Bayern Munich comfortably dispatched Inter Milan to book an important three points in the Champions League through two magical goal-creating movements from Leroy Sané. Inter are not among Europe’s present titans, but nonetheless posed an important challenge to the Bavarians, one which they passed comprehensively.
Bayern might’ve taken even more from this one — but there are plenty of positives to take from today’s proceedings.
Thomas Müller unleashed
Shot. Shot. Shot. The imperious Bavarian Raumdeuter put impressive new Inter keeper André Onana to the test early and often. Three first-half looks, all from the center of the box, required desperate interventions. It was as if Bayern’s gameplan were designed to place him exactly in that position at exactly the right times, either to get a shot off or make that decisive key pass.
This is perhaps the most convincing Müller has looked within head coach Julian Nagelsmann’s 4-2-3-1 — the alternate, more wing-focused look to the 4-2-2-2 that has instead Müller pulling the strings from the right wing and Serge Gnabry up top.
Of course, there’s also his immense experience and leadership on the pitch. Müller was engaged in animated discussions during a late first-half injury break with the entire rest of the front four: gesturing at goal-scorer Leroy Sané and Kingsley Coman, as if to point out where they might make more threatening actions. Sadio Mané ended up with his arm around Müller’s shoulder, as if to calm him and turn down the Radio Müller dial just a notch.
Leadership, intensity, intelligence — as Müller goes, often so too does Bayern. That’s why he’s so critical to the team, and he showed it once again today.
Midfield variety on display
It was a new role and side of the pitch for Marcel Sabitzer today. He’d primarily been deployed on the left, from where he could drop down and cover for Alphonso Davies’ forward ventures, as against VfL Wolfsburg. Against Union Berlin last weekend, Sabitzer served as the primary outlet in front of the center-backs — Joshua Kimmich’s usual role.
Today, Kimmich was back in his customary spot, and Sabitzer was the one to venture further forward — and on the right instead. As much as it was to place more defensive responsibilities in Kimmich’s hands — while still leaving him in a possession to playmake; see the second goal — it was perhaps also meant to bring out Sabitzer’s offensive qualities.
With Coman on the wing and Müller lurking in the box, Sabitzer pushed high in the half-spaces into attacking midfield areas, and sometimes fanned out to the wing. It helped Bayern’s build-up combinations on the right side of the field, leaving Sané and Davies isolated on the left. And Sabitzer found nice angles for long shots as well — arriving late in the box to hit a ricochet in the 37th minute, for example, that went narrowly wide of the mark.
Leon Goretzka is back fit now, getting an extended run in the second half. He doesn’t look his sharpest yet, but undoubtedly that time is coming soon. When it does, he’ll add another change-up to the toolbox for Nagelsmann. Will Bayern settle into stable patterns, or let the matchup demands dictate their plans in central midfield?
Individual defensive actions kept the clean sheet
Inter showed more than a little quality going forward, and were consistently Bayern’s biggest test of the year. Especially with Bayern often on the front foot, it was down to individual quality and concentration in moments of transition, and Bayern’s defense supplied it with cut-outs or crucial tackles.
Sure, Inter weren’t the most precise, and couldn’t even capitalize on Lucas Hernández’s gift of a ball in the 83rd minute, but the defenders still had to be up to the task. And in the main, they were.
When the center-backs stepped forward — risky moves! — they usually got it right; Matthijs de Ligt’s yellow card tackle the notable exception. For the most part, Bayern won the ball back before things got too harried, and were rewarded for their composure with excellent transition chances for themselves.
There were structural vulnerabilities, however. With Davies pushing and staying high and without Sabitzer there to drop into coverage, Inter found joy down their right flank, releasing Denzel Dumfries into space on several occasions. For all the passing quality they displayed to carve out these chances, though, the Nerazzurri touch seemed to vanish by the final act. A better wing threat down the right might have punished Bayern, and especially in moments with the scoreline 1-0, it seemed like a senseless risk.
Front foot mentality
By half-time, Inter had 1 out of 5 shots on target, and Bayern had 9 of 14. As usual, they could conceivably have been even sharper and more clinical, but this was the right energy. After a tired, almost lackluster display against Union Berlin, this was the Bayern intensity we are used to seeing. Inter were pressed off the park from minute one, Bayern grabbed and maintained a lead through goals that always seemed coming, and finished off the game with cool, tidy, effective management.
This is where it’s almost pointless to pit individual player qualities against one another. Yes, only XI can get selected to start each game, and we might all have our individual favorites as fans, but a performance like this reflects the total mood of the locker room. Everyone has to get ready to turn it on at the same moment, to think and operate like a team.
There’s plenty more player-directed praise to be had from this game — and we’ll get to those in the Match Awards! — but the overall atmosphere is one of comprehensive team effort.
If there were any doubts after two stumbles in the league, Bayern showed they’ve got the stuff of which champions are made. Bring on FC Barcelona.
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