In what was the ultimate game of two halves in Amsterdam’s Johan Cruyff Arena, FC Bayern München and Ajax provided a packed house with goals, red cards, and plenty of drama. Die Roten took the lead, gave it away, and fought back again before suffering another late, late sucker punch.
Despite the late setback, the Bavarians picked up the crucial point they needed to clinch top spot in their Champions League group. In doing so, they have avoided the big names when the competition resumes after the winter break.
No team changes, Lewy strikes
For the third straight game on the spin, FC Bayern coach Niko Kovač started with an unchanged eleven. It meant that there were starts for Jérôme Boateng and Franck Ribéry, with the fit-again Mats Hummels and Kingsley Coman on the bench.
With Bayern needing just a point to finish top and Ajax all three, both teams were quick to get going. Serge Gnabry sent a shot narrowly wide after just a minute, and Donny van de Beek warmed Manuel Neuer’s gloves at the other end. Robert Lewandowski then sent a shot wide, before Gnabry hit another effort straight at ‘keeper André Onana with Thomas Müller and Lewandowski free to his left.
Bayern were well on top, and eventually the pressure told. After Gnabry had forced Onana into a sharp save, Bayern recycled the ball from the resulting corner. Gnabry’s slide-rule pass was laid on a plate for Lewandowski, who beat the oncoming ‘keeper.
— FC Bayern München (@FCBayern) December 12, 2018
The chances kept coming. Hakim Ziyech kept Neuer interested, Bayern survived a worrying penalty shout after Boateng looked to have shoved Daley Blind in the box, and Ribéry took one touch too many before his weak effort was gathered by Onana.
Bayern might well have doubled their lead just short of the half-hour mark, when Onana produced a stunning save to deny Lewandowski his second goal. The Pole’s shot was firmly struck, but the young ‘keeper was more than equal to it. Joshua Kimmich was clattered by Mathijs de Ligt in the ensuing melée, but the referee waved play on. If just to rub it in, Kimmich was shown the yellow card for complaining too loudly.
Shift in momentum
As the game approached half time, both teams looked to wind things down a notch. There had been a couple of wobbles, but overall it had been a composed and well-drilled showing from the visitors. They had the lead, had created the better opportunities, and had done well to close down their young and eager opponents.
Bayern’s more defensive approach had allowed Ajax to have more of the ball, and the tactic appeared to have worked. Finally, it looked as though the coach had cracked it.
The second half started as the first had ended, but things started to boil and bubble again as the match approached the hour mark. This time it was the home side putting on the pressure, with Bayern sitting back and doing their level best to absorb it.
The Bayern players were unable to deal with the change in momentum, and the coach had no immediate answer. Much as the Bavarians had dominated for large spells in the first half, Erik ten Hag’s side were looking increasingly dangerous. The visitors saw less and less of the ball, and there was a sense of inevitability about the equaliser.
The signs were all there. Ziyech was an increasing presence, showing lovely skill before David Neres blasted over. Neuer then made a bit of a meal of a crisp but slightly telegraphed effort from the young Moroccan. Just moments later, the Dutch side struck.
Having defended like a Trojan for the first hour, Niklas Süle was guilty of conceding far too much ground to the zippy van de Beek, whose low cross skidded across the face of the Bayern goal. With Neuer grounded and helpless, Serbian Dušan Tadić was on the spot at the far post to execute the simplest of tap-ins.
Bayern had defended stoutly, but had been unable to cope with the additional pressure that had been applied by the hosts. Having levelled the scores, Ajax were starting to look like favourites. Buoyed by the enthusiastic crowd, they continued to press in search of a winner.
We were not to know it at the time, but the blue touchpaper had been lit. After that, the game slipped into what could best be described as a parallel footballing universe.
Just four minutes after being pegged back, Bayern should have been back in front. Some lovely skill from Ribéry was followed by a deft dink into the box, and a header from Lewandowski that was miraculously clawed away by Onana. It was one of those saves where one would immediately ask “how the hell did he do that?”
Ajax’s response was to up the ante, and not in a good way. When Leon Goretzka was flattened by Austrian Maximilian Wöber, referee Clément Turpin had no choice but to reach into his back pocket. As Wöber trudged off the pitch, there was a different feeling around the ground. Having looked punch drunk, Bayern had been given the opportunity to haul themselves off the canvas.
The advantage did not last for long. In going to for a high ball, Thomas Müller caught Tagliafico square on the side of the head. The replay looked horrific, with der Raumdeuter doing his best impersonation of Bruce Lee. The reality was somewhat different. Müller, fully concentrated on the ball, had not seen the Argentine. His reaction was swift and apologetic, but he knew he too had to go. Out came the red again.
— Bayern & Germany (@iMiaSanMia) December 12, 2018
Crazy goal glut
Back to ten against ten, Ajax again fancied their chances. A jinking run from Rafinha threatened to unlock the Dutch defence, but as the play switched to the other end substitute Kasper Dolberg was brought down by Boateng. Again, the decision from the French referee was spot on. Beaten for pace by the young Dane, the Bayern defender’s challenge was exceptionally poor, especially for a World Cup winner with over 75 international caps to his name.
Tadić needed no second invitation, powering the ball into the roof of the net. Neuer did not even have the time to move. In what had been a moment of madness, Bayern were pushed into second place in the group table. With the likes of Barcelona, Juventus, Real Madrid and Manchester City lurking as potential second round opponents.
The Bavarians were again under the cosh, and given their recent meltdowns another mental collapse would have provided no great surprise. But this time, there was a reaction. Perhaps the coach’s demand for a more “Croatian” approach had found its mark. Having replaced Gnabry, Thiago weaved into the box with purpose before being upended. Again, it was an easier decision for Monsieur Turpin.
In contrast to Tadić at the other end, Lewandowski did his thing. A pause, a step, a pause. Then, a shot perfectly placed into the bottom left corner with Onana diving the wrong way.
— FC Bayern English (@FCBayernEN) December 12, 2018
Bayern could have sat back and taken the point, but instead they went for the kill. Sub Kingsley Coman had already injected additional pace into the Bavarian attack, and made the home side pay for a messy lapse in defence. After collecting the ball from Thiago just outside the penalty area, the Frenchman took one touch before launching the ball with considerable interest into the right side of the net.
Onana did it best, but could not get anywhere near it.
Having fought back to retake the lead, Bayern should have wound things down. Instead, they were guilty of getting carried away – not for the first time this season.
Die Roten have been unable to hold a one-goal advantage late on, and the curse struck again. As against Augsburg, Freiburg and Düsseldorf, it was a complete defensive dog’s dinner. The well-drilled team we had seen for the first hour has completely disappeared, and had been replaced by a large blob of jelly.
There was a whiff of offside as the ball made its way to sub Klaas Jan Huntelaar, and with the Bayern defence completely out of shape the ball was shovelled into the net. From one angle, Süle had got the final touch. From another angle, Tagliafico. It did not matter either way. Once again, Bayern had been rumbled at the death.
AFC Ajax – FC Bayern München 3:3 (1:0)
Tadić 61., pen 82., Tagliafico 90.+5. / Lewandowski 13., pen 87., Coman 90.
Ajax: Onana – Mazraoui, de Ligt (c), Wöber, Tagliafico – F. de Jong, Blind – Ziyech, van de Beek (78. Dolberg), David Neres (89. Huntelaar) – Tadić
FC Bayern: Neuer (c) – Rafinha , Süle, Boateng, Alaba – Kimmich, Goretzka (89. Renato Sanches) – Gnabry (62. Thiago), Müller, Ribéry (Coman 71.) – Lewandowski
Referee: Clément Turpin (France)
Yellow Cards: De Ligt 40., Blind 63., Tagliafico 90.+5. / Kimmich 28., Rafinha 37.
Red Cards: Wöber 67. / Müller 75.
Shots: 17 / 14
Passes: 556 / 470
Completed Passes: 466 / 367
Pass Success: 84% / 78%
Possession: 54% / 46%
Fouls: 14 / 15
Offsides: 1 / 1
Corners: 3 / 3