Bayern Munich threaten to fluff lines with minds occupied by Chelsea tie

Andy Brassell on 24 February 2020

It’ll be alright on the night, they hope. With such a tight race at the top of the Bundesliga, there shouldn’t really have been time for a Bayern Munich dress rehearsal as they get set to restart their Champions League campaign. Yet what they served up on Friday night’s game against Paderborn felt suspiciously like one.

There were plenty of fluffed lines. Bayern conceded not one but two improbable equalisers to visitors who were in the third tier the season before last, and whose annual playing budget is so small that nine first-teamers at the Allianz Arena each earn more than Paderborn’s entire squad put together. In the absences of Benjamin Pavard and Jérôme Boateng, the hosts experimented with three at the back but as Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Tim Brack pointed out, Manuel Neuer simply laughed wryly when asked if the plan might be revisited for Tuesday’s visit to Chelsea.

Neuer himself set the tone of below-optimum focus, gifting the first Paderborn equaliser to Dennis Srbeny in first-half stoppage time by wandering from his goal and being beaten to the ball, allowing the former Norwich striker to walk it in. “I had the feeling he was getting there ahead of me and I didn’t want to get a red card,” was Neuer’s explanation to DAZN of a lackadaisical sequence of play. In the end Robert Lewandowski’s 88th-minute winner, tapped in from a Serge Gnabry cross (the Pole’s second of the night and his 25th in the Bundesliga alone this season) “saved Bayern from disgrace”, as Brack put it, but it was way too close, and too casual, for comfort. This was not the Bayern we have become used to since Hansi Flick took over in November.

Brought in to reinvigorate a side led down a moribund blind alley by Niko Kovac, the interim coach has largely succeeded in doing so, to the extent that he was confirmed in the post until the end of the campaign before the winter break. Yet the issue in recent weeks has been that there is as yet no firm offer for Flick to continue next season, and his work has caught the eye of other clubs. Bayern’s pause before committing is sensible, whatever the relative feelgood factor of the moment. This week is big for Bayern but make no mistake, it’s big for Flick as well.

This is the moment where he can prove he is the coach who can take the lead on the big stage, especially in a tie that has historical resonance – nobody in Munich in forgetting about the 2012 final in a hurry – but in which Bayern are ultimately expected to prevail. There is optimism that increased competition at home will make them sharper than ever for the Champions League knockouts but with that rejig at the back, and with Corentin Tolisso and Philippe Coutinho brought in for Thomas Müller and Kingsley Coman, Flick showed he is not willing to leave anything to chance. If Bayern master Chelsea and give a good account of themselves in Europe it could be the difference between the club – heading into a new era post-Uli Hoeness under Oliver Kahn – putting their confidence in Flick or accelerating mutual interest with the likes of Thomas Tuchel.

“The good thing we can take into Tuesday is that even when the pressure was high [after the second Paderborn equaliser] we still responded well,” Müller suggested afterwards. That was pretty much all that could be taken from the game. If Bayern, and Flick, wanted to show how much the Champions League means to them this season, they had already done exactly that. Just not in the manner in which they had intended.

Bayern Munich 3-2 Paderborn, Schalke 0-5 RB Leipzig, Werder Bremen 0-2 Borussia Dortmund, Freiburg 0-2 Fortuna Düsseldorf, Mönchengladbach 1-1 Hoffenheim, Hertha Berlin 0-5 Cologne, Wolfsburg 4-0 Mainz, Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 Augsburg

Talking points

• A Saturday teatime trip to Schalke away looked far from ideal for RB Leipzig after an exacting effort in the Champions League at Tottenham last Wednesday but despite Julian Nagelsmann making just one change from the win in north London – Dayot Upamecano coming back from a ban to replace to Ethan Ampadu in defence – it looked as if the home side had been enduring their busier week. Leipzig were spectacular, not allowing David Wagner’s side a sniff from the moment when Marcel Sabitzer fizzed them in front after 51 seconds, with a swerving shot from range that Alexander Nübel might have done better with.

It ended 5-0, with Timo Werner netting the pick of the goals in what Nagelsmann called “an extraordinary achievement,” despite a late return from England after what the boss described as extensive border checks on the way. “It’s not ideal, and now maybe it’s even more with Brexit, I don’t know,” Nagelsmann said.

• Meanwhile Werner raised a flag high and handsome for Liverpool to see for the second time in a week. “There are many things that suggest my style would be a good fit [there],” said the striker, stopping once again to praise Jürgen Klopp before reiterating that wants “to focus” on the present. It’s worth noting that if a move to Anfield doesn’t come off, Werner hasn’t ruled out staying put.

• It was the stodgy to follow the spectacular for Borussia Dortmund, as they put in a largely laboured performance at Werder Bremen to bookend a week that include their dazzling Champions League win over Paris Saint-Germain. “We couldn’t work them out,” noted Emre Can of a frustrating first half but they got the job done after the break with goals by Dan-Axel Zagadou and the inevitable Erling Braut Haaland. It may well be a relief to Lucien Favre that his team can do stodgy.

Erling Braut Haaland continued his phenomenal scoring record for Dortmund against Werder Bremen.
Erling Braut Haaland continued his phenomenal scoring record for Dortmund against Werder Bremen. Photograph: Fabian Bimmer/Reuters

• More serious was the stoppage to the game caused by a number of ultras raising a banner depicting Hoffenheim owner Dietmar Hopp in crosshairs, seemingly in support of their Dortmund counterparts days after BVB fans were banned from travelling to Hoffenheim for the next two years for displaying an identical banner. Sporting director Max Eberl and captain Lars Stindl attempted to reason with those fans, as did the stadium announcer, and Eberl later told Sky he felt ”ashamed” of the incident.

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• There was another 5-0 away win, as Köln celebrated Karneval season in great style by running riot at Hertha Berlin. Jhon Córdoba continued his prolific season for the visitors with a brace but it seems Alexander Nouri – who told journalists “we must apologise to the fans” after the game – will get a chance to fix things at Fortuna Düsseldorf on Friday.

• Bayer Leverkusen again won with ease, 2-0 against Augsburg, and Kai Havertz wore the captain’s armband for the first time, making him the youngest Bundesliga skipper in over a decade. The victory was overshadowed by an ankle injury to the talismanic Kevin Volland, however, suffered in the Europa League win over Porto and worse than initially thought. “It doesn’t look good,” grimaced coach Peter Bosz. “Kevin will be absent for a long time.”

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 Bayern Munich 23 39 49
2 RB Leipzig 23 36 48
3 Borussia Dortmund 23 33 45
4 Borussia M'gladbach 22 18 43
5 Bayer Leverkusen 23 11 43
6 Schalke 04 23 0 36
7 Wolfsburg 23 4 34
8 Hoffenheim 23 -2 34
9 Freiburg 23 -2 33
10 Eintracht Frankfurt 22 2 28
11 Augsburg 23 -13 27
12 Union Berlin 22 -8 26
13 Cologne 22 -9 26
14 Hertha Berlin 23 -16 26
15 Mainz 23 -21 22
16 Fortuna Dusseldorf 23 -23 20
17 Werder Bremen 23 -28 17
18 Paderborn 23 -21 16

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