Here are three observations from Bayern Munich’s successful, if nerve-wracking, 2-0 win over FC Basel in the UEFA Youth League, which qualified the club for the Round of 16:
Absolute domination in the first half
Bayern lined up with a squad overflowing with exceptional talent. Players such as Lovro Zvonarek, Adam Aznou, Adin Licina, Javier Fernandez and Jonathan Asp-Jensen typically grab all the attention, but every player in the squad is quite talented, which has made the squad’s disjointed performances and tendency to fall apart in the second half of games so far this season a massive disappointment.
As disappointing as the season has been so far, though, the first half of this match was exceptional. The technical ability of Aznou, Fernandez and Asp-Jensen was on full display as Bayern bossed the game and threatened the Basel goal time and time again. Perhaps this dominance didn’t quite lead to as many high quality chances as one would have hoped, but Bayern still had multiple chances to score in this half, with Bayern having 10 shots on goal compared to one for the hosts.
Most notable of those chances was Max Scholze’s golden opportunity in the 15th minute, as his tame shot from six-yards out was easily dealt with by the goalkeeper, before Zvonarek finally got the opener in the 31st minute. Receiving the ball with purpose, he combined with Fernandez and drove past the shocked Basel defense with confidence and swagger, topping off the move with an ice cold finish.
Things start falling apart in the second half
Remember how poor second halves have been a staple for Bayern’s U-19 side? This problem reared its head yet again. After 45 minutes of Basel doing nothing in the attack, the Swiss U-19 Elite League table toppers came out of the gates with a renewed sense of purpose and drove at the shocked Bayern defense. Bayern was absolutely unprepared for this and immediately floundered under the increased pressure, as the second half was characterized by sloppy Bayern giveaways in the face of Basel’s press and an unrelenting wave of pressure towards the Bavarians’ goal. Bayern had 10 shots to 1 in the first half; 30 minutes into the second half, the shot count was 12 to 11.
However, it is a credit to Bayern’s beleaguered defense that none of those 11 shots hit the target. And slowly but surely, Bayern managed to get a foothold in the game, taking advantage of Basel’s desperation to get the equalizing goal by springing players in behind, relieving the pressure on the backline and bringing the Bavarians back into the match. It all culminated in a moment of absolute elation, after the clock had ticked over 90 minutes, when Lovro Zvonarek popped up again to kill the game off. Receiving the ball at the edge of the area, the Croat darted beyond the opposition defense, waiting for the defender to lunge before pulling the ball past him and finishing low into the far corner with his weaker foot. 2-0, game over. With the game now won, tired Bayern players mobbed the match winner as Bayern’s progress to the Round of 16 of the UEFA Youth League was confirmed.
So, in case it isn’t obvious, Lovro Zvonarek is really good
Despite usually being part of the U-23 side, the 18-year-old Croat was picked for the UEFA Youth League match and even made captain of a group he has barely trained with. And yet he was excellent. Of course, Zvonarek scored the only two goals of the game and that alone will have won him the man of the match award. But it was his driving force, his constant will to succeed and relative seniority that truly stood out today.
It bears reminding that Zvonarek is the youngest captain in Croatian top flight history, having captained Slaven Belupo at just 16 before moving to Bayern. And that was no fluke. Zvonarek led by example today, cleaning up in midfield, throwing himself into challenges and setting the tempo when others flailed during the second half implosion. He never stopped fighting and kept his composure up until the final whistle, exemplified his beautiful second goal. Most players would see a sight of goal in the last minutes of the game and take a snapshot; instead, the number 10 waited for the opponent to overcommit, fully in control before sliding the ball effortlessly into the far corner. He fully deserves the man of the match award. What a player.