern appeared determined to get Zirkzee involved in the play. In Sinsheim, Boateng launched a pass towards the young striker shortly after kickoff. On Sunday, Müller headed the ball into space to Zirkzee shortly after the restart, though the forward didn’t do much with it afterwards.

Flick also must have told Zirkzee at halftime not to stay glued to the center of the park. With that in mind, he drifted out wide shortly before the hour mark with Bayern on the break, and he juked around experienced Augsburg midfielder Daniel Baier before switching the play.

He was genuinely unlucky not to convert his chance in the 65th from the top of the six-yard box. But his shot from point-blank range was pushed aside by Luthe, a denied chance that may have had Zirkzee pulling out some strands of his vast head of hair.

Goretzka replaced the Bayern youth product not long after that. Serge Gnabry took Zirkzee’s place up top, but his luck in front of goal was no better than his 18-year-old teammate. It took a clever combination between Goretzka and Gnabry for Bayern to secure the three points — and not before a few scares at the other end of the field.

As one would expect, Zirkzee’s veteran teammates were nothing but supportive, just as Flick wants his side to be.

”Joshua is a very young player that has a lot of potential, a lot of talent,” David Alaba said when asked by BFW to rate his performance. “He stood where he needed to stand and missed the chance. He is doing well in training, and he did well today.”

Müller made sure not to put too much of Sunday’s performance on Zirkzee, saying the team didn’t play well as a whole.

”He is definitely farther along than I was at 18,” Müller told BFW. “In a game where the team doesn’t function at 100% — in the first half above all — it’s not easy for him. But he packs a punch. He has very good qualities. It’s a shame he couldn’t convert his chance, but ‘the show must go on.’”