Four takeaways as Bayern Munich steal a victory from Wolfsburg

WOLFSBURG, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 17: Sandro Wagner of Muenchen (2nd let) celebrates with Juan Bernat of Bayern Muenchen (l) and Franck Ribery of Bayern Muenchen (r) after he scored a goal to make it 1:1 during the Bundesliga match between VfL Wolfsburg and FC Bayern Muenchen at Volkswagen Arena on February 17, 2018 in Wolfsburg, Germany. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Bongarts/Getty Images)
WOLFSBURG, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 17: Sandro Wagner of Muenchen (2nd let) celebrates with Juan Bernat of Bayern Muenchen (l) and Franck Ribery of Bayern Muenchen (r) after he scored a goal to make it 1:1 during the Bundesliga match between VfL Wolfsburg and FC Bayern Muenchen at Volkswagen Arena on February 17, 2018 in Wolfsburg, Germany. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Bongarts/Getty Images) /

Yesterday’s match between Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg marked a comeback for both Thiago and Jupp Heynckes. Despite the victory, it was definitely a match worth forgetting.

In a sight that has way too common, a heavily rotated Bayern Munich conceded an early goal against an opponent that should not have even scored against them. But it was Bayern’s lackluster response that made this game so frustrating. In the midst of the poor score, there are some talking points to take away.

Depth in options/styles

After several seasons with minimal options for certain positions, Bayern Munich now finally have a stronger sense of squad depth. The winter addition of Sandro Wagner was arguably the most sensible out of Bayern’s six main transfers in the past year. For the past two seasons, Robert Lewandowski has been the only option for Bayern’s center-forward role, with Thomas Müller occasionally putting in make-shift performances.

Wagner’s arrival does not simply mean another player, but it also offers Bayern a variety of tactical approaches for games. Much in the same way that having a squad with Mario Gomez, Mario Mandzukic and Claudio Pizarro meant that Bayern could play with a poacher and target-man (Gomez and Pizarro) or a tough tackling and technical all-rounder (Mandzukic), having Wagner on the pitch means Bayern have yet more players willing to fight to win the ball.

Javi Martinez had suggested that Wagner is a similar player to Mandzukic. Matches like yesterday’s show why that is accurate. His target-man ability resulted in a much needed goal, but his work off the ball is what showed the fans that he wants to play for the club and is not just there for the paycheck. A brilliant team player.

He was substituted after 79 minutes, with Bayern still needing a goal to get the win. Robert Lewandowski came on and scored the penalty, but in his 10-minute spell still showed signs of a petulance akin to that of Ronaldo or Neymar.

After 86 minutes of being one of the few players that wanted to charge forward and make a difference, Arjen Robben found himself in Arjen Robben territory: just inside the penalty area with the ball on his favored left foot. In a situation that he has scored in more times than anyone can count, his shot missed. Cut to Lewandowski — surrounded by Wolfsburg players, pointing to his feet, as if to say ‘I was open, you should have passed.’

Maybe Robben should have, but the Dutchman has form from that position and it was a risk that 9 times out of 10 pays off.

Rewind to last week, however, and a near identical situation. Lewandowski found himself in Arjen Robben territory with several Schalke players around him, and opted to shoot. Joshua Kimmich, who was running into space, pointed to his feet as if to say ‘I was open, you should have passed.’ The following image of Lewandowski putting his fingers to his mouth to say be quiet is one that has stayed with me since.

Arjen Robben can be selfish. Robert Lewandowski can be selfish. However, both players play for the club and should always do what is best for the club. Their on-field relationship has never seemed to gel as perfectly as it could. Considering how prolific both have been individually, in 103 matches they have only ever combined to score 20 goals between them. Until yesterday, their previous combination came in Bayern’s 5-4 victory against Leipzig at the end of last season.

As Robben’s career starts to slow down, the new playstyle he has adopted will possibly add to this tally, though.

(Photo by Boris Streubel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Boris Streubel/Getty Images) /

Heavy rotation

After Pep Guardiola went around 100 games with a different line-up every match, seeing Carlo Ancelotti rotate very sparingly was a big shock to the system. Yesterday’s game had eight total changes from the team that started against Schalke.

This may have been the cause of Bayern going down a goal so early. Their was a lack of awareness and innate — almost telepathic — understanding of the other players around them on the pitch from Bayern’s squad.

Javi Martinez was sat back in central defense alongside Niklas Süle and the second choice full-backs, Rafinha and Bernat, were alongside them. Sebastian Rudy, Corentin Tolisso and a newly-returned Thiago started in the midfield with the unchanged Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery either side of Wagner.

Although heavily rotated, there is still cause for concern if that is to be the reason for the scrappy start. The fact that the “B team” is such a step down from the first-choice starting XI is something that could need evaluating come the end of the season. Having depth is great and, as previously mentioned, offers variety. However, when depth is not up to scratch, it is ineffective.

Thiago’s return

Thiago returned to the first team and looked very comfortable through his hour long run-out. He is perhaps unlikely to start against Besiktas considering how tough they can be and how important that fixture is. After coming back from yet another knee injury, he must not be rushed back into the starting line-up.

That being said, his quality demands that he be put in the starting line-up at every opportunity. Which, again, brings around the question of “what will happen next year?”

With yet more midfield options, where does this leave the squad, Arturo Vidal in particular?Bayern’s strongest games so far this season have featured a combination of Vidal, Müller, James and Kingsley Coman (James was rested for Wolfsburg and Coman had a slight cold).

There is every possibility that Jupp may do away with a 4-1-4-1 and switch back to a 4-2-3-1, with an attacking trio of Coman, James and Müller and Thiago and Vidal working in tandem behind them. With Robben still being one of Bayern’s big game players, is it completely unreasonable to work him into the team as well?

The problem with having so much star quality in midfield is that it can push out crucial players that don’t even play in midfield.

If Bayern progress further in the Champions League, that is when the really important squad decisions will get made.

Related Story: What is Bayern Munich's best starting XI?

Dividing opinion

Coming off of an excellent pre-season, Juan Bernat picked up an injury which coincided with David Alaba performing about as poorly as he has in his whole career.

Bernat was back in the starting XI yesterday, having not been selected for the squad against Schalke. His fifth start in the league this season, he played left-back and did what he was expected to do. He ran forward in attack, he tracked back when defending. He finished the game with a 95% pass rate, earned several corners, created several dangerous, made three very important tackles and two interceptions, yet he was considered one of the worst players on the pitch by many fans.

While every fan is entitled to their opinion, Bernat was a stand-out player and and deserves the plaudits for his team’s victory as much as anyone else. The argument that he was at fault for Wolfsburg’s goal is valid, as he did not win the aerial duel with Daniel Didavi. The problem, though, is that Bernat (all 5’6″ of him) had to cover Didavi, despite Niklas Süle not moving to clear the ball.

Süle himself had a very good game and has shown great improvement in every match he has played. To heap all of the blame on Bernat is very unfair, but giving him the title of worst player on the pitch is even worse.

Bayern’s “second choice” full-backs, Bernat and Rafinha, seem to be the only two that have the perfect balance between attack and defense. As important as attacking and going forward is in the modern full-back, the defending element is often neglected. As much as we love him, Joshua Kimmich is yet to nail down the defending aspect of his tenure at right-back. He is improving but still has some way to go. The same goes for Alaba.

Juan Bernat’s time at Bayern Munich has largely been overshadowed by two very bad games; one against Barcelona and one against Atletico Madrid. It must be remembered that in his first season, he was one of Bayern’s most consistent performers and, at a recent point, was in contention to take Alaba’s starting left-back spot.

Maybe Bayern’s only true wing-back, Bernat’s comfort in attacking has also shown that his uses are not as one dimensional as some other players. His first match back after injury saw him play 75 minutes at left-wing in the absence of Ribery and Coman and his performance was brilliant.

Next: Thomas Tuchel tipped as Jupp Heynckes successor at Bayern Munich


Bayern need to stop going into games with complacency. An 18 point lead is great but conceding early goals to teams in such poor form is in itself very poor form. Bayern face Besiktas on Tuesday and that match should be seen as a prime opportunity to send a message to every other team in Europe.