With a bang, FC Bayern initially prevented a deficit in the Champions League cracker against FC Barcelona. But then the record champion suddenly presented his courageous face. Where is that with Dr. Just take Jekyll and Mr Hyde there?
The 75,000 spectators in the Allianz Arena in Munich, who are used to success, will have a lot to offer in the Champions League duel with FC Barcelona on Tuesday evening. Far more than usual. You not only see the 2-0 (0-0) victory of their FC Bayern, but two games in one - and look into the two faces of the record champions who have shaped this season so far. On closer inspection, these are quite bizarre in combination.
You should not be happy at all with the German record champions about face and game number 1, the first 45 minutes. But because Robert Lewandowski and Co. don't manage to convert the many chances into a goal, a wild duel number 2 starts after the break. And they love this Bayern visage in Munich. The FCB, the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of German football.
Because there is FC Bayern, who, unsettled against Barcelona, fritters away the balls in their own half. Who makes hair-raising bad passes and sometimes swims so much that the opponent gets the best chances to score. For example, when after a good ten minutes the game tipped more and more in the direction of Barcelona at breakneck speed and Lewandowski in particular missed the best chances.
The offensive in game number 1 on Tuesday evening also wears this flawed face. In the first half, Leroy Sané, Sadio Mané and birthday boy Thomas Müller have far too little power and determination on the pitch. Bayern combines well up to the sixteen, but then the attacks fizzle out. The highly talented ball artists can't think of much, in and in the penalty area they push the ball across to each other. Müller looks around at his teammates so often that he can no longer look at the goal at all. Is he maybe looking for his old colleague Lewandowski? The pattern is: Another pass, another swerve - but a straight, direct conclusion doesn't jump out of it. Where are the ideas, where is the required dominance, where is the danger?
Manuel Neuer made the same grimace when he played the ball directly into Lewandowski's feet in the 14th minute of the game and only with a lot of luck didn't make it 0-1. Lucas Hernández too when he was duped by Lewandowski in an aerial duel (21st minute). The same applies to the midfield, which can be boiled down in the first half by Sergio Busquets, Pedri and Co. and runs after them. "We were lucky in the situations Barça had in the first half," Neuer admitted after the game. Bayern President Herbert Hainer says: "Barcelona gave us big problems for 45 minutes."
At this point in time, it seems as if Julian Nagelsmann, after the mini-crisis in the league, would not be able to tease out what it takes from his squad, which is worth hundreds of millions of euros, to win such top games in the Champions League either. In Game 1, the coach fails to find the right tactical moves to counter Barcelona's compact defence.
FC Bayern threatens to slide into a serious crisis. Because it's not just a problem in these minutes in the game against the Catalans. There are also the three draws in a row in the Bundesliga - at least statistically they mean the worst start to the season in what feels like a century (in fact for twelve years) - and the quarrels that are said to keep happening internally. Although they are almost at the top of the table with twelve points and won the premier class at Inter Milan, the performances of the past few weeks are not enough for the demands of Munich, for the "Mia-san-Mia" feeling.
The Bayern squad is deep and wide this season, and the competition is fierce. Nagelsmann has to make tough personal decisions before every game. Criticism is loud that the head coach would be overwhelmed and not enough people catcher and understander for this situation. "Of course, the coach has to satisfy a lot of people," said sporting director Hasan Salihamidžić on Sunday in the Sport1 double pass. Nagelsmann is currently developing this "instinct": "He's just finding his style. He's never had a squad like that before."
"All these alleged problems in the dressing room, it's designed that way," said Goretzka after the game and made it clear: "We all get along great in the team." But the first 45 minutes, the flawed face of FC Bayern, they play into the hands of these critics. At half-time in the group cracker in Munich, one thing is clear: Barca not only need another win in the second half, but also a convincing performance for the fans and self-image. And luckily for the sold-out Allianz Arena, this is the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde. That's why there's Game 2, with which the record champions impressively shoot their way out of the mini-crisis.
With the determined looking face of the second 45 minutes against the team of ex-superstar Xavi, Bayern show what they really can do. With this face, the record champions swept RB Leipzig off the field in the Supercup and overran the league at the beginning of the season. Now Barcelona have to believe it. Substitute Goretzka grabs his bench press frustration in a shot from the second row and pulls humorless. Marc-André ter Stegen saves Munich's first real shot on goal with a dive to the corner. Hernández is free to head in Kimmich's subsequent corner to make it 1-0 (50').
And with this new visage, the Munich team suddenly opened up space: after a fine pass from Jamal Musiala, Sané sprinted over the entire Barça defense chain, ran alone towards ter Stegen and shoved ice-coldly past the keeper into the goal (54th). It looks as if FC Bayern could beat anyone with this fast and variable power football. "Who the fuck is Barcelona," chanted the Bayern fans, probably in reference to Frankfurt President Peter Fischer, who drew attention to himself with the statement "Who the fuck is Mané" before the first matchday.
"If we play more aggressively and play the right balls, then we'll get the space," said Sané after the game. Bayern are now much more purposeful in their actions. In midfield, they aggressively win the ball and go straight for the finish. Musiala misses twice and Goretzka is blocked, but the will is there. Nagelsmann seems to have given the right speech during the break.
"We got out of the dressing room well and wanted the win more than Barcelona," says Neuer about the visa change at the break. "We played the second half with more conviction and bolder." Oliver Kahn also recognizes the two faces: "In the second half, everyone put their heart into it," says the CEO. "You saw what we can do."
It's a courageous and spirited face with a bold, forward gaze that signifies the increase in performance. Eyes wide open and clearly focused on success. This evening it mainly carries midfield motor Goretzka. He brings the fire and directness to the game that Bayern lacked in the first half. Like a berserker, he plows through the midfield, fights balls, consistently seeks the goal - and sometimes rams one of the (usually weaker) opponents. In the coming games, he should not be found on the bench as often.
The success over FC Barcelona is to be credited to Bayern. The Blaugrana are currently in strong form and traveled to the Allianz Arena with a winning streak and a big chest. However, Barça has not yet won a single competitive game in Munich and has a poor record (2:8 wins, one draw, the Catalans' last win dates from 2015) against Bayern. With the victory in this premier class classic (before the game, Bayern and Barça were in third and second place in the all-time CL table with 159 wins each, only Real Madrid had even more successes with 175) Bayern not only took over the sole leader in the group, but also take a small step towards the knockout phase.
But now it is important for the record champion to find out how he can get rid of his double-faced nature. That will be the most important task for Nagelmann and his coaching team in the coming weeks. At the latest in the round of 16 of the Champions League, his club needs this bold, powerful and courageous face and only the second of the two games this Tuesday evening. On the other hand, if FC Bayern's opponents meet the flawed grimace, the journey through Europe could end as quickly as in the past two years.
(This article was first published on Wednesday, September 14, 2022.)