Bayern Munich has provisionally gone nine points clear over Borussia Dortmund at the top of the Bundesliga table with their 1-0 win at Eintracht Frankfurt. Bayern certainly made hard work of it, but were able to come away from Deutsche Bank Park with maximum points thanks to a goal from second half substitute, Leroy Sane. Both sides had their fair share of chances, but Bayern edged out Frankfurt in shots on target 9-1, with Kevin Trapp having made a handful of significant interventions to keep his side in the match.
Still, it was far from Bayern’s best outing, but an improvement on recent blunders against VfL Bochum, RB Salzburg, and a poor first half against SpVgg Greuter Furth last weekend that required a strong second half rally to overcome.
The back three still looks vulnerable, indecisive
Julian Nagelsmann has made it clear that using a back three is a big part of his future at Bayern. It’s a system that worked quite well for him at RB Leipzig, but has shown its frailties thus far at Bayern. Without Alphonso Davies or an outright, right wing back in the side, the back three system that Nagelsmann deploys consistently looks equal parts vulnerable and indecisive.
In the first half against Frankfurt, the back line looked very exposed and counters were on full display, spearheaded by Fillip Kostic, Jesper Lindstrom, and Ansgar Knauff. Oliver Glasner’s side came out of the gates with a very high tempo and a high press that Bayern struggled to play out of the back through. Had it not been for some timely, last-stitch challenges from Niklas Sule, Frankfurt easily could’ve taken the lead within the first ten minutes of play. Lindstrom and Kostic carved right through Bayern’s defense in the seventh minute and Bayern was lucky the latter put his effort wide with his weaker foot, but it was an early warning side for the visitors.
As was the case in Frankfurt, Sule is the only part of the back three that seems to work, as he acts as the main center back. While it’s no discredit to their defensive abilities, at times, it just looks like both Dayot Upamecano and Lucas Hernandez are caught in two minds as far as pressing forward, or staying more retreated, which isn’t aided by the players playing just ahead of them, to be fair. It creates small mistakes that lead to dangerous counters and Upamecano, in particular, had a few hiccups early on in the first half where he was caught in slightly advanced positions making lackluster attempts in his 50/50 challenges on the back foot.
With Davies and a proper right wing back in the system, the back three could be very effective, but Benjamin Pavard, Serge Gnabry, and Upamecano on the right side seemed to lack cohesion and understanding in Frankfurt. Bayern was perhaps a bit lucky not to have been punished for mishaps on that side of the pitch.
Playing through the midfield, controlling the tempo
This match seemed to not have much of a midfield. There was virtually no time on the ball for anyone in the center of the park and it seemed to go back to front for large portions of proceedings. This isn’t normally the way Bayern likes to play, but they have to be able to adapt to it when this type of play presents itself in matches. Joshua Kimmich often times felt isolated and when he would try to get on the ball, he’d get immediately swarmed and have to play a lateral or backwards pass, though that certainly changed in the second half, when he was productive and assisted Sane’s goal with a sublime through ball.
The commentators on ESPN+ were even going on about how a player like Thiago Alcantara would’ve helped control the tempo in midfield in a match like this where everything seemed to go around the midfield. This has been prevalent with the starting lineups that Nagelsmann has deployed with four attackers playing just behind Robert Lewandowski. It’s worked better when Corentin Tolisso has started alongside Kimmich in midfield, and that role was occupied by Marcel Sabitzer against Frankfurt, but he struggles to make a positive impact for Bayern. While Leon Goretzka hadn’t had the most glowing of starts to the season prior to sustaining his patellar tendon injury, this perhaps is a glowing example of how well the double pivot in midfield between he and Kimmich has worked in the past.
Balancing patience and urgency in attack
Bayern’s xG against Frankfurt was 2.61, but they were only able to find the back of the net once. They were creating the chances, but it felt like the chances could’ve been better with a better balance between patience and urgency. In the opening stages of the match, the tempo was high and a lot of progressive passes and passes in the attacking third from Bayern seemed to be a bit forced as a side effect of the high tempo. Musiala, Kimmich, Coman, and Lewandowski all came close with decent efforts, but there could’ve been more with some patience on the ball in the attacking third.
A lot of Frankfurt’s counters resulted from a low percentage shot being taking or pass being played in the attacking third, which really left Sule, Upamecno, and Hernandez hung out to dry at times. When runs are made in the attacking third and not found, this creates mismatches all over the pitch in the counter and the same thing happens when a low percentage pass is made. Lewandowski looked visibly frustrated by this at times in the first half as he found it hard to get into open spaces.
As the match went on, particularly in the second half, Bayern showed far more purpose in possession and started to create more and more chances. Sane’s introduction to the match in the 67th minute was the ultimate difference maker and Bayern’s xG rose significantly after he had come on and scored in the 71st minute. The goal took their xG from 1.90 to 2.27, per Understat. Perhaps this was a sign to Nagelsmann that he should’ve kept Sane in the starting lineup, as his introduction seemed to add that extra bit of spark and creativity in Bayern’s attack.
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