Bayern München picked up where they left off with their sixth consecutive win in the league and tenth in all competitions this season. Two goals from Müller and Van Buyten in the first half and another by the returning Robben at the end of the second rounded up another dominating performance from a side that is brimming with confidence and looking more and more likely to run away with the league this year. Heynckes made three changes from the side that comfortably beat Schalke last weekend. Gomez returned to the line up while Tymoshchuk and Van Buyten filled in for Gustavo and Boateng respectively.
Leverkusen meanwhile were without Schürrle, Kadlec, Schwaab and Ballack and relied on a rather makeshift line up. Da Costa made his league debut at right back and Castro filled in on the left while Balitsch lined up on the right wing. It has been a mixed start to the season for Leverkusen. They have failed to make the most out of their attack so far and Robin Dutt has not quite gotten the team to play to their potential, as they continue to struggle at the back and have been unable to find the same rhythm in midfield that made them so effective last year.
Bayern pass Leverkusen into submission
The home side immediately showed why Leverkusen has not won in Munich since 1989. Ribery vs. Da Costa was a mismatch from the beginning and Bayern took control of the game with relatively little effort. They put a stamp on that early domination with their opening goal just 5 minutes in after Ribery beat Da Costa to set up Müller, who got past Toprak rather easily. That goal set the tone for the rest of the half and Gomez and Müller had chances to add two more before ten minutes had even gone off the clock. The inevitable occurred on 19 minutes and Bayern added their second via a thunderous Van Buyten free kick that flew past Leno into the left corner. The rest of the half was a paradigm of Bayern’s dominance this season.
Over the past two years Bayern have refined their passing game to a great degree. Under Van Gaal their possession and passing statistics were second only to Barcelona in Europe and made it a trademark of their play. The team struggled last year for several reasons but Heynckes has continued to polish and emphasize that particular aspect of their game. Overall their play is a bit more direct and less possession oriented but the emphasis still lies in primarily keeping the ball away from the opponent to create as many goal scoring chances as possible. Players are instructed to play much closer to each other and there are always two or three options open to receive the ball. That makes the team more fluid and less prone to being dispossessed right away.
Against Leverkusen that passing was evident from the start and Leverkusen did not really settle into the game until they were already two goals down. Bayern outpassed Leverkusen 551 to 283 with the midfield trio of Kroos, Schweinsteiger and Tymoshchuk completing a combined 177 passes. More telling was the fact that Bayern’s fullbacks, Rafinha and Lahm, had more touches on the ball and completed more passes than any Leverkusen player. In the past Bayern have been critized for the predictability of their play. That is, upon receiving the ball, they always looked to their wide players to do the bulk of the work. It ended up putting an unnecessary burden on players like Ribery and Robben and limited the team’s overall effectiveness. The new look Bayern is more diverse in their approach and the play is spread far more evenly across the pitch. Everyone was involved against Leverkusen and 8 different players had distinct goal scoring chances. Spreading play like that helped Bayern keep possession and as a result control the game, always making Leverkusen chase the ball. By doing so they also took pressure off themselves and only added to their confidence and verve.
Leverkusen’s structural problems
Similar to Bayern’s problems last year, Leverkusen lacked the organization their opponents showed today. As if by role reversal, it was Leverkusen whose players seemed disjointed in attack and defense, always frail when approached and never quite knowing what to do when approaching the final third. The loss of Heynckes seems to have shaken up the team more than initially thought and Leverkusen have so far found it hard to really control games like they did last year. Injuries aside, the influence in midfield is no longer there. The biggest reason for that is obviously the departure of Vidal, whose influence last year cannot be understated. He was the catalyst for the rest of the team and provided a necessary assurance that everyone else built on. The other issues may be structural in nature.
Leverkusen looked more vibrant in the second half but similar problems remained and it was more the case of player effort compensating for the lack of a proper framework or gameplan. Most of Leverkusen’s spells resulted in sending the ball out wide to either Sam or Augusto, both of whom were suffocated by Bayern’s collective marking. There was a distinct lack of presence in the center and Kiessling was often forced to drop back, committing unnecessary fouls in the process. Augusto, who started in the middle, was dragged out wide and forced to initiate a lot of his plays from the right. That in turn created a vacuum in the middle that just ended up reinforcing Bayern’s strong points. As alluded to earlier, Leverkusen ran more than Bayern (114 km to 108 km) but most of that was spent chasing the ball rather than imitating their own plays. All these individual issues hint at a larger deficiency, namely an overall gameplan. Then again, any side would have looked out of their depth against this in form Bayern.
The win bodes well for Bayern going into their Champions league match against Manchester City this week. Both sides are in good form and this will be Bayern’s biggest test to date. It will be interesting to see if they can maintain their series of clean sheets against an attack boasting the likes of Dzeko, Tevez, Aguero, Nasri and Silva. Either way, everything appears in place for Bayern and so far they have not appeared to miss Robben in the slightest.
Leverkusen on the other hand continued to show some of the weaknesses plaguing them so far this season. Their backline was put under tremendous pressure and the constant reshuffling of the fullbacks is not conducive to defensive stability. Most importantly, if Leverkusen are to repeat last season’s success, Dutt needs to find a way to get the best out of his attack. The talent and potential is certainly there, even in the aftermath of Vidal’s departure.
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