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From Harry Kane goals to defensive errors, Bayern Munich deliver their season in microcosm against Real Madrid



From Harry Kane goals to defensive errors, Bayern Munich deliver their season in microcosm against Real Madrid

When you’re such a premier power as Bayern Munich, other teams aren’t just struggling to get the silverware out of your hands. They need a helping hand. Thomas Tuchel will no doubt fear that is exactly what his players did on Tuesday night, their season written in microcosm, as so much control and precision was negated by sloppiness in both penalty areas.

Heading to the Santiago Bernabeu with the score at 2-2, Bayern Munich is far from out of the Champions League. Despite the permacrisis since Bayer Leverkusen played flawlessly in the Bundesliga, this is an extremely good football team. At their best, Bayern Munich 2023-2024 finally played like a team with Bayern Munich 2023-24 expected goal difference, the advanced stats that make Europe jealous even though they may not have any silverware to show for it.

The first twenty minutes were a masterclass of Tuchel football, the inexorable drive into the opponent’s penalty area ending with Leroy Sane or Jamal Musiala storming down Real Madrid’s byline, while three players lined up for the cutback that made a dramatic move would crown. The pitch gradually tilted towards Bayern, with Harry Kane dropping deep to overload the midfield, while Thomas Müller moved into the vacated space. Sane should have scored, Musiala should have delivered a better final ball more than once. However, when you’ve had nine touches in the penalty area in the first nine minutes, and Madrid haven’t even discovered your penalty area yet, you’re justified in thinking that the flow of the match is only going one way.

Maybe even if your opponents have the armor to deflect all the blows coming their way, to see themselves gain the upper hand, because that’s just what happens to Real Madrid. There may have been magic in Toni Kroos’ through ball, Vinicius Junior’s burst and precise finish, but that was only possible because Min-jae pushed Kim so far away from the rest of his defensive line.

At the final whistle, the statistics showed a largely even match, but only because Bayern made it that way. Both sides might have been awarded penalties, but Musiala got one for his side thanks to little more than his own brilliance. Before that, there was really nothing anyone could do about Sane’s thunderbolt, least of all Andriy Lunin, who might have been a digit or two short had he gotten a glove to his nearest post quickly enough.

Tuchel’s adjustments had paid off. After switching flanks after the break, both Sane and Musiala had converted the threat into output. Kane, meanwhile, had found the balance between the false nine and the peripheral attacker who eluded him after Madrid’s opener. Control returned, Kane and his former Tottenham teammate Eric Dier might have increased the lead on the hour mark.

Then came another mistake from Kim, the kind that justified the presence of Spurs benchwarmer Dier in the XI ahead of the almost $100 million worth of centre-backs Tuchel has appointed to his bench of late. Bayern need to win at the Santiago Bernabéu, a ground where their last seven visits have produced one draw and six defeats, and at least keep Madrid at bay. It doesn’t have to be that difficult.

Even though it didn’t have to be as difficult as Bayern made it for themselves when they rolled into Leverkusen in February, when they insisted on giving hope to ordinary opponents like Lazio and Manchester United on the way to this semi-final, when they stopped so sloppily in the final minutes against Saarbrücken defending their left flank. Over the course of a season, these moments can be offset by another Kane goal or the magic of Musiala. Come April and May, if it’s not too late, one mistake can be costly.

Perhaps Tuchel is not blameless for this. Bayern may put up the xG of great entertainers, but there is a penchant for control in everything their coach does. Given his defenders’ long-standing tendency to make individual mistakes and the absence of the ball-winning midfielder who seemed to trouble Tuchel, perhaps the best form of defense is a more powerful attack.

There are only eight days to find out. Despite all the plans and adjustments that Bayern implemented well, they had no choice but to make life more difficult for themselves. If you do that again at the Bernabeu, the inevitable result will be a first season without trophies in twelve years.