After the drama that culminated in Friday morning’s press conference, it was finally back to the football for FC Bayern München. There was one distinctly shaky spell, but Robert Lewandowski was back to form as he once again put his favourite victims VfL Wolfsburg to the sword.
It has been a long couple of weeks, and not the greatest time to be an FC Bayern München fan. Gossip, stories of player discontent, ongoing injury issues and the press conference that got everybody talking. Even those with the vaguest knowledge or genuine interest in German football.
It was therefore something of a relief to see the team back out on the pitch, as they resumed their Bundesliga campaign against VfL Wolfsburg.
Niko keeps rotating, dominant start
Having been given full backing by the club management, there is clearly no need for Niko Kovač to adjust his methods. Well, not too much anyway. The coach continued with his policy of squad rotation, but only made a couple of tweaks. Javi Martínez came in for Leon Goretzka, while the under-pressure Thomas Müller was bench in favour of Serge Gnabry.
Right from the start, Die Roten established a good tempo, and the chances started to come. There were half-chances for Gnabry and Lewandowski inside the opening ten minutes, and Wolves’ ‘keeper Koen Casteels then kept out a James free-kick. The Belgian was in excellent form as he then denied Joshua Kimmich, before standing firm against both Lewandowski and Arjen Robben.
For those of a nervous disposition, the game had started to follow a now familiar pattern. Bayern were dominant in possession and creating potential opportunities, but unable to force the ball over the line.
Ice-cool Lewy on target, Rafinha returns
Just as we were all starting to get a little concerned, the tension was broken by Lewandowski. Collecting a lovely pass from Mats Hummels, the Pole drilled the ball through Casteels to put the visitors on the board. The sense of relief among the visiting supporters, and those commentating online, was palpable.
He needed that.
Bayern needed that.
— Bundesliga English (@Bundesliga_EN) October 20, 2018
Bayern were in front, but there was an obvious need to score a second – if just to settle any remaining nerves. Just two minutes after Lewy’s goal, James was denied by Casteels.
There was one change at the break. David Alaba was replaced by Rafinha, who made a welcome return after a month out through injury. The Brazilian had a clear spring in his step, and there was a positive look about the team as they picked up where they had left off at the end of the first half.
It took just four minutes for Lewandowski to put Die Roten into the comfort zone. Seizing on a defensive error by Wolfsburg’s Brazilian defender William, the striker doubled his and Bayern’s tally with a ice-col finish. It was his 18th goal in 16 outings against the Wolves.
Robben sees red, Wolves bite back
Given Bayern’s recent travails, any easy roll to the final whistle was never going to happen. Having been booked for a ridiculous dive at the end of the first half, Robben was shown a second yellow card for a rather innocuous challenge on Elvis Rexhbecaj after 57 minutes. The Wolfsburg man went to ground, and the yellow was followed by the inevitable red.
The Dutchman’s reaction was not one of anger, but a mix of surprise and humour. He was even laughing as he made his way off the pitch and down the tunnel.
With the Bavarians reduced to ten men, the slowly-healing nerves started to fray again. When Wout Weghorst pulled a goal back for Wolfsburg, there was a genuine concern. The home side had offered next to nothing in attack, but had managed to find the right combinations when they needed to.
Not for the first time this season, the Bayern defence was sliced open by a swift counterattack. By the time the Bavarians play AEK Athens in the Champions League in midweek, it will be more than a month since their last clean sheet.
James wraps things up
In a way, the situation provided a perfect mental test. Rather than crumble and fold, Kovač’s men showed a steely resolve. The momentum was with Bruno Labbadia’s side, but Bayern were able to weather the storm.
The Wolves were unable to to take advantage, and the Bavarian ship slowly righted itself. The ten men settled down, and stepped things up rather than retreat back into their own half. A third goal after 72 minutes settled the matter, providing the perfect tonic for the visiting red contingent.
— FC Bayern English (@FCBayernEN) October 20, 2018
As Wolfsburg once again struggled to clear their lines, Thiago Alcântara fed Lewandowski, whose cute reverse pass opened the way for James. The Colombian made no mistake, sweeping the ball past Casteels at his near post with his left foot.
Lewandowski was a whisker away from completing his hat-trick, but Casteels dived well to his right to deny the Pole. It would have been the icing on the cake.
It is too easy to declare that Bayern are back, but the barren spell has finally come to an end. The “crisis” – for the time being at least – appears to be over.
VfL Wolfsburg – FC Bayern München 1:3 (0:1)
Weghorst 63. / Lewandowski 30., 49., James 72.
Wolfsburg: Casteels (c) – William, Knoche, Brooks, Roussillon – Arnold – Gerhardt, Rexhbecaj (71. Mallı) – Steffen (60. Mehmedi), Brekalo (60. Ginczek) – Weghorst
FC Bayern: Neuer (c) – Kimmich, Süle, Hummels, Alaba (46. Rafinha) – Javi Martínez – James (84. Renato Sanches), Thiago – Robben, Gnabry (66. Goretzka) – Lewandowski
Referee: Guido Winkmann (Kerken)
Yellow Cards: Arnold 35., Weghorst 81. / Thiago 33., Robben 44., 57., Neuer 88.
Red Cards: – / Robben (y/r) 57.
Shots: 9 / 13
Passes: 413 / 508
Completed Passes: 81 / 85
Pass Success: 80% / 83%
Possession: 46% / 54%
Fouls: 9 / 13
Offsides: 2 / 2
Corners: 2 / 9