With the exception of one slip-up from Manuel Neuer, the 5-1 scoreline was mostly justified as Bayern Munich had a typical win against FC Köln to increase their lead on top of the Bundesliga table to 5 points. Here the game observations:
Instant impact of returning players
Serge Gnabry and Thomas Müller returned after a long term absence from the squad, and their arrivals on the pitch had immediate impact. Seconds after coming on, Müller threaded a slick through ball for Robert Lewandowski’s second goal. In just 26 minutes Müller managed to create two chances immediately after more than two weeks away from action.
Serge Gnabry, who has had a lackluster season so far, showed glimpses of his old self scoring a brace to increase the lead to 4 goals in the final 10 minutes. He registered a 100 percent conversion rate and shot accuracy with 2 goals from 2 shots.
However, Gnabry still has a lot of work ahead of him if he is to break into the starting XI ahead of Leroy Sané and Kingsley Coman, who are the current starters on the wings.
Bayern returning to 2020 form
After a combination of no-preseason, a tightly packed schedule, and injuries leaving Bayern unable to play in the form that saw them win the treble, the past two games must come as a relief to fans.
The fluidity, pace, and directness of attack has returned, with Bayern creating 17 chances against Köln and registering a total of 14 shots with 7 of them being on target. The defense was on and off in the game, giving the Billy Goats some clear chances that might be disastrous against better teams.
Köln hardly troubled Bayern in possession as the home side had a pass success rate of 89 percent. The return of Leon Goretzka has given Bayern some much needed robustness and resilience against pressing, while adding another goal threat thanks to his signature late runs into the box. Goretzka was the star of the show with his hat-trick of assists, 3 key passes, 8 ball recoveries and a clean 87 percent pass succes rate.
Bayern is over-reliant on the fitness of its core players
This is a hot take, but one that makes sense once the heat settles down. Bayern has a peculiar problem with regard to squad depth. While on paper the club might look stacked, it is heavily reliant on the availability of 5 key players — Robert Lewandowski, Manuel Neuer, Thomas Müller, Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich (with all due respect to every other member of the squad).
Those players are listed in no particular order of importance, as missing any of them causes the team to drop off significantly in an area. While Lewandowski and Neuer leave obvious holes, the absence of the others directly affect the team’s style of play.
Müller’s absence sees our counter-press drop off in efficiency and co-ordination. Goretzka is crucial if we are to resist pressing and retain possession against physical and high pressing teams. Joshua Kimmich is the glue who spearheads the defense line as well as creating direct plays with his quick and accurate vertical passes that are very dangerous when coupled with Bayern’s high speed attack. Kimmich is also vital when the team needs to shuffle the ball around while resisting pressure from the opposition.
Müller, Goretzka and Kimmich have all had periods of time away from the team due to injury or Covid and the impact was visible. The substitute players despite their quality and hard work have not been able to fill those roles as effectively. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that as of now, the performance of Bayern in the knockout phase of the UCL, if they are to defend it will most probably come down to the fitness and availability of its core "fab five" players.