Misfiring Bayern held by gritty Augsburg at the Allianz

Never underestimate FC Augsburg. Time and again, I have repeated this. They are a team that stick to their task, a bunch of underrated fighters that never know when they are done. So it would prove at the Allianz Arena this evening. The stars did not align for FC Bayern. Augsburg did their thing, and made the short journey home with a point.

It was a strange evening at the Allianz Arena. A little moment before the match to celebrate Karl-Heinz Rummenigge’s 63rd birthday, twenty minutes of silence from the crowd, stagnant football, missed opportunities, a rare Manuel Neuer gaffe, and two dropped points.

A quiet start. A very quiet start

For those unfamiliar with the ongoing discussions in German football right now, the opening minutes would have looked and felt a little strange. A few shouts here, a gentle ripple of applause there. No sounds whatsoever from the Schickeria. No beating drums, songs or fluttering flags in the usually bouncing Südkurve.

In response to the decision by the German football authorities to schedule matches at times that are clearly and obviously unfriendly to many working supporters, there was a planned twenty-minute silent protest. A coordinated action, mirrored at grounds all across Germany.

On a personal level and as a long-time FC Bayern supporter, I am not entirely sure if this approach actually works. I am fully in favour of strident dialogue from fans, and the use of banners to make a point. But the twenty minute silence thing is something that leaves me a little cold.

There is no evidence to suggest that the DFB would even pay attention to the fans zipping up for twenty minutes. The only people it really affects are those out on the pitch.

There is much to be said about this debate, and I will look to cover it in an upcoming Säberner Semmelschmarrn feature. For now, let us get back to the Fussball.

Stagnant first half

With no loud encouragement coming from the crowd, it was no great surprise that the game got off to a slow start.

FC Bayern coach Niko Kovač had made a number of changes to the squad, and for the first time there was a slightly unfamiliar look and structure. I do not think that we will be seeing Leon Goretzka at left-back again or anytime soon. Up front, Sandro Wagner started in place of the rested Robert Lewandowski with Serge Gnabry out on the left flank.

Even after the crowd had broken their silence, there was a stagnant feel. Bayern were unable to make any real headway, and Augsburg were their usual obdurate selves. The visitors pressed hard, chased down every fifty-fifty ball, and made it their mission to disrupt Bayern’s buildup play. They are the Bundesliga’s ankle-biters, and they did their job well.

There were chances for Die Roten. Plenty of them. Thomas Müller and Renato Sanches had almost broken the early silence, but after that there were multiple opportunities for both Wagner and Sanches. On another day, Bayern would have been away and clear.

For Renato, it was a mixed bag. There were the missed opportunities, but there were some excellent runs on and off the ball too. For Wagner, it was clear to see that he is becoming increasingly frustrated. Playing opportunities are slim. When he does get out on the pitch, every missed chance must feel like a punch in the gut.

Right on the brink of half-time, Gnabry forced Augsburg ‘keeper Andreas Luthe into a stunning diving save. In for the butter-fingered Fabian Giefer and making just his third start in the top flight, the former VfL Bochum man dived to his left to turn the ball around the post.

Bayern shift up the gears

There must have been some strong words said in the Bayern dressing room at half-time, as it was a completely different team that stepped out for the second half. The Goretzka experiment had failed, and David Alaba was off the bench. The passing game started to click almost immediately.

Serge Gnabry had run without reward in the first half, but just three minutes after the break he charged towards the Augsburg box. His neat pass found Arjen Robben, who twisted and turned before firing a left-footed special into the roof of the Augsburg net.

The flame had been lit, but Bayern could not deliver the knockout blow. Luthe was tested first by Sanches, then by a Alaba free-kick. With six minutes remaining, it looked like Franck Ribéry, on for the tiring Gnabry, had settled the issue. The flag for offside went up against Müller, who had been involved in the buildup.

The decision was close. Very close. Far too close for the referee to run with his colleague’s decision and allow play to continue with nary a whim. The replay suggested that it was not just very close, but very, very close. It was one of those where it looked marginally offside one moment, and dead level after that. But there was no call for the video referee to even take a second look.

The ultimate stink bomb

The visitors must have taken Ribéry’s disallowed goal as a cue to step up their own game. With four minutes left, they produced their most dangerous spell of the entire match.

There was a whiff of danger when Javi Martínez conceded a corner. Just a whiff. Then, pandemonium as the ultimate stink bomb was released. Neuer got in a tangle with Niklas Süle, and spilled the ball. Dutchman Jeffrey Gouweleeuw, lurking at the back post, sent it back across the six-yard box with interest. There to meet it was Felix Götze, the 20-year-old younger brother of Mario.

The finish was not pretty. In fact, it was so Augsburg. The ball rebounded into the net off Götze’s chest, leaving Neuer and everybody else in a red shirt looking at each with a mix of astonishment and dismay. When the VAR had a look, Bayern fans were hoping against hope. Hoping for a handball, a player that may have strayed offside. Nothing doing.

The statistics tell an interesting story. Bayern had fifteen shots on goal, but Augsburg would muster a not too shabby eleven themselves. Rather than racking up their usual 800+ passes, Die Roten had been hemmed in by their busy opponents. Augsburg’s rather dapper coach Manuel Baum had a plan, and his team had executed it to perfection.

Yes, Augsburg did have their fair share of good fortune. But that is what happens in football. Sometimes, your star ‘keeper drops an inexplicable clanger, the unknown guy at the other end gets a body part behind everything that is flung at him, and the younger brother of a past player bundles the ball into the net off his chest with just four minutes left.

A Tale of Two ‘Keepers

In the end, it was a tale of two ‘keepers. While Neuer’s one error would cost Bayern two points, Andreas Luthe at the other end was a revelation for die Fuggerstädter. For those who have been following the other teams in the Bundesliga, they will know that the 31-year-old Luthe was only brought into the starting lineup in place of the error-prone Fabian Giefer.

Against Mainz, Giefer had flapped at two high balls late in the piece, turning three points into nothing in the blink of an eye. Against Bremen on Saturday, Augsburg’s stunning fightback from two goals down was undone by the unfortunate keeper, who dived over the ball to present Davy Klaassen with an unmissable opportunity. One could call him the gift than kept on giefing.

It was just Bayern’s luck to be up against an older Torhüter with everything to prove, and Luthe was more than up to the task. No butter-fingered moments, just good old-fashioned solidity. Sometimes, these small quirks of fate make all the difference.

Next week, he will probably be rubbish.

Stars out of alignment

For Bayern to stagger and stumble against less heralded opposition, the stars need to be seriously out of alignment. It almost happened in the DFB-Pokal opener against SV Drochtersen/Assel. It actually happened tonight. There it was, for all to see. One of those evenings where everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. With Oktoberfest in full swing, Bayern had dropped a Maß on their foot.

In front of goal, the rejigged attacking lineup were punching smoke. There was a crucial moment where the referee could have decided to use the VAR, but chose not to. Then, to top it all off, there was that rarest of rare beasts, the Manuel Neuer flap-at-thin-air blunder.

A draw at home against a team that has already been beaten twice this season is annoying. Disappointing, even. It is a scab that us perfectionists and statisticians will want to pick at. That said, it is not the end of the world. If anything, it is an early wake up call for the coach and the players.

The two dropped points will be a sharp poke in the eye for Niko Kovač, who was just one win away from matching the best-ever start for a new Bayern coach. With his eight wins on the bounce set in the autumn of 2016, Carlo Ancelotti will own that stat for a few more seasons at least.

But let us be absolutely blunt here. There is simply no way that Augsburg should be coming to Munich and giggling all the way back up the A8 with a point. Their coach driver probably slowed right down and milked every kilometre.

Statistical Summary

FC Bayern München – FC Augsburg 1:1 (0:0)
Robben 48. / F. Götze 86.

FC Bayern: Neuer (c) – Kimmich, Süle, Hummels, Goretzka (46. Alaba) – Martínez – Müller, Renato Sanches – Robben, Gnabry (Ribéry) – Wagner (75. Thiago)

Augsburg: Luthe – Gouweleeuw, R. Khedira, Hinteregger – Framberger, Max – Morávek (61. F. Götze), Baier (c) – Gregoritsch (77. Córdova) – Hahn, Caiuby

Referee: Sören Storks (Velen)
Attendance: 75,000

Yellow Cards: Goretzka 13., Renato Sanches 30., Thiago 77. / Khedira 19., Framberg 73.
Red Cards: – / –

Shots: 15 / 11
Passes: 585 / 318
Completed Passes: 485 / 211
Pass Success: 83% / 66%
Possession: 64% / 36%
Fouls: 6 / 16
Offsides: 3 / 4
Corners: 8 / 4