Bayern’s 3:1 win against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League was an entirely different display to the one we saw in Paris. We can point to three reasons to explain this.
Instead of writing a traditional thoughts piece, I’m taking the liberty to make it a “qualities” piece. Bayern’s performance against Paris today signalled a dramatic change in the team since it lost 0:3 in the Parc des Princes. Die Roten exhibited three qualities that summarise the change.
Die Roten spent much of the first half holding their half of the pitch and standing as a block to ward off PSG. At one point, PSG led Bayern in possession by 54:46. It wasn’t like PSG forced that on Jupp Heynckes’ men. Indeed, it looked as if the players were following instructions from the manager. This approach makes sense. It would be foolish to go nuts and press too high upfield. That would only leave a ton of space for Neymar or Kylian Mbappé to create threats to Sven Ulreich.
This is not the sort of football we’re accustomed to seeing from Bayern. It usually goes the other way around. Bayern bully the opposition into their own half and spend the bigger bit of the game prying for spaces. However, it worked this time. I don’t think any team can realistically hold Mbappé, Neymar and Cavani off altogether. Bayern came as close as anyone ever will, nevertheless. PSG’s clear chances were fewer and far between.
On a second level, I liked seeing this. It shows Bayern can be versatile and adapt to the opposition. Some people will argue that this is tantamount to being weak, and that a team of Bayern’s stance should always strive to impose their playing style. There is some sense to that notion. Still, I would rather see Bayern win by adapting than lose by attempting to impose and failing.
Bayern took to the field in Paris with doubts. Whether it was because of a strained relationship with Carlo Ancelotti or because of the names on PSG’s team sheet, die Roten didn’t believe. On Tuesday, they did. In football, that makes all the difference in the world. If you go into the field believing you’re inferior to the opposition, you give them a head start.
Jupp Heynckes benched Thomas Müller, Javi Martínez and Arturo Vidal. I don’t think anyone could have foreseen that, but it worked. All eleven players on the pitch knew what the plan was. They knew they could follow it and come away with three points.
This mentality was evident in the team’s calmness. Nobody panicked whenever Neymar, Cavani or Mbappé had the ball. If PSG threaded a pass through lines and created space, there was no despair. Instead, Bayern acted as a block. Players were keen to cover each other. They looked up when they had the ball and quickly decided what to do with it.
I can dabble in speculation and say that Bayern knew what they were doing because they now have a manager with a plan. Say what you want about Ancelotti but his approach to tactics is light. That may work wonders with Cristiano Ronaldo, but it failed with a German club.
The game in Paris was a crossing fest. Bayern curled 16 balls into PSG’s box but failed to score once. There was a sense of futility in the team’s attacking which was exacerbated in the wake of PSG’s merciless offensive effort. The 0:3 deficit seemed exaggerated in a game where Bayern had 60% of possession.
On Tuesday, Bayern didn’t have too many chances. But they did take them. Robert Lewandowski needed no second invitation to score when a headed ball from Kingsley Coman landed at his feet. James Rodríguez used his wonderful left foot to create spaces when it seemed impossible. Corentin Tolisso drove forward vehemently and with precision, helped by Lewandowski’s dragging of the defenders.
Jupp Heynckes re-oiled the Bayern machine and it showed in the Allianz Arena.
The way forward
A 3:1 scoreline is a brilliant result. It’s not enough to offset the horrible defeat in Paris, but it’s great. Bayern end the group stage in second place, booking a spot in the harder Champions League road. They earned that two months ago.
If anyone needed confirmation that Heynckes’ return is good for Bayern, this was it. The team showed an entirely different phase. They are on the rise. We know that this matters in the second half of the season more than the first.