July 24, 2017

Müller and Robben help Bayern launch Bundesliga season with victory

FC Bayern München and its roster full of World Cup stars returned to domestic action Friday night, downing VfL Wolfsburg before 71,000 at Allianz Arena, collecting goals from two of the best in Brazil this summer, Thomas Müller and Arjen Robben, en route to a 2:1 Bundesliga-opening victory.

Despite the return of several world champions to service for the defending Bundesliga champion, the most-eagerly anticipated player for the Bayern faithful was one who did not play a single match in football’s biggest tournament. Polish national Robert Lewandowski made his debut in Bayern red (and blue this year) after the long-discussed transfer fee-free move from Borussia Dortmund and did not completely disappoint despite his absence from the scoresheet. Lewandowski tapped the ball into goal to bring Bavaria to its feet in the first exciting moment of the match, though the play had already been adjudged to be offside.

Lewandowski was not the only new face in Pep Guardiola’s squad, however. Former Valencia man Juan Bernat started at left back, right next to Holger Badstuber, who returned from injury for his first league match since December of 2012. Additionally, the SuperCup injury to Javi Martinez opened the door for 17-year-old Gianluca Gaudino to pair with David Alaba in the defensive midfield.

Wolfsburg, too, had a new look about them as they prepare for their first season featuring European competition since 2009-10. Former Werder Bremen icon Aaron Hunt, former Frankfurt defender Sebastian Jung, and Atletico Madrid loan Josuha Guilavogui all made their debut for the Wolves, but it was the reliable Ivica Olic providing the lone score for VfL.

The match was slow to warm, with both sides appearing comfortable to let the rust rattle off the machine for a little bit, which served to remind everyone that it was, indeed, the first Bundesliga match in quite a while for either team, as well as one that featured partially new sides.

As if anyone had forgotten.

Thomas Müller scored, in the 37th minute, the sort of goal commonly referred to as “such a Thomas Müller goal,” slightly deflecting Arjen Robben’s low cross so it would avoid Max Grün, in goal for Diego Benaglio due to illness, while neatly rolling inside the far post. Robben’s set-up of the goal involved a sharp cut back toward the goal line that left Luiz Gustavo a few steps behind the play, giving the Dutchman enough space to spark the Bayern lead.

Robben needed no such fancy footwork in tallying the 2:0 just minutes after resumption from halftime, accepting a Lewandowski pass and bolting into the box with the ball. Robben allowed the threat of Müller, running up on his left side, draw Guilavogui out of his way so he could drill his shot just inside the post to double the home side’s lead.

While Bayern had largely taken control of the match on the pitch, even before it appeared so on the scoreboard, Wolfsburg was determined to have a say in the affair. Five minutes after Robben’s strike, Olic provided the goal of the match, curling the ball over the reach of World Cuphero Manuel Neuer.

While Olic’s score was indeed a thing of beauty, it will likely be Junior Malanda’s double-miss of an equalizer that will be the talk of the town with regard to this match. Wolfsburg had increasingly shifted the balance of power after Olic’s equalizer, but could not find the moment to levelthe score.

Then . . .

The champions finally responded to the near-miss with several late scoring opportunities, most-notably a Sebastian Rode goal wiped off the scoreboard by an erroneous offside call against Müller, just five minutes after coming on for Lewandowski. Xherdan Shaqiri  and Robben each narrowly missed padding the lead in one-on-one chances with Grün, while Müller just missed another very Müller-like goal in extra time, reminding everyone just who was really in charge.

As if anyone had forgotten. . .

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Randall Hauk is a freelance writer living in the United States while covering German football. He is currently the publisher of Planet Effzeh, an English-language site covering 1. FC Köln. He wrote about the German national team for the Telegraph as part of their World Cup Nation coverage.

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