Disciplined Bayern performance tilts Liverpool tie in their favour, but long-term concerns linger

Disciplined Bayern performance tilts Liverpool tie in their favour, but long-term concerns linger

After Tuesday’s final whistle blew on Merseyside to curtail a 0-0 draw from the first leg of the Champions League round of 16, Bayern Munich head coach Niko Kovac could reflect on a job well done, for the moment.

His side had delivered a dogged and resolute defensive performance in riposte to an anticipated Anfield onslaught, and despite the failure to claw an away goal to cherish, the 47-year-old was proud of the disciplined and stout nature his team carried out his game-plan and held their own in a widely adorned – arguably to mythical levels – arena.

The second leg – scheduled to be played at the Allianz Arena on 13 March – will be an encounter of higher stakes and will be unrecognisable from Tuesday on a tactical level, but it will require far more creative nous and offensive impetus from this Bayern side, and this is where doubts begin.

The fact that Bayern are seeking their seventh consecutive league title tells you everything you need to know about the Bundesliga power struggle, but this is a squad whose clock is visibly ticking and on a domestic front has been paying the price for the club’s reluctance to freshen ranks in the summer.

Irrespective of what happens on the pitch from now until May, this season will be final hurrah for a number of key players in their post-2012 hegemony. Arjen Robben and Franck Ribèry are set to depart and fans have been long calling for the replacements of their esteemed over 30’s; namely Robert Lewandowski, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels.

Change was called for across all sectors of Bayern’s support last summer and the club’s hierarchical triumvirate – Uli Hoeness, Club President, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Chief Executive and the sporting director, Hasan Salihamidzic – succumbed to inertia, resulting in the Bavarians’ sluggish start that saw them drop as low as 6th at one point pre-Christmas.

Their form has picked up since the Christmas break, though, and following a run of 9 victories from their last ten league fixtures, the nine-point gap that appeared seismic following their topsy-turvy 3-3 draw at home to Fortuna Dusseldorf on 24 November has now been cut to just three.

One theory behind Tuesday’s unyielding display of spirit and togetherness was that this was arguably Bayern’s first encounter where they have been seen as genuine underdogs – against a Liverpool side challenging for the Premier League title and who delivered a number of scintillating performances in reaching the Champions League Final last year – since Niko Kovac’s arrival.

The Croatian’s values, whose former Eintracht Frankfurt side were renowned in Germany for their fighting qualities against wealthier opposition, were for the first time evident in the faultless and workmanlike performances from the likes of Javi Martinez, James Rodriguez, Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman.

Such traits will be a prerequisite back at the Allianz for Liverpool’s return visit, as well as matching the composure and control shown on Merseyside, but with the onus on the Germans to attack, one would expect that they will need to summon the incisive spark and a glimmer of the offensive flamboyancy that has seen them at least reach the Semi-Final stages in the Champions League in all but two seasons this decade.

 

Bundesliga round-up

Bundesliga round-up

Bayern boss Hamburg

Robert Lewandowski scored a hat-trick as Bayern Munich crushed Hamburg 8-0 on Saturday afternoon to celebrate Carlo Ancelotti’s 1,000th competitive outing as a head coach.

The current German Champions put in a domineering performance at the Allianz to ruthlessly dispatch relegation-threatened Hamburg, a week after their off-colour performance against Hertha Berlin in a 1-1 draw.

Robert Lewandowski was Bayern’s saviour in that fixture and he was in an imperious mood on Saturday, notching his hat-trick by the 54th-minute to increase his goal tally for the season to 19, joint-top scorer in the Bundesliga along with Pierre Aubameyang.

Other goal-scorers in Munich’s dismantling of Hamburg were Arturo Vidal who opened the scoring with a powerful drive on 17 minutes, David Alaba, Arjen Robben and a brace from young Kingsley Coman.

Sitting five points clear of 2nd placed RB Leipzig with one hand firmly in the Champions League Quarter-Final (following the thrashing of Arsenal in Munich); Ancelotti’s doubters from pre-Christmas are diminishing by the week.

Leipzig continue remarkable season

RB Leipzig produced a dominant performance to see off Cologne 3-1 at the Red Bull Arena to maintain pressure on leaders Bayern, in a season where they are continuously defying expectations in their first-ever Bundesliga campaign.

Leipzig overpowered and outplayed Cologne from the kick-off and within 5 minutes Emil Forsberg notched his seventh of the season after he was played in from Timo Werner following a weak clearance from Cologne goalkeeper Thomas Kessler.

The trio of Forsberg, Werner and midfielder Naby Keita was proving too hot to handle for Cologne and on 34 minutes Keita’s cross was inadvertently turned into the net by Cologne defender Dominic Maroh to put Leipzig in control of the encounter.

Cologne briefly retained a hope of taking something from the game after Yuya Osako scored a close-range finish in the 53rd minute but shortly after Timo Werner grabbed his 13th of the season to clinch the points for Leipzig who are unbeaten in every game they have scored in the Bundesliga this season.

Dortmund strengthen grip on third

Borussia Dortmund won away from the Westfalenstadion for only the second time since November after beating Freiburg 3-0 at the Schwarzald-Stadion thanks to goals from Papastathopoulos Sokratis and a brace from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

In his 150th Bundesliga appearance, Sokratis opened the scoring for the visitors on 13 minutes when the Greek defender headed into the net from Marco Reus’ whipped free-kick into the penalty area.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang stole the show in the second-half, notching his 18th of the season on 55 minutes after tapping home following some bamboozling midfield trickery from Marco Reus to play the Gabonese forward through.

Aubameyang was again on the scoresheet shortly after, 20 minutes from time to seal the points for Thomas Tuchel’s men, converting a tap-in from Erik Durm’s cross.

After a shaky first-half of the season, Dortmund appear to be finally getting into full stride and are on course for an automatic Champions League spot following this commanding performance in Tuchel’s 100th Bundesliga victory.

Elsewhere in Germany

-Mainz moved up to 10th in the table after an impressive 2-0 away win at Bayer Leverkusen to increase the growing pressure on Roger Schmidt. Defender Stefan Bell opened the scoring with a bullet header in the third minute from Levin Oztunali’s corner before the provider turned scorer with a free-kick that deceived the Leverkusen back-line and found the far corner on 11 minutes. After being torn apart on their home patch by Atletico Madrid in the Champions League midweek game (a tie that is virtually over with the Spanish side boasting 4 away goals), Schmidt’s position is being questioned by many quarters of the German media with his tactics and relationship with his players in doubt.

-Werder Bremen’s 2-1 victory over Wolfsburg on Friday night courtesy of a Serge Gnabry double in the first-half has spelt the end to Valerien Ismael’s short spell in charge of Wolfsburg who sit just two points above the relegation zone. Ismael lasted 15 Bundesliga games in the job having initially only been appointed on an interim basis on the 17th October following Dieter Hecking’s (the now Monchengladbach coach) sacking.