The match to determine who would be top of the table for the Winterpause was FC Bayern’s best of the season. Arguably their best player of the season, Thiago, played his part even better than usual.
I am not sure I have had that much fun watching FC Bayern in a few years. Of course, the match being hyped up as a clash between the two clubs vying for the Herbstmeisterschaft at the end of the first half of the season had a lot to do with that.
The other component, and one you have no doubt heard about, is the nature of the opponent. Personally, I would probably feel the same way about RB Leipzig if they were bottom of the table. Still, it was extremely gratifying to see Bayern put RB in their place with such authority. One instance where Bayern asserted their dominance over the Fighting Energy Drinks was at the beginning of the second half, when Bayern, already up 3:0, made Leipzig wait for the four-time reigning champions for over a minute to start the second half.
To put it simply, this was a very good performance from Bayern in their most important match of the season to date. They showed up, and in many ways, RB Leipzig did not. The gap in the table may only be three points, but that does not reflect the gulf in class that was on display tonight.
Better than Excellent
The word “masterclass” is a little overused, but it is no hyperbole to describe Thiago’s performance. His goal was the most sloppy part of his evening; the rebound was sort of bungled into an empty net off of Thiago’s nether-regions.
From a passing perspective, Thiago was nothing short of electric, and I think this is down to his positioning a little further up the pitch than usual. With Thomas Müller on the bench, Thiago assumed the true 10 role behind Robert Lewandowski. Müller has certainly looked better when he was more central this season, and Thiago’s production would suggest that no matter who the 10-er is, they should not be marooned out on the wing.
All season Thiago has been one of, if not Bayern’s best player, and certainly the most consistent. When he tried to make plays from his typical, deeper role, they usually came off. With his more advanced position tonight, making key plays was basically his job description anyways. It suited him impossibly well.
His goal was not from open play, sure, but he easily could have scored numerous other times, given the positions he found for himself. This is especially impressive given that RB are one of the better defensive sides in the Bundesliga.
Lewandowski will not be credited with an assist in this match, but you could make the argument he should have two to his name. The first goal was tapped home by Thiago into an open net because Lewandowski’s shot had hit the post, and the second goal, assisted by Thiago officially, happened in large part because the Polish international picked out Alcantara to begin with.
This was one of the best performances from Costa since last Hinrunde, when he seemed to shred defenses week-in, week-out. RB Leipzig decided to prioritize covering Arjen Robben’s flank, and as such, Costa was left with a lot of room in which to operate. His shot off the post was the first real threat of the evening, and his crosses were more threatening than usual.
Costa helped get Bayern their third goal by drawing a penalty late in the first half, and Lewandowski’s conversion put any thought of a comeback to bed for 10-men Leipzig. Perhaps looking to build off of his stunner in Darmstadt last weekend, he tried a curling free kick in the second half that forced a brilliant save from RB’s Péter Gulacsi.
Overall, though, what set Costa apart in this match was his dribbling. Whether it was weaving in and out of defenders into space so he could make a key pass, or drawing defenders in to free up a teammate, Costa was effective in the attack in many of the same ways Robben can be at his best.
You do not often see Alonso get so far up the pitch that he scores a goal from close-range, but his grounded left-footed effort from inside the box doubled Bayern’s lead on 25′. In the passing game he led the team, along with Arturo Vidal, with a sum total of 91 accurate passes.
Before the match, I kind of figured that he would have his work cut out dealing with this pacey RB Leipzig side, but Bayern managed to control the match when both sides had 11 men, and further dominated once RB went down a man on the half hour mark. This allowed Alonso to fit nicely into the match, and in a second half with large spells of possession, the Spaniard was the perfect man for the task of seeing out the game.
Certainly, Vidal did not make as much noise in this match as those ahead of him in these rankings, but he was one of the more solid players overall. As I mentioned above, he and Alonso had 91 competed passes to lead that statistical category.
You put a bruiser like Vidal into a big game like this to have an imposing physical presence in the air and in challenges, but with the red card, there was not as much work that needed to be done in that area as Carlo Ancelotti may have expected.
His most direct impact on the match was drawing the red card that essentially sealed things only a third of the way through the encounter. Excellent interplay on the left side released Lahm, and his burst of pace caused Emil Forsberg to make a rash challenge for the captain’s Achilles tendon.
Lahm sent in the cross that created the opportunity for the first goal, and was generally a force to be reckoned with on the evening. For a player whose form has been seemingly waning in the last part of 2016, this match will hopefully warrant a huge bode of confidence moving into the new year.
There were not any reaching, spectacular saves that needed to be made on his side of the pitch, but his positioning was superb on the few saves he had to make early on in the first half, when Leipzig came out of the blocks with an attacking mindset.
Javi Martínez and Mats Hummels
The centreback pairing interchangeably made excursions into the midfield, and both were reliable when they did so. On the few chances going the other way, they were securely positioned, and most encouraging, they look like they are communicating better as a unit than they were even a month ago.
When he came on for Arjen Robben at half-time, the game had been decided. Even still, Ribéry got into great positions and brought his usual dynamism and work rate into the match.
Personally, I think he was marked out of the match, which is partially why Douglas Costa played so well and others, like Thiago, had so much space to work with. I am sure Robben would tell you this was not one of his best matches all the same.
The good news is that Robben-like attacking production did take place, just not courtesy of a Dutchman. Often when Robben has a match like this, where he seems invisible for stretches, entire aspects of the attack are lacking. Not tonight.
The star player who has seen his production decline most under Ancelotti is probably David Alaba. He does not get forward the way he used to, and because this is Bayern we are talking about, getting forward is sometimes the only way to notice a defender. That is a harsh reality, but then again, Alaba fancies himself as more of an attacker anyways, so perhaps it is a fair criticism of him and/or Carlo Ancelotti.
Did not have much to do, but should have scored late in the proceedings.