Two Very Different Stories from Germany’s Top of the Table Clash

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A top of the table clash seemed a fitting way to end the first half of the season – but only upto some 15 minutes into the actual match. What was expected to be a high-octane, aggressive match of football ended up with a young, inexperienced RB Leipzig side being whitewashed by the record German Champions. It may sound blunt – but RB Leipzig’s performance against Bayern will cast serious aspersions on their (unexpected at the start of the season) title chances. RB Leipzig looked nothing like the team that defeated Dortmund and Leverkusen to stay right on Bayern’s tails (even at the top for a week). On the other hand Bayern moved around with the swagger expected of the runaway champions of the nation teaching the newcomers a thing or two about life in the First division.

RB Leipzig’s Performance:

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This match presented many aspects of Leipzig’s game – both good and bad. Leipzig are definitely a very young and vibrant side. They showed exceptional energy at times. At the start of the game they were able to pressurize the Bayern backline quite well. Case in point – Leipzig almost caught Bayern out in the early minutes when Timo Werner chased down Sabitzer’s through ball coming in from yards behind the Bayern backline and cut it across dangerously into the Bayern  6 yard box. The story of this match could have been very different if Poulsen had just managed to get his boot on the pass. The energy in their game was a treat to watch. Ralf Hasenhuttl has organized Bundesliga’s youngest squad extremely well. His team play a very different style of football than Bayern – but are none the less very exciting. Leipzig are happy to let the opposition pass the ball in their own third but there is never lack of pressing. Leipzig’s midfield and strikers are always on their toes, ready to pounce upon the first mistake the opposition backline makes. Ralf can be proud of his work with the team.

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Having said all that – a football match is not decided in twenty minutes or after conceding one goal. Football is as much a game of maintaining your cool and composure and determination as it is about skill and tactics. The youth and lack of experience was clearly (painfully so) visible in the Leipzig side after Bayern started getting into their stride near the 15th minute of the game. Leipzig lost their composure after conceding the first goal. This led to the mistake which Bayern pounced upon for their second goal. The most horrible display of it was when the team’s main player – Emil Forsberg – committed a horrendous foul – tripping Bayern captain Philip Lahm from behind without any intention of trying to win the ball and getting rightfully sent off. This happened at the strike of the half hour. It smacked of frustration and a lack of composure. If this kind of attitude takes root at Leipzig – it will have a very deterring effect on their chances of a top of the table finish (let alone winning the Title).

Ralf Hasenhuttl  looked very disappointed in his team after these instances as the camera focused on his face. However as he pointed out in the post match conference – one defeat doesn’t take away all the points they have garnered until now. This match could well be a footballing lesson and a stepping stone for the Leipzig team. If taken the right way the lessons from this match could help them have a really good second half of the season run after the long Christmas break – which gives plenty of time to regroup and reorganize.

Bayern Munich’s Performance:

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Bayern started out looking a little shaky against the tight pressing game of RB Leipzig. The defense was picked at by the Leipzig attack in the very initial parts of the game. It can’t be denied that the Bayern defense surely needs to get more organized. The star at the back however was Mats Hummels. His performance was a 9/10 and just a shade less exemplary than his performance against Atletico Madrid. Leipzig’s aggressive press had little effect on the German defender who distributed the ball with his usual cool and precision for midfielders and wingers. He was also impossible to get past for the forwards. His tackling was elegant and his areal superiority unquestionable. Even Neuer had the chance to show off his reactions and didn’t fail to save his clean sheet, with a wonderful quick save from a header off a corner kick.

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In the Centre of the park Vidal, Alonso and Thiago had their way. What seemed like a 4-3-3 could rather be more aptly put as a mix of 4-1-4-1 and a 4-2-3-1 with Xabi Alonso being the key to switching between these two. While the iconic central Midfielder might have advanced in years, his reading of the game and precision of passing haven’t faded. It is no wonder Carlo Ancelotti puts so much faith in this man. He was clinical in Midfield and his positioning and reading  of the game helped him get into position to finish a counter with a superb bottom corner shot.

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Thiago was the stand out player in the Bayern Midfield. While it is true that Pep Guardiola bought Thiaggo into the team but Carlo Ancelotti has made him a completely different breed of footballer (not unlike Hyeneckes’ work with Robben). That Thiago was extremely skillful was never in any doubt – but now he is a much more complete midfielder with a great work rate and sound physical play as well. He controlled the centre of the park with a swagger that only a player playing his best football can show. His touches were beautiful, his tackles meaty, work rate high and his distribution precise. His reading of the game led him to being in perfect position as he chested the ball into an empty net after Lewandowski’s shot (off a cross from a Lahm-Robben move) cannoned of the post. Thiago’s quick trap-stepover and layoff was the key to Xabi finishing off the second goal as well.

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The main drive behind the second goal however was the ever industrious Aturo Vidal. Playing either as a lone holding midfielder or with a partner Vidal is probably the best in the business today. Holding midfielders tend to get overlooked – but to those who watch Bayern’s matches attentively, Vidal’s importance to the team is unquestionable. He is the fuel in the midfield – winning tackles and cutting off the supply with quick interceptions at one end to providing cutting balls and harassing the opposition into making mistakes on the other. Vidal forced Keita into losing the ball and passed it onto Lewandowski starting the counter for Bayern’s second goal. Together with Hummels they formed a solid wall in the centre cutting off Leipzig’s game. It is no wonder that Vidal beat even Alexis Sanchez to the award for Chile’s Best Player.

Bayern’s wide play was amazing. With wingers and fullbacks on both sides linking up with one-two’s and quick overlapping runs, it became impossible for Leipzig to keep up. Robben and Lahm broke the right side at will and Costa wriggled past the Leipzig defense as if there was no one there. Robben and Lahm’s partnership led to the first goal. Costa himself was breathtakingly brilliant – cutting through the defense like a steak knife through butter and whipping in dangerous crosses. Costa being fell down by the Leipzig GK (after he broke clear of the defense) led to a penalty and Bayern’s third goal. His individual play and link up with Alaba and Thiago was absolutely amazing and a treat to watch. Ribery was introduced late into the game as a substitute and he continued to make life hell for the Leipzig defenders almost scoring a spectacular goal that was only denied by the underside of the crossbar. Overall it was a game that sang out Bayern’s attacking credentials after a long time. It seems that Ancelotti is finally getting his points across to his team. Bayern go into the winter break with a happy state of mind. Sure Bayern have a lot to improve upon but things are looking very positive for the German Champions.

NEXT ON THE BIG FOOTBALL OPINION: We will soon bring to you our views on the FIFA World Player of the year and Manager of the Year Shortlist along with a Mid season analysis of a surprising Bundesliga table – Stay Tuned.

  • Wishing all our readers a very Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year – Abheek Chatterjee
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