Bayern Munich show similar frailties against RB Salzburg

Bayern Munich struggled against Red Bull Salzburg in the first leg of the first knockout stage of the Champions League on Wednesday. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
Bayern Munich struggled against Red Bull Salzburg in the first leg of the first knockout stage of the Champions League on Wednesday. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images) /

Just before stoppage time, a hopeful ball made its way into the box from Benjamin Pavard. Thomas Muller lept into the air and managed to caress the ball onto its path to the mercy of Kingsley Coman. The camera angle engineered a similar visual to his heroic finish for Bayern Munich in the 2020 Champions League final against PSG to win the treble. The reaction was split few motioned for a quick restart, wanting to ransack the three points. Few took a moment to bask; a celebration was well-warranted considering the proceedings of the first leg of the first knockout round of the Champions League. Bayern had to settle for a draw away in Austria.

It didn’t take long for Salzburg to take advantage of the Bavarian frailties, now barely enough to cause heads to turn. Chukwubuike Adamu, who had replaced Noah Okafor early on, scored just 21 minutes into the game, handily making the most of a counter-attack piercing through a makeshift backline to take the lead. The Austrian side continued to press and make the best of a hot start in their first game in the Champions League knockout stages.

On the other hand, Bayern Munich was very sloppy in the final third during the first half. The ball rarely traversed from the wings to the middle with purpose. Muller was forced to move into space in the box to cause ripples in the defense for Salzburg. More importantly, there was nothing overwhelming about the offense. There was nothing in motion to offset the clear issues within the backline.

The second half saw more of the same. Bayern, while managing to retain more possession, seldomly asked questions of Salzburg. Leroy Sane and Kingsley Coman attempted to frazzle a side that seemed entirely comfortable in vain. The best chance of the game came as the two linked up only to be denied by keeper Philipp John.

As the half ticked on, questions rose in prominence. Dayot Upamecano’s absence following the game against Bochum highlights a larger issue. The personnel, though missing core pieces in Leon Goretzka and Alphonso Davies as well as captain Manuel Neuer, seemed to have played their cards. Players have had the opportunity and haven’t performed, a luxury the side cannot afford given the circumstances. Losses have perhaps shone a brighter light on the issues, yet they have existed long before the recent spotlight.

By all accounts, Julian Nagelmann has a plan to implement, one with its teething issues. The lack of chance creation or defensive instability in this solitary game is not the primary concern. The horrifying belief within the side is that these shortcomings are becoming normality in every game. The cavalier approach to offense at the cost of defense does not work when there is hardly any cohesion between the two elements.

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Perhaps the most jarring reaction to a draw against Salzburg was unfortunate nonchalance. The innate knowledge that on the night, Salzburg was better. It has been a while since Bayern has unequivocally been the superior side, and it isn’t surprising. The Bavarians live to fight for their spot again, not just in the Champions League but in the conversation of credibility. Static defense is fixable, as is the unilateral offense. Self-belief, however, is a discourse Bayern Munich might be too afraid to have.