Bayern Munich's clash against VfL Wolfsburg had several background storylines, the most intriguing being the face-off between current and former head coaches — Julian Nagelsmann versus Niko Kovac. Of course, there was also the little matter of Bayern going in without Robert Lewandowski — the man who once scored five on the Wolves in nine minutes — but the Bavarians didn’t miss a beat, delivering a very composed, workman-like performance. Here are five observations from the game:
Nagelsmann set the team up the exact same way he did against Frankfurt. However, Niko Kovac seemed to have done his homework, and instead of the regular “park the bus” Kovacball (Simeoneball 2.0), this Wolfsburg side came out all guns blazing. There was a lot of attacking intent as the team pushed Bayern into their own half for the first 15 minutes. Benjamin Pavard in particular was targeted throughout, and he looked quite uncomfortable in those situations.
Notacticsmann Megamind. The Bayern coach shouted a few instructions, and suddenly, the dynamic of the game had a 180-degree shift. Alphonso Davies started exploiting the spaces in midfield, and there was nothing the Wolfsburg midfielders could do to contain him. Jamal Musiala seemed to treat this as a screen, getting into great positions with skillful one-twos, through balls, and dummies.
This also allowed Pavard to venture forward, completely pinning the helpless Wolfsburg midfield in their box. Marcel Sabitzer cleaned up any loose balls like a boss (more on that later), while Lucas Hernandez and Dayot Upamecano pushed further up and tried their luck with some defense-splitting passes. Nagelsmann had Wolfsburg dancing to his tunes in no time. Even Niko Kovac looked a bit confused to see his team following his usual tactics, which probably went against the game plan.
If not for Casteels having a superhuman game and Sadio Mané being robbed of a completely legal goal, Bayern would’ve been up by at least 5. But I suppose the win is what matters in the end, and the clean sheet is certainly the icing on the cake. Nagelsmann deserves a lot of praise for the tactics on display today.
Energy-saving is good
In the second half, there was an obvious decrease in attacking intensity. Bayern players switched to cruise control, and while still dominating, let Wolfsburg sit back while they passed the ball around probing for breakthroughs. Unlike the case under former coach Hansi Flick, there was no need for the team to press for 90 minutes. The players need to be fresh for the next game, and an intense pressing system is bound to take a toll.
Nagelsmann’s “smart-pressing” in pockets was also clear as crystal. The players formed triangles and conducted small, well-concerted presses that isolated Wolfsburg players and forced turnovers. However, this also meant that the other eight players (yes, keeper Manuel Neuer is also a midfielder, remember?) could save energy.
Bayern doesn’t have to put on a show every single game. Sometimes, the team just needs to score a few goals and crank out the win. And that’s okay because that’s how champions roll.
Jamal Musiala is (currently) the best player in the Bundesliga
It is true that there has been a lot of Musiala praise lately, both on this site and elsewhere. The coach, former Bayern players, current players, and fans are all ecstatic, and for good reason. This player is magical. Once again, he put on a MOTM-worthy performance, with a 92% pass completion rate, a superb goal, and some great passing and otherworldly dribbling in tight spaces. With every passing game, it is getting more and more apparent that Musiala is going to make that wing spot his.
Nagelsball’s winger/half-space playmaker hybrid role seems custom-made for the 19-year-old. The Wolfsburg defenders simply had no answer, and Musiala dominated once again. He found teammates in great positions with brilliant passes, was really good with decision-making, and could’ve scored another goal or two if not for some shoddy passing from Müller and Sané.
Anyways, enjoy this period. Musiala has burst onto the stage, he’s ready to make this season his, and at the moment he’s unstoppable.
This is one of the biggest storylines of this season early on, and I’m lovin’ it. Sabitzer is having a remontada, and it is happening at the perfect time. Leon Goretzka may no longer be a surefire starter — that’s how good the Austrian has been. With a 91.7% passing success rate, 4 successful tackles, and a key pass, the man was everywhere. He was the shield in front of the defense, making sure that players had a tough time getting through the midfield block.
In a game where Joshua Kimmich failed to impress, Sabitzer more than made up for any midfield deficiencies with his defensive work, work rate, and build-up play. What I loved most about his game today was how he won back balls outside the opposition box all the time. It became sad for the Wolfsburg midfield at one point, when they simply couldn’t get outside their own box because of the Austrian panzer.
Is Gravenbitzer going to replace Kimmetzka? Too soon to tell, but both players might well get that starting berth if the Germans don’t up their game. It feels good to have such tight competition in the midfield at last.
The sheets are finally clean
Bayern managed to keep a clean sheet (!!!) which deserves its own celebratory article, but for now, a place in the match observations will have to do. The Bayern defense was absolutely stellar. Lucas Hernandez was outstanding, and Upamecano didn’t put a foot wrong today. The latter has had a great start, and Matthijs de Ligt may not get a place in the XI so easily. Lucas’ performance though, was a different gravy, because of how committed he was to his challenges.
Lucas is like John Wick. He’ll keep coming and he’ll not let you pass. He will take you down. And if the ball gets past him, the player won’t — which is how he earned his yellow card. The security he offers Bayern at the back is invaluable. And of course, his best friend Pavard was superb too. He’s been playing like a man possessed this season (much to INNN’s disappointment), and I really feel for Noussair Mazraoui. Brazzo probably promised the AFC Ajax arrival a lot of minutes, but it doesn’t seem like he’ll get a lot of starts.
Maybe this has something to do with the supreme power of a French-speaking backline. Alphonso Davies will obviously get a mention because he was easily a top-three player on the pitch today. The Wolfsburg defense couldn’t stop him, and he did most of the work for the second goal with that blistering run. It feels like he’s unlocked another level under Nagelsmann this season, and it’s certainly going to be delightful watching him dominate both in attack and defense.
Check out our post-game podcast as well! Chuck Smith breaks down the win from his perspective.
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