There was plenty of frustration but little in the way of panic, as FC Bayern woke up for just about long enough to see off a very ordinary AEK Athens. Two goals in two second-half minutes settled the issue, before everybody fell asleep again.
If Saturday’s 3:1 win over VfL Wolfsburg was the moment Bayern finally woke up after their four-match sickness, this was their first day of sleepy recuperation. Against a low-quality opponent that offered very little threat, Niko Kovač’s men found it hard to break out of their stupor.
In the end, they would do just about enough. Three points are in the bag, and a similar result in two weeks’ time against the Greek champions should see the Bavarians safely through to the last sixteen.
No big changes
Bucking the trend that has been set this season, there were no major alterations to the starting eleven that started on Saturday.
In fact, there was only one change. Rafinha was brought in at left-back, a straight swap for David Alaba. In spite of his poor afternoon in Wolfsburg, Arjen Robben retained his starting spot, with Thomas Müller again on the bench.
While Robben had another ordinary evening, the inclusion of the versatile and busy Rafinha proved to be an excellent decision.
Bayern set the pace
Despite playing in front of their own vociferous supporters, there was a distinct lack of adventure from the home side. Bayern were quick to set the tempo, and it was Gnabry who stood out early on. In fact, for the opening 25 minutes the winger was Bayern’s sole creative outlet.
The problem, inevitably, was in the final third. Robben was too slow to spot Gnabry’s jinking run and teasing cross, another sharp square ball was intercepted by Dmytro Chygrynskiy with Robert Lewandowski lurking behind him, and the winger himself had a shot that was deflected behind.
— FC Bayern English (@FCBayernEN) October 23, 2018
When the Greeks finally managed to get a shot on the Bayern goal, it was the result of a swift counterattack. Mats Hummels was caught left rather flat-footed as the home side broke quickly, but Ezequiel Ponce could only smash the ball high over the crossbar.
Lack of spark
There were plenty of half-chances, the sort of opportunities that a full-functioning Bayern unit would have put away.
When Thiago seized on a defensive error, he quite literally had no idea what to do next. He could have pulled the trigger himself, or shifted the ball out quickly to Lewandowski. Instead, the Spaniard ended up playing a nothing ball that bobbled harmlessly past the far post.
Lewy then blasted a shot over the target, before losing the ball when Robben was in space to his right. Gnabry then lost his marker with a neat twist and feint, before firing off a wayward shot that found the side netting.
— Rick Joshua 🇩🇪 (@fussballchef) October 23, 2018
There are cases where a dominant team has been unlucky or has run into a goalkeeper who is having an exceptional day, but neither of these things could be used to excuse Bayern’s no show in front of goal. AEK ‘keeper Vasilios Barkas might as well have been watching from the stands.
The patient awakes
The opening fifteen minutes of the second half were even more painful to watch. There was a succession of badly-timed or misplaced passes, and some sloppy defending that allowed Viktor Klonaridis the space to attempt a spectacular Fallrückzieher.
Just as the the collective sighs on social media were about to reach a crescendo, Bayern flicked the switch. Gnabry found Hummels inside the box in acres of space, and Robben’s blocked effort was spectacularly steered into the net on the rebound by Javi Martínez.
Just two minutes later, Gnabry’s cute flicked pass found the roving Rafinha, whose crisply-delivered ball into the six-yard box was tapped into the empty net by Lewandowski for what was arguably one of the easiest finishes of his career.
— Bayern mania (@Bayern_mania) October 23, 2018
The Pole could have added a third when a backheeled effort was clutched right on the line by Barkas, but that was about that. AEK had nothing to offer in return, and Bayern just went back to sleep again.
It reminded me of one of those hackneyed movie moments where a seemingly dead patient is hit by couple of shocks from a defibrillator, wakes up to gibber a vital piece of information, before flopping back down onto the stretcher.
Three crucial points
Bayern will continue to fix themselves and the coach will eventually find the right combinations, but the most important thing is that the Champions League campaign is still on course. There was no Greek tragedy, and three crucial points are safely in the bag.
— Bayern & Germany (@iMiaSanMia) October 23, 2018
Irrespective of the performance, this was what it was all about. There were some poor showings. Robben was far from his best, and James was largely anonymous. But there were some plus points too. Gnabry was a positive presence, and Rafinha was clearly keen to be back on the pitch.
The Bavarians are still unbeaten with seven points from three matches, and are joint top with Ajax. Another win against AEK in Munich in two weeks’ time should put them within sight of a place in the knockout stages.
AEK Athens – FC Bayern München 0:2 (0:0)
– / Martínez 61., Lewandowski 63.
AEK: Barkas – Bakakis, Lampropoulos, Chygrynskyy, Hult – Galanopoulos (84. Rodrigo Galo), André Simões – Bakasetas, Klonaridis (64. Boyé), Mantalos (c) (76. Alef) – Ponce
FC Bayern: Neuer (c) – Kimmich, Süle, Hummels, Rafinha – Martínez – James (62. Goretzka), Thiago – Robben, Gnabry (75. Müller) – Lewandowski (84. Wagner)
Referee: Aleksei Kulbakov (Belarus)
Yellow Cards: – / –
Red Cards: – / –
Shots: 6 / 19
Passes: 341 / 690
Completed Passes: 257 / 606
Pass Success: 84 / 84
Possession: 75% / 88%
Fouls: 10 / 7
Offsides: 0 / 1
Corners: 1 / 10