With the final international break for 2023 ending last Wednesday, Bundesliga action resumed a mere two days later with Bayern Munich travelling to Rhine Energie Stadion to face a struggling FC Koln side.
Bayern lined up in the usual 4-2-3-1 formation whilst Koln deployed a 3-4-1-2 formation in an attempt to neutralize the visitors. Let us now take a look at the key tactical events and takeaways from the narrow victory.
Expected changes in the team, but intriguing team selection
Since numerous Bayern players returned from international duty within the previous 48 hours and injuries were still a source of bother, it was no surprise to see coach Thomas Tuchel giving some key players a rest against Koln.
Of all the Bayern defenders, Kim min-jae was the most deserving of a break. Unfortunately, Matthijs de Ligt being injured made sure that the South Korean defender was the obvious choice to partner Dayot Upamecano in the heart of defense despite having made the long flight back from Asia.
Noussair Mazraoui started in the left-back position, while Konrad Laimer took up duty as right-back since Alphonso Davies was rested after his long flight back from Canada. The 23-year-old left-back also had a muscular problem, which made sure Tuchel was not risking him. Bouna Sarr could have been considered for either wing-back position to give Laimer a rest after international duty. With Laimer playing in the right-back position, the obvious midfield double pivot was that of Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka.
Starting Kim Min-jae almost back-fired
Starting Kim Min-jae almost proved costly in the 14th minute when he appeared to have suffered a concussion after hitting his head on the turf following an aerial tackle. Fortunately, after some attention from the medical staff, he was able to continue.
Choupo-Moting preferred over Muller due to tactical reasons
With Jamal Musiala still recovering from a hamstring injury, Eric Choupo-Moting was preferred over Thomas Muller in the number ten role. At the start of the season, this would have been a surprising selection from the coach. As the season has progressed, Tuchel has shown more faith in Choupo-Moting. The German coach believed that the Cameroon forward added more physicality to the attack and defense to deal with the threat from Koln. Without looking too far ahead beyond this season, Muller being an unused substitute just adds a little bit more speculation about his future.
An enigmatic first half that saw Bayern dominate the proceedings
Both teams started briskly but Bayern’s superiority was evident from start to finish. Leroy Sane and Kingsley Coman tormented the Koln wing-backs throughout the first half. Kimmich and Goretzka were controlling the tempo of the game in the center of the park. There were no signs of a disconnect between midfield and defense.
Despite Kim Min-jae being dazed in the 14th minute, he and Upamecano kept the Koln attack under check. Manuel Neuer had only one save to make for the entire match. Mazraoui didn’t venture forward much. but he looked alert and comfortable coming infield onto his stronger right foot. Laimer ventured forward when the opportunity arose to supplement the attack, and it was his key interception in defense that initiated the counter-attack for the winning goal.
The front four were linking up superbly to create clear-cut chances. Harry Kane was his usual brilliant self, not needing many touches to impact play. The English forward showed striker’s instinct to score the only goal of the match with a simple tap-in after Choupo-Moting’s initial shot was cleared off the line.
In reality, Bayern should have buried the opposition before the half-time interval as they created several chances. After Kane’s goal, Choupo-Moting and Sane each had a clear-cut chance to extend Bayern’s lead. The half ended with the home team being kept in the game thanks to a combination of some excellent goalkeeping from Marvin Schwabe and profligacy from Bayern.
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Uneventful and controlled second half for Bayern
The pace slowed in the second half but Rekordmeister were dominating the game by keeping the ball. Sane and Coman switched from orthodox to inverted wingers during the second half but no further goals were scored. However, Coman did come close to extending the lead with a header that struck the bar.
Despite dealing with both physical and mental exhaustion following the international break, Rekordmeister managed the rest of the game with the same XI that started the game as Tuchel decided against making any substitutions.
Bayern host FC Copenhagen on Wednesday in the penultimate group game of the Champions League. With the top spot secured in the group, Tuchel can give key players some rest and game time to fringe players.