Bayern’s Champions League campaign officially kicked off with their first leg qualifier against Swiss side FC Zürich. Heynckes dropped Müller in favor of Kroos while Robben made his return after some back problems. This game has come on the back of a rather disappointing start to the season for Bayern, criticized for both their results and poor performances. The failure to nearly qualify for the Champions League cost Van Gaal his job last season so this match was absolutely crucial. Zürich meanwhile claimed they went into this game ready to attack and with Bayern’s still finding the ropes early in the season the game was there for the taking.
1st Half – Much of the same
The Swiss had the first real chance of the game after a cross from the left found Zurich striker who headed it over the goal. Badstuber failed to get ahead of his man but was grateful for the wasted opportunity. It was Bayern who capitalized on their chance first though on eight minutes after a Robben cross, from the left curiously enough, found a wide-open Schweinsteiger who slotted it home. It was a refreshing change considering the fact that Bayern’s wingers rarely if ever interchange positions. It was important for Bayern to get the first goal, having started rather sluggishly in matches this season. The goal gave Bayern the necessary confidence boost and Bayern mounted the pressure on Zürich, sending waves of attacks forward whenever in possession. The Germans found their passing rhythm and were happy to play keep-away, waiting for an opportunity to arise. That essentially set the tone for the remainder of the half.
It was down the left that Bayern were most dangerous with Lahm getting forward at every occasion and with relative ease, even getting himself into a great goal scoring position midway through the half. More of their attacks were concentrated down that side with Ribery looking to constantly take on players, albeit rather unsuccessfully.
Overall it was the same uninspired performance from Bayern that we saw against Wolfsburg and Gladbach, contemplative on the ball but lacking any real imagination or inventiveness, moving the ball out wide but always lacking in incisiveness and always coming up short when approaching the final third. It has to be said though that it was a more balanced performance overall than usual. They tried to spread the ball, alternated their attacks and cut out some of the crossing that has plagued them recently. Zürich on the other hand struggled to deal with Bayern’s momentum and possession and were more preoccupied with holding them back than playing their natural game, which is to attack. As a result, their backline often gave the ball away right in front of the box, which prevented the build up of any kind of momentum on their end.
2nd Half – Bayern improve and Müller changes game
Bayern almost immediately doubled their lead five minutes into the second half after a penetrating run on the left set up Gomez just a few yards from goal. Instead of increasing their lead, the striker blasted it past the net. Ribery continued to be their primary threat, releasing a shot from outside the box minutes later but was parried away by the goalkeeper. Finally Bayern were producing clear chances to score, more in a span of five minutes than they did all first half with Robben the latest to have a go at goal. Thomas Müller was introduced just before the hour mark for Kroos, a sign that Heynckes wanted a more direct goal scoring threat out there and perhaps an admission of the many squandered opportunities so far.
Ribery again took the initiative and won a free kick just outside the box, curling a beauty past the Zurich wall only to be denied by the post. Bayern were in full swing now and the second goal seemed imminent with attacks seemingly coming from every direction. Müller added an element of unpredictability and off the ball movement that was lacking in the first half and Robben and Ribery now had an outlet in the center that they did not have previously with Gomez. The pressure eventually paid off when Robben curled a great ball past the keeper with a trademark shot from the right. The keeper was a bit off his line but it was well taken by a player whose individual brilliance Bayern have relied on for some time now.
Bayern nearly added a third after a great run inside by Lahm set up Gomez whose shot was cleared by a Zürich defender. Müller’s influence cannot be understated in the second half; his ghost runs and use of the channels are crucial to players like Robben and Ribery and since coming on both wingers have looked much livelier, as has Bayern’s overall game. Zürich never managed to get into the game after the break and found it difficult to deal with the constantly moving Müller and the space he created for others.
It is hard to imagine how Zürich will bounce back after this. Bayern’s backline has improved with every game so far and a two-goal lead is nearly impossible to overturn in said circumstances. Key defender Beda will also miss the second leg due to his red card so the odds are certainly stacked against the Swiss side. Bayern meanwhile will have a more comfortable evening when they travel to Switzerland, knowing that they have the cushion of a lead. That said, they will rue the many misses in this game. Heynckes will also no doubt note the difference Müller made after coming on. The substitution essentially changed the dimension of the game and highlighted the deficiencies and limitations of relying on a target man like Gomez.
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