Bayern Munich maintained their seven-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga after a 1–0 win over Bayer Leverkusen. Here are five thoughts on the match.
Ribery continues exceptional form with match-winner
Since returning from injury, Franck Ribery has been playing some spectacular football for Bayern. The Frenchman changed the complexion of the game when coming on as a substitute against Borussia Dortmund last month and hasn’t looked back since. Ribery tormented the Leverkusen defence with his dribbling while keeping possession of the ball to ensure midfield control for Bayern. His match-winning volley was an exhibition of technique and finesse worthy of securing the points in this top four clash in the league.
Bellarabi, Calhanoglu and Son flatter to deceive
Leverkusen’s trio of attacking midfielders have benefitted the most from Roger Schmidt’s pressing philosophy. Karim Bellarabi, Hakan Calhanoglu and Heung-Min Son were expected to expose some chinks in the Bayern defence. In stead, all three had disappointing games. Bellarabi had the chance to give Leverkusen an early lead but fluffed his lines when presented with a guilt-edged opportunity in the third minute of the match. Son was anonymous throughout, barely registering any time on the ball. The Korean was marked out of the game without Bayern even needing to try too hard. Possessing one of the best deliveries in the league, Calhanoglu’s set piece prowess should have been a potent weapon. In stead, the young Turk developed a case of stage fright as his corners and free kicks didn’t beat the first defender on most occasions. It was a night to forget for Leverkusen’s attacking trio.
Jedvaj’s constraint compromises Leverkusen in attack
Tin Jedvaj has been one of the most exciting right backs to watch in Europe this season. The young Croat has a good burst of pace and an eye for goal that has already delivered some crucial points for his team. Faced with the twin threats of Robben and Ribery on the wings, Schmidt wanted his starlet to play a more disciplined game than he is accustomed to. To his credit, Jedvaj was diligent in his defensive duties and had an excellent match. One can’t help wonder though if Leverkusen would have carried greater attacking threat if Jedvaj bombed forward with a bit more chutzpah, in the process also freeing up space for the aforementioned attacking trio to wreak havoc.
Alonso dominates midfield once again
Has there ever been a better signing of a 33-year old? Putting his horrible error against Manchester City aside, Xabi Alonso’s integration into the Bayern team has been seamless. The Spanish maestro dictates Bayern’s rhythm with his metronomic passing. At ease passing the ball wide or with short simple passes in the centre, Alonso has also already established himself as the most important midfielder in Pep Guardiola’s plans. Despite their best efforts, Leverkusen’s midfield duo of Lars Bender and Gonzalo Castro couldn’t come close to neutralizing Alonso. Using his excellent distribution, the veteran launched most of Bayern’s attacks when they were chasing the lead and then help shut up shop to make the points secure with his excellent use of the ball. Bayern fans enjoyed another midfield masterclass from Alonso.
Rafinha and Bernat now important cogs in the Bayern machine
Before the season started most observers would mention Phillip Lahm and David Alaba as Bayern’s most important full backs. Taking into account that Lahm often plays in midfield for Guardiola, the next name on the list would be Jerome Boateng as a converted full back. Ask most Bayern fans now and they would say Rafinha and Juan Bernat are deserving of their place in the first team. The unheralded duo follow Guardiola’s instructions to the T. Not many were sure about why Guardiola signed Bernat, but the left back is very comfortable with the ball at his feet, has an excellent engine and always supports the attack. The Spaniard’s clearance off the goal line to deny Bellarabi was crucial in Bayern not conceding the lead. On the other wing, Rafinha goes about his business in a nonplussed manner. The Brazilian works hard and tackles with commitment. He managed to nullify the threat of Calhanoglu and Son without too much difficulty, depriving them of time and space whenever they had the ball. The true value of the duo lies in the fact that not only are they backups when everybody is fit, but can also complement Alaba and Lahm in the first team. On current form, they are undoubtedly two crucial players in Guardiola’s Bayern.