Rudi Garcia's side didn't come in to play football tonight. In fact, they didn't even play anti-football.
Their aim was to disrupt Bayern's rhythm. Bayern's best player on the night, Franck Ribery was hurt the most in the match; Jupp Heynckes was forced to withdraw Ribery at half-time. Ribery's cause in the first half was certainly not helped due to his unwillingness to pass.
Lille took full advantage of the fact that Bayern is relatively poor on set pieces. They committed as many fouls close to the box as possible ensuring that the free-kick taker (in this case, Toni Kroos) was outside his shooting range. Bayern hardly had any chances in either half. They played a better second half than the first. Xherdan Shaqiri added some much needed muscle to the midfield.
Javier Martinez started his and Bayern's third Champions League match and did not have a good night, Luiz Gustavo was missed. Bayern was rewarded a penalty in the first half as Philipp Lahm was fouled twice in the box. Thomas Muller became the first person to convert an important penalty for Bayern this season. He had a golden opportunity in the second half but could not score.
Bayern's mentality was severely tested in this match. Lille had a good spell in the second half but the Bayern defence stood strong. Holger Badstuber, despite being the left-back on the night, did a good job in the centre. Dante and Jerome Boateng made some fabulous tackles. Manuel Neuer didn't really make any critical errors today.
Bayern's attack went missing tonight. The Bayern we saw against Dusseldorf was nowhere to be seen. It took sheer grit to win this match. Bastian Schweinsteiger couldn't have a huge impact on the match. Toni Kroos was fouled far too many times to be a legitimate threat. Javier Martinez is yet to justify his starting position in Champions League matches. Can we please have Gustavo back? Mario Mandzukic was helpless really. Would Mario Gomez do any better in this situation?
So, why is Bayern having so many problems this Champions League this season? Their are other sides in the competition which like to pass the ball rather than play route-one football. Arsenal, Real Madrid and Barcelona spring to mind. Perhaps, the opponents in Bayern's group are far more physical than the opponents in the groups of Barca, Arsenal and Real.
Teams seem to think that the only way to beat Bayern is to physically impose themselves on the players. Had Lahm not earned that penalty, that approach might have worked. German sides have often been bashed recently for lack of mental strength. Tonight, Bayern proved that they have plenty of it available to them. When Bayern has played a side willing to play some football like Valencia, they have generally settled the match.
Jupp Heynckes made good substitutions as the match neared its ending. Gustavo came on. David Alaba replaced the hero on the night, Muller. Muller's penalty by the way was quite cheeky. It wasn't a Panenka—however, it was just very coolly done. One has to have ice in his veins to pull that off.
Bayern's play last season was characterized by patience in the group stages. Arjen Robben if one remembers was absent during that group stage. Bayern waited and waited till gaps appeared. FCB was patient tonight but not as patient as they can be. This might be down to the fact that Lille players were just waiting to send Bayern players flying with aggressive tackles.
The referee Martin Atkinson was not consistent with his decisions. I am not a big fan of Atkinson. Tonight, he showed there are far better referees. He dished out five yellows to Bayern and only three to Lille. The fouls Bayern committed was nowhere near as harsh as the fouls committed by Lille players.
Anyways, I will stop complaining about Lille's roughness. These days, this is seemingly what is dished out to good football sides. Bayern finally won 'ugly' today and that is something to be proud of at the end of the day.
Two of the next three matches should be easier considering they will be at the Allianz. Three teams are now tied on six points after today's games. Valencia gave BATE a bit of a thrashing (0-3) to go top. BATE sits second on a goal difference of +1. Bayern's goal difference is zero.
Three home wins and an away win usually clears the passage to the round of 16. Bayern has a home win and now the away win. The next two matches remain must-win ones.
This group has turned into a bit of a dog fight, hasn't it? I would like to hear your thoughts on the game.
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