What a match. Bad penalty calls. A red card. Chances but no cigar. A debutant almost winning the match with his first touch. Then, a perfect penalty shoot out to end over two hours of pulsating football.
Well played to the fizzy drinks mob. FC Bayern München are through. Phew.
Double Red Bull
With three straight victories in his first three matches back in charge in Munich, FC Bayern Trainer Jupp Heynckes has kept things rotating nicely. Having rested a number of key players for the weekend’s match in Hamburg, it was time to gear up for the first of two meetings against the dangerous RB Leipzig. One could call it a double Red Bull.
Out went Rafinha, Niklas Süle and James Rodríguez. In came Joshua Kimmich, Jérôme Boateng and Thiago. Perhaps the biggest absentee was Thomas Müller, out for at least three weeks after sustaining a thigh injury on Hamburg’s rutted pitch. Which meant that the team was led out by Arjen Robben.
Sluggish Bayern, solid Ulreich
Bayern would have their chances in the first half, but it is fair to say that the home side edged the contest. Die Roten’s usual nonchalant dominance in the middle of the park was largely absent, with Leipzig pressing hard and contesting every ball. Cue a number of misplaced passes, poor decisions and rash challenges from Jupp Heynckes’ side.
In the face of the home side’s high energy and determined pressing, Bayern were more than a little overwhelmed at the back. Leipzig’s energetic play dictated the tempo, with the excellent Emil Forsberg and the sprightly Jean-Kévin Augustin harassing the Bavarian defence.
The long-term injury to regular custodian Manuel Neuer has placed plenty of focus on his deputy Sven Ulreich, with a number of butter-fingered displays not going down well with the Munich faithful. Time is a healer though, and Ulreich seems to be improving with every game.
After solid displays against Celtic and Hamburg, the former VfB Stuttgart ‘keeper has started to look more at home. With the defence looking particularly wobbly it was the perfect opportunity for Ulreich to step up to the plate. This he did, and his save to deny the slippery Forsberg was outstanding. Then, that confidence-boosting final save in the shootout.
To VAR or not to VAR
The use of video referee technology has become a fixture in the Bundesliga, but the system is not set to be used in the DFB-Pokal until the quarter-final stage. Maybe just as well for Bayern. Maybe just as well for Arturo Vidal as well.
After beating Vidal for pace, Forsberg made his way to the edge of the box. Unable to challenge his opponent fairly, the Chilean went for the shirt. When that failed to halt the Swede’s advance, both feet went in. Forsberg had stayed upright just long enough, making his way into the penalty area before going down.
Referee Felix Zwayer initially pointed to the penalty spot, but then decided to consult with his goal-line assistant… Followed by sighs of relief on the Bayern bench and hoots of derision from the home crowd as he changed his decision to a free kick just outside the box.
If VAR were in action, I think we would have seen a fun few minutes. On the one hand, Vidal clearly tugged at Forsberg’s shirt outside the box. On the other, the Leipzig man was able to stay upright with Vidal hanging off him like Cujo. Ar-cujo Vidal, who might have been given something worse than a yellow card if the officials had been allowed to take a second look at his boneheaded challenge.
Zwayer takes centre stage
If Bayern’s mohicaned attack dog had managed to get away with his moment of brainlessness, Leipzig’s Naby Keïta was not so lucky. After already being booked in the first half, the Guinean midfielder could not resist a grab of Robert Lewandowski’s shorts right in front of the official. Out came a second yellow card, followed by the inevitable Rot.
The flash of red from Herr Zwayer had also sent a signal out to Jupp Heynckes. Just moments after Keïta had made his way off the pitch, the Bayern coach was quick to get Sebastian Rudy into the fray in place of the feisty Vidal. But the referee had another trick up his sleeve. When Dane Youssef Poulsen went to ground under Jérôme Boateng’s rather sloppy non-challenge, one knew what was coming next.
Bayern were a goal down against ten men, an equation they had found hard to solve against Hamburg. But this was a cue for Boateng to make amends at the other end of the pitch, as he set up Thiago with a wonderfully dinked ball in to the box. Even with his poor touches earlier on, there was no way that the little Spaniard was going to miss.
Up against Leipzig’s ten men, Bayern were the better team. But there was no way though the obdurate Leipzig defence. With the first half of extra time coming to an end, it was all hands to the pumps for the men from Saxony. Suddenly, the chances started to come.
First, Leipzig ‘keeper Péter Gulácsi pulled off a wonder save to deny Kimmich. Then a moment that could have confirmed Jupp Heynckes’ coaching genius. Just moments after sending on debutant Kwasi Okyere Wriedt, the youngster clattered the crossbar with a well-timed header. Then, Gulácsi somehow managed to get a hand to a Robert Lewandowski shot that was heading into the back of the net.
The second period of extra-time started as breathlessly as the first had ended. More Bayern pressure. A near miss from Lewandowski. Young Wriedt playing like an old school FC Bayern veteran. Then, a late surge from the home side, like Rocky Balboa coming back off the ropes against Apollo Creed. Then the referee cooking things up even more by plucking almost two minutes of additional time out of thin air.
Somehow, we all knew that was going to end in an Elfmeterschießen.
Five perfect penalties
In contrast to recent years, Bayern’s salvo of penalties in the shootout was nigh on perfect. Every one was top class, which each kick better than the one before.
Ice cool Lewandowski. David Alaba with an ethereal strike. Mats Hummels with the best kick of the evening. Sebastian Rudy with a typically nerveless effort. Robben’s sublime left foot. Only two years ago we saw Bayern in a cup shootout, where nobody could find the back of the net. Half the team had ended up flat on their backsides. Has Jupp taken the team back to basics?
The hero, in the end, was ‘keeper Ulreich. At first, his decision to commit to the dive looked badly thought out as Leipzig put most of their spot-kicks straight down the middle. Then came Timo Werner’s effort, where Ulreich made the match-winning save look easier than it probably was.
So, part one of the Red Bull double header is done. I think we can all do with something a bit stronger though. What a match.