One COVID-related postponement (Dortmund-Mainz) leaves us with eight fixtures to discuss after the latest weekend of top flight German football.
That naturally doesn't mean that there wasn't a surfeit of highly intriguing action to discuss. Plenty of surprises led to interesting ramifications all about the table.
The latest edition of our weekly wrap-up column contains draw-ups for Freiburg, Leipzig, and Hertha.
Leverkusen-Bayern having been a captivating affair for all the tactics-heads out there leads to that fixture getting the focus section.
|Julian Nagelsmann.||Photo: Bayern München/OneFootball|
Bundesliga Tactical Banter: Round 25
The New Bundesliga Logo
We'll have to lead with the gestures of support (or symbolism if one truly prefers) from German football for the second consecutive week. The DFL officially changed the Bundesliga logo to Ukrainian colors ahead of this matchday. All corner flags on German footballing pitches are now the Ukrainian flag. All club captains don the Ukranian flag as their armband. Moments of silence across the country. Demonstrations for peace in and outside every last stadium.
In most of the country, carnival parades were converted into protests against the war. In some cases, protests planned against some of the remaining pandemic restrictions joined forces with those marching in solidarity with Ukraine. The biggest issue dividing some members of the German public over the past two years dissolved instantly in some quarters of the Bundesrepublik. A troubling conflict directly on one's doorstep tends to have a unifying effect. There isn't much domestic disagreement on this issue.
We wish to and absolutely will enjoy the football this weekend. The one last remaining matter that should be mentioned before moving forward is that virtually all Bundesliga lovers in Germany enjoyed it only up to a certain point. The Bundesliga fan scene treasures their political engagement almost as much as their game itself. Very few watch the relatively new concept known as "halftime shows" when the opening 45 of a fixture is over. Most Germans flip directly over to the news when the football breaks. Sports is a valued escapism, but only a partial one.
A gem in Autostadt #1
The company town in which Germany's green company team plays is known across the land as the German "Autostadt". Of course it is. "Die Wölfe" of the German Bundesliga hail from one of Germany's great "car cities". There are other such cities (which we'll note below), but only one 'burg's existence is devoted solely to the manufacture of the "car of the people". Volkswagen remains the populist vehicular brand. An Opels may be equally cheap, but they're mostly for "Popel", not people.
In any even, we finally got an exciting match worth talking about in the Lower Saxon "Autostadt". This was in part due to the fact VfL Wolfsburg trainer Florian Kohfeldt finally put together an effective set of tactics. A 5-3-2 with Maximilian Arnold at sweeper, Ridle Baku and the returning Xaver Schlager working as eights, and Max Kruse directly buttressing a double striker set of Jonas Wind and Bartosz Bialek from the ten slot got off to a flying start. The hosts could have gone up 3-0 inside of five minutes.
Visiting 1. FC Union Berlin weren't half bad either. Grischa Prömel did an excellent job pulling the strings behind Sheraldo Becker and Taiwo Awoniyi in Urs Fischer's usual 3-5-2 double stack. Somehow, despite an excess of chances on both sides, this match ended with a 1-0 scoreline. The Köpenickers will feel especially hard done by as they deserved at least a draw. Poor Eisernen striker Taiwo Awoniyi--who played a great match--turned the lone goal into his own net. No German footballer will feel worse than the Nigerian attacker this weekend.....with the possible exception of Thomas Müller.
A gem in Autostadt #2
As promised, we'll reference some other "Autostadt"s across the Bundesrepublik. After all why shouldn't there be more than one in the German football landscape? Why doesn't Mainz get credit for manufacturing Opels? Or Ingolstadt for churning out Audis? This columnist doesn't exactly consider it fair that Stuttgart isn't referred to as the "Southern Autostadt". If ever there was a "car city", the home of both Mercedes Benz and Porsche deserves the title as well. Just like in Wolfsburg, there isn't much else going on in Stuttgart. The Württembergers should get credit for something.
VfB Stuttgart certainly obtain some credit for putting together--after a similarly long wait--their won wildly entertaining match. Pellegrino Matarazzo's Swabians pulled off an incredible comeback in front of a sell-out crowd of 25,000 Saturday night at the Mercedes Benz Arena. The home side looked destined to slide to their tenth consecutive match without a win after Gladbach jumped out to an early 2-0 lead. Stuttgart could have hardly gotten off to a worse start, with Omar Marmoush, Sasa Kalajdzic, and Borna Sosa all fluffing early chances. They looked to be doomed.
VfB captain Wataru Endo, after utilizing a bit of luck to pull a goal back in the 38th, succumbed to the same curse as his teammates when he messed up a few chances after the restart. The skipper nevertheless dusted himself off and played a very important role in the fantastic team goal that was the 51st minute equalizer. The entire team then kept pummeling, shaking off more bad misses until Sosa linked up with Kalajdzic for the game-winning tally seven minutes from time. Wow. Still in the relegation playoff spot, but there's suddenly a heartbreak in BaWü.
A flop in the Domstadt
We could re-litigate why Köln has the lone privilege of being labelled the "Domstadt" (Cathedral City). Sure, it's a magnificent piece of gothic architecture; unrivaled in certain respects. The truth is that other German footballing cities boast famous cathedrals too. Bremen, Münster, Freiburg, Regensburg, Mainz, Ulm, and Berlin all feature worthy rivals. Why should Köln be the lone "Domstadt"? The town doesn't have a monopoly on flat caps and Ibex mascots either.
In any event, the hometown team accomplished little against visiting Hoffenheim this weekend apart from losing by a less embarrassing margin than they did in the reverse fixture. Steffen Baumgart's Geißböcke honestly seemed to be in no mood to take any risks against an opponent they carried some fear for over from the Hin-runde. TSG attacker Ihlas Bebou missed several golden opportunities to put the match to bed early. Lead FC striker Anthony Modeste had one of those games where his finishing and timing simply didn't work at all.
The cathedral city club has now won just three of ten fixtures in calendar year 2022; two of those by narrow 1-0 score-lines. Baumgart's 4-2-3-1 rotations generally come up short with respect to shaking the stale out of this side as of late. Moreover, the center-halve issues we long expected after January transfer window departures begin to manifest. None of this should preclude a stable, mid-table finish. That's an accomplishment in itself when one considers the pre-season expectations. Still, it's lamentable to report that this team hasn't been a great deal of fun to watch as of late.
The "Spiegel Specials": Round 25
Leipzig-Freiburg (1:1, 1:1)
No separating these two clubs this year, at least in terms of the scoreline. German football fanatics can separate them quite easily. When it came time to look in at fourth vs. fifth place in the table this weekend, we obviously had our personal preferences. "Sir Christian Streich's" esteemed and respected Breisgauer vs. the "Marketingklub" sponsored by Austrian legal crack slingers. Duh.
Incidentally, the Freiburg gaffer has actually not been knighted for the very good reason that the Bundesrepublik doesn't have a royal house. The Columnist just made that up. Streich is, however, an elector for the ceremonial post of the countries President, so such a title makes tangential sense. A pity that there wasn't a great deal of "tangential sense" on the football pitch in this one.
Both coaches came up with some weird stuff after their midweek Pokal fixtures.
Lineup—SC Freiburg—Match 25 (4-4-2)
Most notably, we've got Maxi Eggestein in a "bolt-lock" sweeper role here. It got the job done insofar as keeping the team deep, tight, and confident enough to launch RB attack remnants deep down the field. One expected significantly more from Lukas Kübler and skipper Christian Günter; both in far more advanced positions than they were last week.
Alas, Domenico Tedesco had his own plan to deal with them.
Lineup—RB Leipzig—Match 25 (3-4-3)
A little unclear who the service striker was supposed to be here as all three forward attackers had defensive roles too. Additionally, the halfway axis seemed almost deliberately flat. Emil Forsberg often dropped deep to ensure that the few SC counters engineering amid 70 percent Leipzig ball possession went nowhere. Christopher Nkunku and Yussuf Poulsen often had too little support to do anything other than get brutally murdered in the direct duels.
We wanted a thrilling no-holds-barred contest in pursuit of the final Champions' League spot. Instead, we got a chess match. All well and good. Such affairs can often be entertaining in a footballing sense. At other times, what transpires on a pitch more closely resembles watching an actual chess match live and in real time. For those who have not had the dubious pleasure of doing that, take the columnist's advice and avoid engaging in such an activity. It's horrible. So was this fixture. Neither goal was particularly good.
Prognosis: A three-horse race
At least a point for each side keeps the competition for the final UCL spot intriguing. Freiburg and Leipzig are tied in fifth place with 41 points. Hoffenheim, courtesy of their win over Köln, conclude the round in fourth with 43 points. The trio currently fighting for European club football at the highest level all stand about an equal chance of getting it.
German football enthusiasts will naturally not be best pleased about the fact that there's a two-thirds chance that a "Plastico" team will attain the level. As always, it will take until shortly before kickoff next September before we truly accept it. Note that it remains possible that there may be more than four German Champions' League teams next year if UEFA expels the Russian participants.
Bochum-Fürth (1:0, 2:1)
In the battle of the two promoted teams, the much more stable 1848ers take the double. As we were discussing last week, lowly Fürth are building up a comforting home unbeaten run. Their away form still sucks. Stefan Leitl's Kleeblätter entered this one having only picked up one point away from home all year. They left Nordrhein-Westfalen having not added to that total at all.
Not exactly the most enthralling affair over on the Castropher Straße on Saturday afternoon. Maxim Leitsch--bouncing back directly from that bad luck in the Pokal defeat midweek--received a gift when a saved ball bounced directly into his path for the opening goal. Stefan Leitl's re-jiggered XI (a 4-1-5 perhaps?) furnished nothing other than a flukish Bochum own-goal.
Anthony Losilla--who also scored the match-winner in the reverse fixture--got credit for the 2-1 in the 71st. This too probably should have been credited as an own goal after Dickson Abiama deflected it in. Maybe not giving the goal to Losilla would have left this match without a story. There was literally nothing else worth mentioning.
Another three points likely puts Bochum comfortably out of relegation range for the rest of the season. Congratulations to the club some consider the oldest community athletic society on a second consecutive year of top flight German football. In these pandemic times, none of us truly wish to see a promoted side go straight back down; not when their loyal fans have often been denied the opportunity to support their side in person.
While it has long been a forgone conclusion that Fürth will be suffering the ignominious fate of first-year-relegation--just as they did in the 2012/13 campaign, the columnist can now make a prediction about when it shall be official. The Middle Franconians should lose their next four matches against Leipzig, Freiburg, Frankfurt, and Gladbach. That should do it.
The Burning Questions: Round 25
How can one explain Hertha's latest collapse?
Let it be known that those of us who made the obligatory "February Promise" are certainly sweating bullets at the moment. Though we didn't anticipate that "die alte Dame" would best Eintracht Frankfurt, a slaughter on this level wasn't expected either. This may well be the worst Hertha side since the 2011/12 campaign.
Try as he might, Tayfun Korkut can't devise anything.
Lineup—Hertha BSC—Match 25 (4-4-2)
This back-four requires stability. Period. Two atrocious errors in the opening 15 minutes should have allowed Jesper Lindstrøm to put the SGE up 2-0 before the first quarter of an hour was out. As Pal Dardai himself would love to put it, the sixes should be set. All of this mucking about with the positioning of Vladimir Darida and Lucas Tousart only serves to render them completely unfamiliar with one another on builds. It showed. Zero ideas going forward from either one of them all match.
Stevan Jovetic--the team's only bright spot this season--is buckling as well. Too much experimentation behind him leaves the Montenegrin confused and disoriented. Marco Richter had a terrible game stationed on the opposite flank as last week. Korkut really grasps at straws now. One currently has no idea where the spark on this team shall come from. Those tempted to think that Davie Selke can build on his goal in the 1-4 defeat are likely to be sorely disappointed.
There remains hope for the February promise in that the Charlottenburgers can still nick a few points off their opponents in the coming four rounds. There's also direct duels with other relegation rivals down the stretch run and the club finishes off the season against a pair of teams (Dortmund and Mainz) that might have little left to play for.
Whew. A third relegation for this organization in 13 years would be tantamount to the demise of the Berlin Capitals Ice Hockey club. Union Berlin could then be known as the "Eisbären" of football. Funny how a club from the East overtook one from the West in two sports despite the Western one receiving heavy financial subsidies. A reunified German sports world turned on its head.
What can one say about Bielefeld-Augsburg?
If the reader encounters a sense of deja vu, that's because precisely the same question was posed following the reverse fixture in the round eight edition of tactics talk. The columnist went into Friday evening with a sinking feeling that we were all in for another stinker. Sadly, this was confirmed. Twenty thousand spectators at the Alm had to wait 50 minutes for the first shot on goal from either side. Practically zero flow to this one. Very little apart from constant midfield possession changes, sloppy fouling, and booking breaks.
So it came to pass that those of us charged with covering the 2021/22 German top football flight had our worst fears from the beginning of the season confirmed yet again. We always knew that this historically weak field would furnish fixtures like this. Not for the first or last time this year, we envied our 2. Bundesliga colleagues. They got to cover twelve combined goals in the Kiel-Paderborn/Darmstadt-Heidenheim. We got...er...Daniel Caligiuri finishing off a lucky bounce. That was it.
Oh well. Congratulations to the Fuggerstädter on moving clear of the relegation playoff place with three much needed points. On balance, Markus Weinzierl's Bavarian Swabains deserved the win. Michael Gregoritsch continues to showcase fine form narrowly missing out on another tally. Something a shame that the Noah Sarenren Bazee start turned out to be a flop. At least the Carlos Gruezo midfield split-stagger with Arne Maier held up well.
An ugly win, but a deserved one. Optically awful. At least in these two teams used their ultra cool striped kits in the reverse fixture. No such luck here. White for Augsburg. Black for Bielefeld. Brief hopes that the color scheme would at least adhere to that of a chess match were dashed quickly dashed by smash mouth tactics from both sides.
Weekly Tactical Focus: Tactician's Delight
In easily the most anticipated matchup of the weekend, Bundesliga lovers settled in at 15:30 on Saturday afternoon curious to see just how far Leverkusen had come since their humiliating home shellacking at Bayern's hands in mid-October. German football legend Rudi Völler--in his final season as Bayer's chief personnel executive--vowed that the league's current third-placed team vowed that the team would not suffer a similar meltdown against the German giants.
Bayer sought to snap a four-match-losing streak against the German record champions. There was more than just this this season's embarrassment to atone for as well. Peter Bosz's Werkself were considered title contenders last year until a last-minute sucker punch from the FCB sent them into a downward spiral from which they would not recover. Historically, this fixture remains one of the highest scoring rivalries in top flight German football. A classic expected. A classic delivered.
Tactics-heads received everything that they hoped for here. FCB trainer Julian Nagelsmann employed no fewer than three major formational shifts. If one cares to count a subtle tweak at the beginning of the second half, shape lovers caught four ploys on the overhead cam. B04 head-coach Gerardo Seoane played the long-game in a sly and intriguing manner. The man in charge of Germany's red company team approached the affair in a very unorthodox way, then staid his winning hand until the very end.
Some may have hoped for more goals. This columnist came away fully satisfied with what he saw. The team-sheets immediately presaged that some strategic-minded "game theory" operated within Nagelsmann's mind. He would yet again line his squad up in a back-four. As has been the case in many fixtures since the turn of the calendar year, one also immediately knew that a in-game shift would be forthcoming. Only a matter of time.
First, the opening hand.
Lineup—Bayern München—Match 25 (4-2-3-1)
Only two personnel changes. Thomas Müller returned from a COVID-enforced break to take over for Sabitzer whilst Omar Richards was called upon to fill in for the suspended Lucas Hernandez in just his fourth league start of the season. In further changes to last week's opening formation, Jamal Musiala moved back to pair with Joshua Kimmich on the halfway axis. Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman also appeared to flip flanks.
The midfield weak spot
Among the lessons gleaned from some of Bayern's non-winning results in the new calendar year, the absence of Leon Goretzka remains the most relevant. Discounting the aberrant 1-2 loss to Gladbach in January, we've seen how messy the midfield link-up play can get in the draw with Salzburg, the loss at Bochum, and even (to a lesser extent) the 3-2 win over Leipzig.
Kimmich clearly misses his natural midfield partner; much more so than when Goretzka had to do without him during Kimmich's prolonged COVID quarantine late last year. What's missing from Nagelsmann's midfield concerns a reliable ball-winner with added danger from range. The various innovative solutions experimented with haven't been failures by any means.
One nevertheless observers precisely what FCB opponents must try and exploit.
If the columnist's memory serves correctly, the Swiss trainer of Germany's red company team hasn't arranged his lads in a straight back-three since the round ten match against Wolfsburg. The poor results this produced ensured that the gaffer recoiled from this approach in until this past weekend. What we witnessed on Saturday constituted a direct attempt to crowd Bayern at their most vulnerable point.
Lineup—Bayer Leverkusen—Match 25 (3-4-3)
Even if Kimmich and Goretzka were both in place, it's not uncommon to see coaches deploy something like this to meet the Bayern high-press head-on. One frequently sees two sixes pushed up ahead of a pair of wingbacks folded underneath. The notion revolves around crashing four bodies into the press. A significant amount of space keeps the top-two axes counter ready.
With Patrik Schick out, Seoane also opted to keep reserve nine Lucas Alario on the bench. The Argentine received some rest ahead of Thursday's Europa League fixture at Atalanta. With the league out of sight, more lies at stake for Bayer in that fixture. The record should state that, unsurprisingly, Seoane's initial set of tactics didn't work very well at all.
A total fluke play allowed Leverkusen back into the game. Only after that did the set-up above begin to function well. Further down the line in this one, Seoane's moves proceeded to look much more intelligent. One needs to emphasize that positives may not have earning discussion were it not for Müller's own-goal.
Match Flow: 1st to 18th minute
An early "filing-out" phase likely felt fairly languid to the casual observer. A pair of tepid B04 attacks were easily stopped by Gnabry and Niklas Süle in the 1st. Charles Aranguiz managed to get forward and draw a foul in the 2nd. Edmond Tapsoba sent the free kick straight back to the defensive ranks. Bayern roused up in the 3rd, with Coman sending a through ball just beyond Lewandowski's reach. Müller, Musiala, and Richrds combined toward the end of the same minute. Jonathan Tah got in the way of a long-range Kimmich shot at the end of the play.
Tah did well to clear a Benjamin Pavard cross on the next FCB charge in the 4th. Gnabry got into the box once the Bayern back-three got the ball back in there, but a back-heel for Lewy also proved too imprecise. Pavard, Musiala, Coman, and Richards were all involved in a nice cycle in the 5th. English fullback Richards became the third FCB actor to fail to reach Lewandowski. His final pass ran into too much traffic. In terms of getting the basics of flow rolling back the other way, Leverkusen offered nothing. Tapsoba and Bakker were forced into retreat in the 6th.
Gnabry eventually picked the pair off. B04 keeper Lukas Hradecky nevertheless cut the German national team winger off and quick started a counter in the 7th. Florian Wirtz kept the play going with some sublime dribbling before feeding Moussa Diaby. A promising pullback for Jeremie Frimpong exited the official annals of the match after Diaby was whistled down on a delayed offside. Fully against the run-of-play, the first genuinely dangerous play of the match went to the visiting Werkself. Musiala turned the ball over deep in his own territory in the 8th. Makeshift striker Amine Adli spurned a golden opportunity by sending his finish wide.
Slightly buoyed by this chance, Leverkusen tried to clam things down a bit and establish their game. Aranguiz took his time drawing coverage on the next B04 build in the 9th. Kerem Demirbay ultimately got his foot around the ball. His forward featured too much pep and Süle was able to recover. Gnabry and Müller made matters too complicated on the ensuing counter. Tah stopped them. Coman ran down his flank in the 10th. Bakker ensured that the Frenchman remained sufficiently hassled. Coman (screened by the Dutchman) sent his final cross beyond everyone and out for a goal kick.
Tapsoba swept the Bavarians out of space on another attack in the same minute. Hradecky ran out to grab the subsequent corner and tried to quick start the counter again. Four FCB markers made it back in time to smother the young German phenom off the ball in the 11th. A B04 leftward cycle in the 12th ended in retreat. Back on the ball, Richards, Upamecano, Süle all collectively ran out of ideas for a total stop spell. The four defenders c circulated the ball amongst each other throughout the 12th and into the 13th.
Süle finally carried forward, but could come up with nothing better than a deep over-the-top ball for Coman. It didn't work. Hradecky cleared. The next FCB build went through Kimmich, whom Adli hauled down with a foul. Süle and Richards again had problems progressing forward after the dead ball was sent back. Müller and Lewandowski ran back deep to help them. Following some broken plays in the 14th, Bayern punched through in the 15th with better organized ball circulation. Bakker cleared a Kimmich cross only as far as Pavard. The French fullback's powerful first-time hit sailed over Lewy's head and the bar.
Nagelsmann's defending champions kept up the pressure. Musiala infiltrated the Bayer defensive ranks in the 15th, drawing a foul from Piero Hincapie. Kimmich handled the free-kick service expertly. A skillful Coman tap-back header for Lewandowski had the Polish superstar set up almost perfectly for the opening goal. A very nice finish off the turn unfortunately deflected directly off Müller. Even before the own-goal, the German football legend found himself in the way of his own team. It actually even happened again in the 17th, when Müller got in his own way.
The 32-year-old didn't realize that he had time to touch down a Pavard cross. Instead, Müller tried to hit the ball directly out of the air. The poorly connected effort missed the mark. Some bad day at the office for Germany's world cup hero this was. His team could have been up 2-0 early had Müller been more on his game. Süle fortunately got Musiala rolling again in the very same minute. Musiala's earned a corner off a knicked shot. It would be off this set-piece that Bayern would score.
Hradecky made a poor decision in coming out to collect Kimmich's service. The B04 keeper flailed on the grab and got himself lost in space. Aranguiz pedaled back to clear an FCB shot off the line. Tah then couldn't clear the ball adequately. Hincapie's second effort to get the ball away also failed. Süle latched on to the leather and finished with a flourish. The Bavarian hosts claimed their well-deserved lead.
Match Flow: 18th to 36th minute
For a good long while, it looked as if we might be in for a repeat of the reverse fixture. The NRW visitors were drowning in FCB dominance. A doubling of the advantage seemed a forgone conclusion. Both sides were a bit excitable during overcooked builds in the 19th. Already in the 20th, however, the Bavarian hosts had generated their next chance. Musiala danced pass three and whipped in a switch for Richards. The eventual feed back to Pavard ended in a blocked shot.
Leverkusen couldn't get a grip at all. Gnabry nearly made a meal out of a 21st minute turnover. Somehow, Tah scrambled away. More stylish play from Musiala after Lewy and Müller dropped deep to combine in the same minute. Tapsoba and Tah closed ranks in time to stop the youngster, but couldn't get the ball away again. Pavard was charging up the right again in the 22nd. Frimpong stepped up full body to clear a cross for Gnabry. Diaby and Adli tried to get on the same page for a counter. They ended up looking amateurish.
Pavard did hit Gnabry deep in the 23rd. A swing out to Richards was blocked. So to was another attempted carry into the box by Musiala. A Süle foul on Wirtz at the end of the minute finally accorded die Werkself some relief. Bayern essentially ran circles around their opponents constantly between the 18th and 24th. The set-piece went back to Hradecky, who launched a wobbling uncontrolled duck of a ball that the Bayern CBs had no trouble handling. The Bavarians took the 24th and 25th to calm matters down via spread possession.
Upamecano ultimately moved the ball up with a carry in the 26th. The sequence concluded with another Müller shot off target. After Tah fouled Kimmich in the 27th, Bayern again took their time cycle combining out of the back with bow arcs. Müller and Musiala eventually got the ball to Coman, who hit Gnabry with a gorgeous switch in the 28th. The build up play and even Gnabry's finish certainly deserved a goal. The Stuttgart native nevertheless missed out by centimeters. Gnabry's pull shot went across the face of goal before shaving the far post.
Effectively the same Bayern possession between the 28th and the half-hour-mark. Seoane's defenders did a decent enough job of stepping forward in unison to halt the rush, yet turned the ball straight back over every last time. When die Werkself finally got the ball beyond the halfway line in the 31st, Wirtz and Diaby just weren't in the game well enough to make anything of it. Bakker had to foul Coman when Bayern unleashed a quick counter. Match official Daniel Siebert brandished the first yellow of the match.
Bayer soaked up the ensuing free kick, yet again couldn't get the ball clear. There was a brief flurry in front of Hradecky's net. Out of this logjam, the visitors were finally able to get their first legitimate counter of the match rolling in the 33rd. The ball squirted free for Adli. Wirtz, Frimpong, and Diaby all caught up in time to participate. A return ball for Wirtz might have produced something. Pavard remained on his man, however, and the ball went out for a corner.
This set-piece set in motion the chain of events that would allow Leverkusen to equalize. Demirbay took the 34th minute corner. After a series of possession changes inside the box, Süle's clearance ended up popping back to Demirbay, who had run all the way from the left corner flag to the right edge of the box. Coman didn't like the look of Demirbay's chances in space and, thus, took him out. The 35th minute foul led to a 36th minute free kick.
What happened next qualifies as bizarre to say the least. Siebert first had to delay the take after some pushing and shoving among the set players. It would appear that this stoppage might have Müller and possibly keeper Ulreich. Demirbay's service went nowhere near any white shirts. Müller stretched out a leg to clear a ball that was in no danger of causing Ulreich any problems.
Müller ended up--in an action that almost looked deliberate--steering the ball into his own net. On the replay one can see that Ulreich's mouth remained shut, meaning he didn't call off Müller. One could make the case that Bayern's net-minder wouldn't have seen any need to. No Leverkusen players were in the vicinity and the ball was headed straight to him. Weird stuff.
Match Flow: 36th minute to half-time
After Müller's own-goal--the legend's first in over 400 Bundesliga matches by the way--had the effect of springing Seoane's Werkself back to life. Bayern no longer radiated calm and stability in their defensive ranks. For whatever reason, the equalizer brought out Upamecano's error-prone shakiness. Bayer took advantage. We all got treated to a fantastically entertaining closing phase of the first-half.
A flustered Upamecano had to scrambled to clear a B04 ball in the 37th. After a Tapsoba foul in the 38th, Kimmich supplied Lewandowski a perfectly roped service in the 38th. The Bayern striker headed over on a play that wouldn't have counted as he was slightly offside. Kimmich linked up with Gnabry one minute later. There too the FCB focus proved a bit off. Gnabry broke a smidgen too early and the flag went up.
A leftward cycle involving Gnabry and Musiala in the 41st showed some promise. The latter's pass found no takers in the box, however. Bayer were slowly managing to creep out of their own half and apply more active pressure against Nagelsmann's back line. Adli pounced on an Upamecano mistake at the end off the 41st, regrettably making his own blunder by passing to an offside Diaby.
Upamecano goofed up yet again in the 42nd with a totally misplaced pass. Adli pounced again. The former FC Toulouse attacker rounded past the onrushing Ulreich with class. The finish, from an acute angle, caromed off the post. Bayern were able to get off quick a counter via Müller, but Leverkusen stood tall and generated their own chance by the 43rd.
Demirbay ran all the way to the touchline and cut back for Adli deftly. Seoane's converted lead-striker didn't have the composure to finish properly. Despite the fact that it wouldn't have counted (Adli looked to be in an offside position), one had to wonder if and when Seoane might introduce a natural striker. Alario--or even a cold Sardar Azmoun--would have surely finished that sitter.
Bayern's attacking prowess continued to suffer. Tah easily steered the ball away from Coman and Leverkusen charged up again racehorse style. Bakker and Adli worked the ball over to Frimpong. The former Celtic fullback completely dusted Richards and swung a great ball central to Aranguiz. Ulreich sprawled to palm away the Chilean's vicious effort. Adli steered the rebound to Bakker and, after some crazy pinball in the box, Upamecano finally cleared.
The Bavarian hosts had a statement to make concerning this rapid momentum shift before the half was out. Lewy flicked on a Pavard cross to Gnabry at 45+1. Gnabry simply didn't have the angle, however, and his finish hit the side netting. Halftime xG stats--which had been in second decimal place for both sides as late as the 41st, were now dead even at 1.2 apiece.
Match Flow: 46th to 62nd minute
No personnel changes at the break. Seoane kept his natural nines in reserve. There was a slightly discernible tactical tweak from Nagelsmann. Musiala appeared to move into a more locked position ahead of Kimmich. The pair naturally still had the freedom to work lateral synchronized builds if they wished, but it definitely looked as if the FCB gaffer ordered a change. It made sense. Dropping Kimmich allowed the CBs to push out wide and open up the wide game still more.
The first chance of the half nonetheless went to Leverkusen. Kimmich actually ended up turning the ball over on a miscue with Süle. Wirtz shredded the FCB middle and laid off for Adli. Pavard was back in time to shuffle out for a corner. Demirbay's service was far too deep this time. Gnabry collected to quick start a Bayern counter. A solid cycle saw the ball fall to Musiala, who stung Hradecky's palms from 18 meters out. We were off to a flying start.
Kimmich couldn't do much with his side's corner after Hradecky turned Musiala's effort out. The Bayern set-piece-taker's service sailed out for a goal kick. Play calmed down for a brief interval. The Bavarians eventually worked the ball back to Musiala in the 50th. Tah put the brakes on his national team colleague. Aranguiz then stopped the second effort. Lewandowski remained stalwart and passed both defenders for a third effort.
Hradecky easily handled Lewy's distance shot. Wild action in the 51st as Wirtz stopped a Müller drive-thread, Adli turned the ball back over with a poor pass to Bakker on the counter, and Tapsoba scrambled back to impede the FCB's quick "counter of the counter". Leverkusen then tried to rush back to the other end, but Kimmich intervened to intercept Hincapie's forward for Wirtz.
The two sides continued to neutralize one another in midfield for another three minutes. Siebert finally intervened in the 54th to book Demirbay for a cynical challenge on Kimmich. Nagelsmann began calling the running subs over. One had the sense that his re-ordering of Kimmich and Musiala constituted the first part of a broader tactical shift to be executed within a few minutes.
Kimmich ran a great cycle left in the 55th. Hincapie ultimately dispossessed Müller and Tah cleared out of the box. Gnabry, Musiala, and Lewandowski painted around the area for a time, but were eventually forced back after several blocks. Bakker finally got the ball and the B04 fullback sent Adli up the left flank in the 56th. Adli did extremely well to shake off Süle and keep his balance.
A cross for Wirtz looked auspicious, but Upamecano had the angle cut down with his coverage. With insufficient space in which to operate, Wirtz struck the side-netting. The 18-year-old then needed treatment after twisting his foot on the shot. Bayer were back on the front foot as soon as play resumed. Frimpong raced forward in the 57th. Diaby let the cut back roll for Bakker, who in turn shuffled off for Demirbay. The shot was blocked.
Play stopped again as Aranguiz needed treatment. Marcel Sabitzer and Leroy Sané left the running subs and approached the touchline. Nagelsmann clearly wished to have a few words with them before they were introduced, however. Upamecano ran a decent counter in the 58th. Müller kept up his deplorably bad day by screwing up the final ball for Gnabry.
Leverkusen produced another chance off the goal-kick that followed. Diaby and Frimpong ran an attack geared towards reaching Wirtz again. Pavard was once again on-point when it came to his mark. The Frenchman stripped Wirtz and initiated a counter. Müller capped off his awful match with a bad cross that Frimpong could calmly clear.
It came as no surprise to see Müller's number called on the board. Richards exited alongside him in the 61st, seconds after steering his own header wide of the net on another Bayern drive. Sané and Sabitzer trotted on. It proved easy enough to see what Nagelsmann was aiming for.
Lineup—Bayern München—62nd minute (3-4-3)
There's so much speed inherent in here that one almost doesn't even need a shape. What an amazing assemblage of talent this is. Sané and Sabitzer in particular have settled into their slants well as of late. One expected some extra pop from this constellation. As it turned out, one got it fairly quick.
Match Flow: 62nd to 70th minute
Musiala slipped Sabitzer through right away. The former RB Leipzig captain went toe-to-toe with Hradecky in a one-vs-one. In this case, the B04 keeper emerged the winner. Sané also made almost an immediate impact, sneaking through and earning a corner in the 63rd. A Musiala head-down off the set piece flirted with danger.
Many hard-fought midfield battles marked the interval between the 63rd and 65th. For the most part, Bayern came out the better. Wirtz and Frimpong both found attempted counters quickly halted. Gnabry made it into the box with some nice moves in the 65th before meeting his match in the form of Tapsoba. Bayern actors crashed the center with a nice combo toward the end of the same minute.
Kimmich ultimately located Coman, whose further was too far for Lewy. Some calm Leverkusen builds in the 67th and 68th couldn't crack the halfway line. Bayern wrested the ball back in the 69th, penetrating the area via Sané and earning a 70th minute corner. Süle came close to supplying a sensational finish, but his back heel touch rolled out.
Exeqiuel Palacios had been waiting to check in on the sideline for a couple of minutes. The Argentine defensive midfielder being the lone actor preparing to enter perplexed a bit. Surely, with a tied game on the line, Seoane would at least consider introducing Alario or Azmoun? Not so. In point of fact, it proved astonishing to see Adli's number called.
Match Flow: 70th minute to full-time
The Werkself trainer obviously wanted to batten down the hatches with this change. Satisfied with nicking a somewhat lucky point off the German Giants, Seoane ordered everyone back into a fully defensive posture. It may very well have been the case that Leverkusen's trainer correctly anticipated that Nagelsmann would re-format to his own 3-5-2 late on, as he's tended to do in recent weeks.
If true, we witnessed something far smarter than mere surrender.
Lineup—Bayer Leverkusen—71st minute (3-5-2)
Not terribly much going on attack-wise with a set-up like this. Seone doubled down on his attempts to clog the FCB midfield, eating up both traffic and clock. After a pair of B04 corners in the 71st/72nd, Coman fouled Hincapie on an attempted carry-out and was booked. Some keep away off the free kick killed a minute.
Musiala and Sabitzer worked a ball to Pavard on the overlap in the 73rd. The Frenchman's cross was collected competently and attempted to bowl Wirtz out on a counter. Bayern quickly put the kibosh on it. With the ball out of play, Nagelsmann was able to execute his next substitution in the 74th. Gnabry made way for Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.
Without a doubt, the 3-5-2 was coming.
Lineup—Bayern München—75th minute (3-5-2)
In fairness, it didn't always look like this. Choupo-Moting more or less enjoys free reign whenever he enters a match late. It's sometimes interesting to watch how the Cameroon international tracks Lewandowski's lane selection on specific rushes. Nagelsmann might have the two of them working out coordinated spatial coverage in training.
The match steadily slowed up in the final 15 minutes. Wirtz and Diaby tried a wide give-and-go in the 75th. Pavard didn't have to expend much energy tracking it and intercepted with ease at the right time. Choupo-Moting ended up slipping off the turf on the ensuing counter. The sub inadvertently caught Tapsoba. We had a foul stoppage to further impede any sort of rhythm.
Seaone's B04 focused primarily on spread possession between the 75th and 77th. Overall tempo dropped. The 78th was filled with a series of meaningless throw-ins on the FCB left. Frimpong and Musiala found themselves frustrated on respective carries. Kimmich and Sané finally located Lewy in the 79th. After Bayern's lead striker saw his initial effort blocked, he also sent a header of a Sabitzer cross wide.
For a moment in the 80th it looked as if Leverkusen would be reduced to ten-men. Siebert would have been fully justified in sending off the already booked Mitchel Bakker on double yellows for a cheap challenge on Coman. The ref opted to show mercy and we continued XI vs. XI. Bakker was immediately subbed off in the 82nd. Hincapie took over the Dutchman's position with Odilon Koussounou sliding in at center back.
Hincapie did well in his first defensive assignment at the new position. Coman burst through on the right in the 83rd The FCB winger was set to receive the return ball after touches from Musiala and Kimmich, but the Ecuadorian headed away. The revamped Bayer defensive ranks also did a good collective job of clearing after a series of lovely touches and passes saw Sané through in the 84th.
Bayern kept trying over the next two minutes. There were no gaps to be found. Nagelsmann took a page from Senegalese trainer Aliou Cissé's playbook in the 86th, sending Bouna Sarr on to play at Coman's winger position. The next chance nevertheless went to Leverkusen. Diaby pushed past Upamecano briskly in the 87th. The Frenchman's square missed intended target Wirtz, yet an in-crashing Frimpong was able to force Ulreich into a crucial save.
We finally saw Seoane introduce the natural strikers in the 89th. Azmoun and Alario replaced Wirtz and Diaby. Would there be a late push? There wouldn't be much of a chance with only three minutes of injury time. Sarr got through at 90+1 after a nice combo. The Senegalese international still couldn't shake Hincapie. Frimpong turned on the turbo at 90+2. Süle had more than enough left in the tank to cut him off. Frimpong himself took his time moseying out into touch for the subsequent throw in. Seconds ticked off until Siebert blew the full-time whistle.
Interestingly enough, the full match xG statistics ended with the two teams dead even, just as they were after the first-half. If there ever was a fair draw, it was this one. Both teams racked up 2.7 over 90 minutes. When we consider how much thought both trainers put into their tactics on this day, the result seems even more equitable. With a satisfied smile, Nagelsmann himself declared that he could live with the point on this day.
German football's young gun, after criticizing Upamecano lightly for his mistakes and admitting that he had "no explanation" for Müller's game. The collapse in confidence after the own-goal wasn't something the 34-year-old could clarify either. While something like that naturally shouldn't happen to a club of Bayern's stature, it's not exactly a catastrophe that it did occur in this particular league match. Dropping a couple of points here should have little to no effect on Bayern's march to their tenth consecutive title, not even if Dortmund catches up a bit with their game in hand.
One conclusion that the writer can draw here concerns the fact that, despite Seoane's rather shrewd late tactical shifts, Nagelsmann had the better opening hand. Until that freak occurrence, Seoane's back-three were routinely cut into ribbons by the superior Bayern side. Nagelsmann also had the right idea in making that tactical tweak at the beginning of the first half and through both formational shifts. It just didn't come together once the pace of the match inevitably dried up.
A closing judgement that German football's tactical "boy wonder" is worth every last cent of the €15-20 million (depending on which reported bonuses are correct) that the German giants paid for him at the end of last season may not exactly be earth-shattering news. Everyone knows that already. In any event, the few remaining doubters get a large section detailing just how cunningly Nagelsmann can run a squad on a given matchday.
Thanks so much for reading!
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