It was a game of mixed emotions at the Allianz Arena. Bayern strolled to an easy win over Bayer Leverkusen, scoring three times either side of half time after falling behind to an early penalty. But the victory was marred by injuries to both Corentin Tolisso and Rafinha.
At the start of the season, nobody would have expected this to be a top versus bottom clash. Bayern, top of Bundesliga table with two wins from two. Leverkusen, languishing pointlessly at the bottom. After a rather strange ninety minutes, spliced with moments of both brilliance and horror, that is how things remained.
200 up for Lewy
Bayern coach Niko Kovač rang the changes. While there were injury concerns, it might as well have been a standard rotation exercise. Both Leon Goretzka and Mats Hummels were left out of the match day squad for precautionary reasons, and were replaced by Corentin Tolisso and Niklas Süle. Not bad players to have in reserve.
Serge Gnabry was also brought in for his first start in a Bayern Trikot, with Franck Ribéry on the bench. Up front, Robert Lewandowski was making his 200th appearance for Die Roten. Time really does fly.
Another twice-taken penalty
In Bayern’s opening game of the season against Hoffenheim, there was a twice-taken penalty. Robert Lewandowski missed, Arjen Robben scored from the rebound, and the referee scratched the goal for encroachment in the box. Lewandowski then stepped up again, and made no mistake.
This time, Bayern were at the wrong end of the story. When Thiago raised an arm to block Kevin Volland’s cross inside the first five minutes, there was no arguing about the decision. Volland’s weak spot kick and rebound effort were both kept out by Manuel Neuer, but the home cheers were quickly quelled.
We had been there before, of course.
At least three red shirts had wandered into the box, and again there was no argument. There are no rules stating that the same player has to retake a penalty, and Wendell stepped up instead of the shell shocked Volland. The Brazilian made no mistake, and Bayern were behind for the first time this season.
If anything, Leverkusen’s brazen cheek was the perfect spark for Kovač’s men. There was only one team in it after that.
It took just five further minutes for Bayern to hit back. Tolisso charged into the opposition box, and his first shot was blocked by Jonathan Tah. He calmly collected the rebound, and dinked it smartly over ‘keeper Lukáš Hrádecký.
If Tolisso’s finish was sweet, Arjen Robben’s strike nine minutes later was right out of the top drawer. “Mister Wembley” has served up a multitude of treats over the years in a Bayern Trikot, and he just keeps churning them out. When the unfortunate Tah’s headed clearance fell into his path, Robben just did his thing. An exquisite first touch, followed by lethal left-footed a volley that rose before dipping viciously over the helpless Hrádecký.
Robben! What a strike pic.twitter.com/GCD9nwP8gI
— Bayern & Die Mannschaft (@eMiaSanMia) September 15, 2018
So long as Robben can keep producing these finishes, he can stay in the team for ever. The bald Dutchman is a magician.
More injury woe
Bayern could have added a couple more when Robben hit another stinger just wide and a Thomas Müller effort was well parried by Hrádecký, but this would not have been the main subject of discussion in the dressing room at half time.
Four minutes before the break, Tolisso went down after a fifty-fifty challenge on Volland. The scene was similar to that involving Kingsley Coman last month. As soon as the Frenchman went down, you just knew that it was bad.
The moment Tolisso injured his knee. pic.twitter.com/xOYM57leE8
— Bayern & Germany (@iMiaSanMia) September 15, 2018
The club have not released any official information yet. We are all hoping that it is just a knock, though everything seems to be pointing to a cruciate ligament injury. What is clear is that Tolisso was last seen making his way to the team coach on crutches. It is now a matter of waiting.
In front and in complete control, Bayern slipped down a couple of gears, though without loosening their grip. The new coach seems to be engineering things perfectly. The possession was almost suffocating, and the passes continued to rack up.
Leverkusen may have been billed as title contenders at the start of the season, but the eleven players out on the pitch were left lumbering around like lame donkeys. Reduced to chasing shadows, their frustration soon boiled over.
After 73 minutes, Volland was replaced by Karim Bellarabi. Or what looked like Karim Bellarabi. When he last was picked for the German national team a couple of years ago, Bellarabi was a sprightly-looking player with a sharp turn of pace. The man that stepped out onto the pitch looked like he had had far too many Currywursts.
After just seven minutes on the pitch, the bloated Bellarabi’s lack of pace was shockingly evident. Unable to keep up with Rafinha, he chose to plant his foot on the back of the Brazilian’s ankle instead. Thankfully, Rafinha will be out of action for just a couple of weeks. This was the sort of horror tackle that could have ended his career.
There were no complaints from the Leverkusen team when referee Tobias Welz reached for the red card. Bellarabi, for his part, ambled off with what could best be described as a look that said “I do not give a shit”.
Just in case someone thinks Bellarabi didn't deserve a red card. pic.twitter.com/3ltywIcnhR
— Sam (@5amuelinho) September 15, 2018
Unable to continue, Rafinha was helped off the pitch. We are just three weeks into the season, and already the injuries are starting to pile up. Uli Hoeness was suitably irate about Bellarabi’s challenge, as was Niko Kovač.
Leverkusen had been ineffective with eleven men, and their being reduced to ten pretty much ended the contest. But Bayern were not quite finished.
A lovely move involving Robben and Thiago set up James, who finished from close range with a minute remaining. The Colombian had the ball in the back of the net again in additional time, only to see it ruled out for offside. The decision was close, but correct.
Bayern’s next Bundesliga outing takes them to Gelsenkirchen, where they take on Schalke 04. Along with Leverkusen, the Ruhr outfit were seen by many as title contenders. Like Leverkusen, they are rooted to the foot of the table with a zero in the points column.
Before then, however, the Bavarians kick off their Champions League campaign against Benfica.
FC Bayern München – Bayer 04 Leverkusen 3:1 (2:1)
Tolisso 10., Robben 19., James 89. / Wendell pen 5.
FC Bayern: Neuer (c) – Kimmich, Süle, Boateng, Rafinha (82. Alaba) – Thiago – Müller, Tolisso (42. James) – Robben, Gnabry (59. Martínez) – Lewandowski
Leverkusen: Hrádecký – Dragović, Tah, S. Bender – Jedvaj , Wendell – Kohr, L. Bender (c) (27. Brandt) – Bailey (83. Paulinho), Havertz – Volland (72. Bellarabi)
Referee: Tobias Welz (Wiesbaden)
Yellow Cards: – / Wendell 55.
Red Cards: – / Bellarabi 80.
Shots: 15 / 3
Passes: 831 / 259
Completed Passes: 743 / 184
Pass Success: 89% / 71%
Possession: 76% / 24%
Fouls: 6 / 12
Offsides: 4 / 1
Corners: 9 / 1