On what was a damp August evening in the Bavarian capital, FC Bayern München got their 2018/19 Bundesliga season off to a solid start with a 3:1 win over TSG 1899 Hoffenheim. A twice-taken penalty, VAR controversy and (another) injury to winger Kingsley Coman were the defining moments.
Bayern had started the domestic season with a resounding 5:0 Super Cup win over Eintracht Frankfurt. They then were involved in an unexpectedly tight tussle with fourth-tier SV Drochtersen/Assel in the DFB-Pokal. Their first Bundesliga opponents were in hot form. It was going to be a tough first match.
We need not have worried.
Apart from a couple of shaky second half moments and the depressing injury to Coman, it was as straightforward as it could get for the defending champions. Well, as straightforward as things could be with the additional drama provided by the much-criticised VAR and a curious refereeing display.
It had felt more like October than late August in the Bavarian capital, but once you are inside the Allianz Arena, it is quite something. There was the usual pre-match display. Cubes with all of the club logos marched into the ground, followed by the national anthem, nicely sung by Max Mutzke.
Robben and Hummels on the bench, Müller grabs the opener
In line with his policy of squad rotation, Bayern coach Niko Kovač left both Arjen Robben and Mats Hummels on the bench, as well as new boy Leon Goretzka. Rather than being out on the right, Thomas Müller was employed in a central operations role. It was the perfect opportunity for Der Raumdeuter to do his thing.
Bayern started strongly, and quickly found a rhythm in the early phases. There was a sense of control about their play, patiently dangerous in the build up yet organised enough to keep their opponents at bay. Jérôme Boateng had a shot blocked after twelve minutes, but it was not long until Die Roten opened the scoring.
Bayern have been poor from set pieces for while now, but things have started to look better under Kovač. So it was after 23 minutes, when Joshua Kimmich’s well-taken corner was headed home by Müller. Der Raumdeuter’s celebration was suitably bizarre, which just added to the smiles on every Bayern fan’s face.
For all their pre-match billing, Julian Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim were poor. They were well marshalled in midfield, and only managed one harmless shot on goal.
The second half ended up in a flurry of fouls, with the visitors racking up bookings. When Nico Schulz went hard in on Coman, the signs were not good. The young French winger has never really managed to get a break, and it was painful to see him carried off the pitch.
Hoffenheim equalise against the run of play
Robben came off the bench to replace the injured Coman, but was unable to get into the groove immediately. The opening minutes of the second half were sluggish. It was pretty clear that Coman’s pace had been a key factor in the first half.
Bayern had chances to double their lead. Robben hit a shot wide, and a Robert Lewandowski effort was chalked off for offside. Then, out of the blue, Hoffenheim managed to get a shot on target. Breaking down the right, Bosnian Ermin Bičakčić found Ádám Szalai. The Hungarian shimmied and side-stepped past a leaden-footed Boateng, before drilling the ball past Manuel Neuer.
The goal had come completely against the run of play, silencing the home crowd. The men in red should have been out of sight, but somehow the score was back level at 1:1. There was a strange feeling of foreboding in the damp Munich air. Hoffenheim had offered little, but were still dangerous.
Nagelsmann’s side had their best spell of the match after their goal, but this only spurred Bayern on. The Bavarians responded, shifting up a gear. Müller was looking like his old self, and the initially sluggish Robben was charging around like a spring lamb. Then, Leon Goretzka entered the fray, upping the energy level up a further notch.
With just over ten minutes remaining, Franck Ribéry floated down the left before charging into the box. There to meet him was Harald Nordtveit. The Norwegian had just come on for the injured Kevin Vogt, and made a complete hash of his challenge. Ribéry made the most of it, running at the stricken defender before tumbling over him.
The penalty was soft, and after the match even the Bayern coach admitted that he would not have given it. But referee Bastian Dankert pointed to spot, and the hosts had the perfect opportunity to restore their advantage. Up stepped the reliable Lewandowski.
The Pole’s penalty was weak. Hoffe ‘keeper Oliver Baumann dived to his left and made an easy save, only for Robben to smash home the rebound. Or not. The crowd held their breath. Dankert ran to the touchline to check the video. The Hoffenheim players were convinced that Robben had encroached into the box before the kick had been taken. Unfortunately for the visitors, one of theirs had stepped inside too.
The referee pointed to the spot again. Take two. This time, Lewandowski made no mistake. Baumann dived again to his left, but was sent the wrong way.
Relentless red torrent
After the second goal, it was all Bayern. Not willing to sit on their slender lead, Kovač’s men cranked things up to the max. On for Ribéry, James added an additional injection of pace, and almost set up Robben who lashed a left-foot special narrowly wide.
The next goal was coming, and it was a case of when rather than if. A Goretzka effort was deflected past Baumann by Müller, but stadium announcer Stephan Lehmann was forced to interrupt his routine. Yes, Herr Dankert was making his way to the touchline again. More VAR drama. The cheers were silenced, and the goal was harshly ruled out for handball.
Not that this stopped the relentless red torrent. A minute into additional time, Müller’s lovely pass found Robben, who tucked the ball past Baumann with typical panache. The Dutchman had been annoyed to start on the bench, and had ended the game looking as fresh as the day he had arrived in Munich.
There had been a few doubts before the game, but these were quashed by an excellent performance from the home side. For the seventh season in a row, Bayern had won their opening Bundesliga match – yet another record.
There was, of course, the downside. It was later revealed that Kingsley Coman had suffered serious ankle damage, putting him put of action for at least three months.
FC Bayern München – TSG 1899 Hoffenheim 3:1 (1:0)
Müller 23., Lewandowski pen 82., Robben 90.+1. / Szalai 57.
FC Bayern: Neuer – Kimmich, Boateng, Süle, Alaba – Martínez (66. Goretzka) – Coman (45. Robben), Müller, Thiago, Ribéry (83. James) – Lewandowski.
Hoffenheim: Baumann – Adams (66. Akpoguma), Vogt (73. Nordtveit), Bičakčić – Kaderabek, Grillitsch, Schulz – Grifo (46. Zuber), Bittencourt – Szalai, Joelinton.
Referee: Bastian Dankert (Rostock)
Yellow Cards: Schulz, Adams, Bittencourt, Kaderabek / Müller
Red Cards: – / –
Shots: 16 / 8
Passes: 559 / 277
Completed Passes: 481 / 208
Pass Success: 86% / 75%
Possession: 67% / 33%
Fouls: 5 / 21
Offsides: 4 / 2
Corners: 7 / 2