Five Things We Learned: Bayern Munich 3-1 Bayer Leverkusen

Five Things We Learned: Bayern Munich 3-1 Bayer Leverkusen
Aug 19, 2017

Bayern Munich Bundesliga Featured

Bayern Munich commenced the season with a 3-1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen after debut goals from Nicklas Sule and Corentin Tolisso, as well as a Robert Lewandowski penalty, gave Bayern a comfortable lead before Admir Mehmedi’s thunderous strike consoled a Leverkusen side that threatened throughout the second half.

Despite the relatively routine win for the Bundesliga champions, who will be looking to repeat their triumph for the sixth consecutive season, there were many controversial talking points that surrounded the match, including squad previews from both sides, as well as an integral appearance from the new video assistant referee.

Bayern Munich Show What They Can Do This Season

Despite not looking completely match fit in their Bundesliga opener on Friday night, Bayern Munich secured a routine win without exiting first gear. The execution of set-piece goals helped Bayern to two goals in the first twenty minutes, which proved enough to win the match.

The relaxed nature of their performance highlighted the depth of Carlo Ancelotti’s squad, considering Arjen Robben, James Rodríguez, Thiago Alcântara, Jérôme Boateng, and Manuel Neuer, six world class footballers, did not start the match. Despite this fact, debutants Corentin Tolisso and Niklas Süle were on the scoresheet and debuted with promise.

Germany’s richest club also experimented with a few tactical tweaks from last season. Known for being significantly more direct under Ancelotti than they were under Pep Guardiola, it was easy to see that the Italian manager instructed his players to play the ball out of trouble against Leverkusen, and although Süle and Sven Ulreich struggled to distribute the ball at times, the change should be beneficial in the long term.

Ancelotti also changed the formation from 4-2-3-1 to a more suited 4-3-3, and the result was a fluid attack with Arturo Vidal free to attack more than he did last season. Controlling the match, Vidal, Corentin Tolisso, and Sebastian Rudy expertly slowed and sped the tempo of Bayern’s possession to stifle their opponents, using fullbacks Joshua Kimmich and David Alaba superbly to switch the play to the flanks.

Considering Ancelotti’s men didn’t look fully fit, were missing first-choice players, and played most of the match in first gear, the performance on Friday night was spectacular, firmly consolidating Bayern as the second best club in Europe behind the rampant Real Madrid.

Bayer Leverkusen Lacked A Focal Point In The First-Half

While the Bundesliga champions comfortably won the match, Bayer Leverkusen were a threat throughout, creating chances to score the match and ultimately deserving more than the sole strike they finished with. Part of the problem for Heiko Herrlich’s side was the lack of a focal point, as his players struggled to play the final ball in the box and threaten Bayern’s centre-backs.

Last season, Leverkusen became predictable in attack with Javier Hernández up front due to his one-dimensional play, but Chicharito was a focal point for the side and occupied defenders. Without him, nobody drew the attention of Mats Hummels or Nicklas Niklas Süle, making it difficult to get shots on target inside the box.

Julian Brandt was introduced in place of Leon Bailey in the second half and impressed with his flair and physicality. Playing behind Kevin Volland, he became the focal point of the side and improved Leverkusen’s attack. With Volland working hard up front, Karim Bellarabi pressing the opposition and breaking forward with the ball, and Admir Mehmedi scoring a wonder-goal, they looked capable of dealing considerable damage.

Bayern Munich Have Replaced Their Retirees Well

Philipp Lahm and Xabi Alonso could have continued playing football for another season given the quality they showed yesteryear, but both decided to hang up their boots, and Carlo Ancelotti’s chosen replacements looked ready for the challenge against Leverkusen.

Joshua Kimmich, playing the right-back role that Lahm occupied for years, showed proper positioning and movement in both defence and attack throughout the match. Kimmich’s intelligence allows him to make the right decisions when determining how far up the right flank he needs to venture to contribute to the attack without overplaying.

Meanwhile, in midfield, Sebastian Rudy certainly left room for improvement after the occasional lackadaisical moment, but he started well in Xabi Alonso’s place and assisted Niklas Süle’s opener with a free kick that the former Spanish international would have been proud of.

Speaking of Niklas Süle, his signing allows Javi Martinez to spend more time in midfield, where he was unplayable in Jupp Heycknes’ treble side. Should Rudy struggle, Martinez could also become an option to free Bayern’s advanced central midfielders to impact the match further forward.

Leverkusen Can Challenge For Europe

Having witnessed Bayern’s 5-1 destruction against Arsenal, 4-1 win over Borussia Dortmund, and even 3-0 rout of the impressive RB Leipzig last season, a 3-1 away defeat shouldn’t be disappointing for Leverkusen, especially when the match could have been much closer than it was.

After impressively finishing third two seasons ago, fans of Bayer Leverkusen will hope that last season’s relegation fight and eventual twelfth place finish were merely unlucky and not a sign of a downturn. This performance, against one of the best sides in world football, should be reassuring, to say the least.

Video Assistant Referee The Biggest Winner

The result of this match was a somewhat foregone conclusion, but Robert Lewandowski’s penalty could be the best advocate yet for the newly introduced Video Assistant Referee (VAR).

After officials missed a foul on Lewandowski in Leverkusen’s penalty box, VAR correctly determined that Bayern Munich should have been awarded a penalty and the Polish striker tucked away with an exquisite finish. The penalty turned out to be important in the match, as Bayer Leverkusen’s consolation minutes later would have been more than a consolation had VAR not given Lewandowski his rightfully deserved spot-kick.

Those against VAR have argued that the decision-making process is too lengthy and detracts from the entertainment value of football. The penalty decision in Friday night’s game took twenty-one seconds (I timed it), and ensured that the players on the pitch played out a fairer match in a competition worth massive amounts of money for everyone involved.

The one call made added twenty-one seconds to the match and corrected an initially incorrect decision that the referee awarded amid doubts. Should decisions consistently take such a small amount of time and routinely make football a better competitive sport for athletes, there should be no doubts that VAR will be beneficial in the long term.

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