Bayern left shooting blanks as they fall to first defeat in Berlin

After the 1:1 draw against Augsburg in midweek, FC Bayern München were expected to bounce back with a bang against Hertha Berlin. It didn’t happen. If Augsburg were tough, high-flying Hertha were even tougher. For the first time this season, Reds coach Niko Kovač has a few questions to ask of his players.

On paper, FC Bayern had a team far superior to that fielded by Hertha Berlin. But what happens out on the pitch sometimes does not correlate with the reputation and the statistics. Augsburg are a decent side with plenty of fighting qualities, but Hertha had that extra edge. In short, Bayern were out-thought and out-muscled by a well-drilled opponent.

It did not help that Bayern were once again unable to turn opportunities into goals. If they were guilty of misfiring against Augsburg, in Berlin they were left shooting blanks. One could argue that Bayern should have beaten Augsburg. But the same cannot be said of last night’s encounter, where ex-Bayern ‘keeper Thomas Kraft was hardly tested by the much-vaunted Munich front line. It was a deserved three points for the Berliners, and Bayern fans can have no issue with the result.

More rotation in Berlin

Continuing his policy of squad rotation, the Berlin-born Bayern coach started out with a conventional back four and attacking trio, and a new mix in the midfield.

At the back, Jérôme Boateng came in for Mats Hummels, and David Alaba was back at left-back after the failed Goretzka experiment on Tuesday. Up front, there were straight swaps, with Franck Ribéry and Robert Lewandowski replacing Serge Gnabry and Sandro Wagner.

The only area that raised a few eyebrows was in the middle of the park. With Thiago occupying the deep-sitting role, James Rodríguez was paired up with Renato Sanches.

Much would be said about this selection after the match, and its inherent weakness. But for the opening twenty minutes, there were no complaints. Bayern bossed the possession, and were looking like their usual comfortable selves. After fourteen minutes, Boateng headed narrowly wide from a James corner. Five minutes later, Lewandowski went close.

Falling apart

Out of nowhere, it all started to fall apart.

A swift move by Pál Dárdai’s side created a chance for Vedad Ibišević, and the Hertha skipper’s header was firm and on target. It was well dealt with by Manuel Neuer, who dived smartly to his left to make the save. The ball was rolling towards the byline, chased down by Salomon Kalou.

Boateng was also in the box, and all he had to do was get himself into position. Instead, he went to ground far too early. It was obvious that he was going for the ball, but the sneaky Kalou did what any good forward would do. Changing direction, he bundled into to the Bayern defender’s legs with a pretty pirouette before going down in a blue stripy heap.

The penalty decision was clearly soft, but one of those that will always be given. If it had happened at the other end, no Bayern fan would have complained. Ibišević is one of the best penalty-takers in the Bundesliga, and he made no mistake from the spot.

Bayern left with a lot to Duda

The goal shifted the momentum of the contest completely. For the remainder of the first half, the hosts were the better team.

Hertha were now on top, but Bayern were still able to carve out opportunities. Six minutes before the break, there was a sharp shift down the left from Ribéry and Alaba, and the Austrian’s cross was a little too string for Arjen Robben, whose shot fizzed over the crossbar. A Thiago shot was blocked two minutes after.

Then there was a sniff of a chance for Lewandowski. He had the chance to pull the trigger, but hesitated slightly. Before he could line up the shot, the ball was then stolen away from him by a defender. On another day, Lewy would have hit it first time, and Bayern would have been level at the break.

Instead, the sucker punch arrived. Once again, it was a swift break from the lively looking Alte Dame. Austrian right-back Valentino Lazaro surged into the Bayern box and towards the byline, bamboozling Boateng before cutting the ball back for Ondrej Duda. The Slovak made no mistake, slamming the ball into the Bayern net with a crisp first-time shot. Neuer had no chance.

For all of their dominance, Bayern had nothing to show for it. For all of the opportunities that had created, they had not managed a single shot on target. Meanwhile, Hertha had been thoroughly clinical. One could even say that Bayern were being out-Bayerned.

Chances aplenty

Bayern may have not recovered from a two-goal half-time deficit in thirty years, but they certainly had their chances to correct that statistic. The second half saw plenty of nice approach play by the mint green-clad Reds, but there was nothing worth talking about in the final third.

The problem was that most of Bayern’s shots on goal were were either wide or over the target. The Hertha ‘keeper would only have to make one notable intervention, sticking out a hand to knock away a weak Boateng header.

Everybody was involved. Alaba hit a snapshot wide. A lovely cross from Joshua Kimmich and unselfish flick-on by sub Thomas Müller was followed by Lewandowski getting himself in a tangle. An Alaba free-kick was gifted to the crowd. Sub Serge Gnabry had a couple of half-chances that went wide. If just to sum up Bayern’s sense of desperation, a an ugly long-range effort from Niklas Süle ballooned high over the target.

It was another one of those nights, when nothing went right for the men from Munich. They completed more than twice the number of passes. They had 70 percent of the possession. 25 shots to their opponents’ six. Fourteen corners to just one. On any other day this would have produced at least a couple of notches in the goals column.

Perhaps the team should get rid of those mint-green shirts.

The defeat was Die Roten’s first against the capital city side since a 1:2 defeat in February 2009. It was their first loss during an Oktoberfest since October 2010, when Louis van Gaal’s side fell to a one-goal defeat in Dortmund. It was also Niko Kovač’s first competitive defeat as Bayern coach.

If Bayern had dropped an empty Maß on their foot against Augsburg, it was a full one in Berlin.

Questions to ask

Bayern have now dropped five points from an available six, which means that for some there is a crisis. Not so. The team had been just as guilty of not making the most of their opportunities in earlier matches. The difference was that both Augsburg and Hertha are a lot tougher than most.

There are questions for Niko Kovač, but none that he cannot answer. The Thiago-James-Sanches midfield combination was perfectly fine for the first twenty minutes, but the soft centre was badly exposed when the team had to chase the game. This is a lesson that will surely be easily learned.

What the coach cannot do, short of doing it himself, is score goals. In their last two matches, Bayern have fired off a total of forty shots, with only one goal to show for it. Do the maths any way you like, but it is a particularly gruesome statistic.

If there is a potential problem, it is that future opponents may look at adopting the Augsburg/Berlin tactical template. Sit back, absorb the pressure, strike on the break, and play to frustrate.

Many Bayern fans have complained about the leisurely way the team play. The patient movement, the gradual buildup, continually recycling the ball and searching for the slide-rule killer pass. The Guardiola way. While this is admittedly an approach that allows opponents to get every man behind the ball, it shouldn’t simply be thrown out. Time and again, this tactic has paid off.

What is true is that the team does need to add a quicker tempo to their game. More variation. More unpredictability.

Next up, the Champions League and the home tie against Ajax. It is now time to forget Berlin and pick out the best shooting boots from the locker. Then, all will be good again.

Statistical Summary

Hertha BSC – FC Bayern München 2:0 (2:0)
Ibišević pen 23., Duda 44. / –

Berlin: Kraft – Lazaro, Stark, Rekik, Mittelstädt – Skjelbred, Maier – Kalou (71. Leckie), Duda, Dilrosun (90.+2. Jastrzembski) – Ibišević (c) (53. Selke)

FC Bayern: Neuer (c) – Kimmich, Süle, Boateng, Alaba – Thiago – James (72. Wagner), Renato Sanches (63. Gnabry) – Robben (52. Müller), Ribery – Lewandowski

Referee: Marco Fritz (Korb)
Attendance: 74,669

Yellow Cards: Ibišević 40., Dilrosun 90.+1., Duda 90.+4. / Kimmich 48.
Red Cards: – / –

Shots: 6 / 25
Passes: 275 / 628
Completed Passes: 202 / 531
Pass Success: 73% / 85%
Possession: 30% / 70%
Fouls: 14 / 14
Offsides: 2 / 2
Corners: 1 / 14