Bundesliga Matchday 33 Preview: Bayern against Freiburg
There are just two more matches to go in this Bundesliga season before FC Bayern will be officially handed the Meisterschale, having already sealed the title mathematically against Bremen in midweek. The first of these matches will be at home against SC Freiburg today. With a view to the packed football schedule after the season brought about by the unplanned coronavirus break, Hansi Flick in his pre-match press conference on Friday voiced concerns about the workload of the players who he thinks will need a proper rest after the end of the season to refuel their energy tanks. It is fair to say that first signs of mental tiredness and physical wear have already crept in at Bayern now. With several players out before the Freiburg game, the title already in the bag, and Freiburg still fighting for a Europa League place, how will the record champions cope? Our preview.
There was not the usual exuberant party with Weißbier showers, loud music booming from the stadium PA, and prolonged processions in front of their fans after Bayern had finally secured their eight consecutive Bundesliga title against Bremen with a narrow 0-1 victory on Tuesday. The players celebrated in the changing room amongst themselves, and in this reduced form, the celebrations were somehow befitting of their prior performances on the pitch. Bayern was unusually sloppy in their passing and pressing. They lost many balls in situations in which in the weeks before they would have comfortably and composedly found a way to outplay their opponents. They did not use their chances and were miles off their usual clinical shape in front of goal. But perhaps most telling of all was their somewhat unorganized rearguard action during the final 10 minutes of the game, which almost allowed Bremen to level the score at the last minute.
The match against Bremen continued a trend that had already become apparent in the two prior matches against Gladbach and Frankfurt. In the last few weeks, Bayern have lost a bit of their usual dominance and almost casual command of a game. In the second half against Frankfurt in the DFB-Pokal, this was still more than understandable. They had played a stellar first half and were a goal up at half time, they had already cut Frankfurt to ribbons two weeks earlier, the league match against Gladbach was looming large, and it was an ‘out of order’ game, a cup contest which Flick later said was ill-timed given the density of league games on the season’s home stretch. Certainly, several of the players will have felt similarly and will have been more concerned with saving energy and not getting injured in the second half.
Against Gladbach a few days later, Flick for the first time in a long time, partly out of volition and partly out of necessity, chose to rotate his squad quite a bit. With Müller and Lewandowski having to be replaced and Davies and Coman getting a rest, Hernandez, Cuisance, Perisic and Zirkzee made the starting lineup. Later in the game, even second team player Wriedt got a look in for the final 15 minutes. Add to that a competitor in Gladbach for whom every point counts in their fight for the Champions League, and an unusually mixed and inconsistent performance against a no-nonsene and highly vertical Gladbach should not come as a great surprise. Bayern lacked their customary composure and control in midfield as well as the creative spark of Thomas Müller in attack and was caught out out time and again by Gladbach’s vertical offensive play.
Yet against Bremen with Müller and Lewandowski back in the starting lineup and Bremen featuring as somewhat of a whipping boy anyway when Bayern come to town, one could have reasonably expected more than a narrow 0-1 away win on the back of a thoroughly disjointed performance against a side who has looked anything but stable since the end of the coronavirus break. This all the more so as Joshua Kimmich had stressed before the game that Bayern were intent on sealing the title as quickly as possible.
Against this backdrop, Bayern now has to host Freiburg at home to play against an opponent for whom – similar to Gladbach – there is still something left to play for in the last two matches of the season. Freiburg can still make the Europa League places, which would not only be a sporting success but also provide a great financial boost to the small club from Breisgau. For Bayern, on the other hand, the challenge now is to regain their focus for the remaining two league games before the important DFB-Pokal final at the beginning of July. Under Christan Streich, Freiburg has become a consistently hard working and robust team that is well organized and has an indefatigable work ethic. Coupled with the fact that their season is not yet effectively over, Freiburg will certainly not sit back and try to acquit themselves conceding as few goals as possible against Bayern. They have been surprisingly consistent in their performances over the entirety of the season. Yes, they had a few slumps, times when they did not win for several consecutive games. But they have always bounced back and overcome these periods before they could turn into a prolonged downward spiral. They are not on an outstanding run of form at present, but they never look hopeless going into a game, no matter who their opponents are. They are mentally unflappable, physically fit, and, to all appearances, have a great team chemistry with no unhappy apples spoiling the cart.
Today, they will ask Bayern questions with their typical flexible pressing and energetic style of play. They are also quite capable at scoring from dead ball situations, having already scored eight goals from set pieces this season, the third most in the league. In addition, with Hansi Flick being forced to make a series of personnel changes again, most notably in defense because of an Alaba injury and a second yellow ban for Davies, Freiburg will certainly sense their chance to get something out of this game. This may be further helped by the fact that Flick will supposedly call up several of Bayern’s second team players to fill up the holes in his squad left by the absentees, and may even give Bayern’s faithful long-term second goalkeeper Sven Ulreich a start in what may perhaps be his last weeks at the club.
Yet make no mistake. The last time Freiburg managed to defeat Bayern in the Bundesliga happened more than five years ago when Bayern under Pep Guardiola were already Champions elect. Despite all the specific factors and special circumstances in the run up to the game, the match this afternoon is Bayern’s to lose. Flick said at yesterday’s pre-match press conference that he wants his team to keep their rhythm before the DFB-Pokal final. He also wants his players to play with passion and focus. His intuition is right. The game this afternoon will be a test more of mental stability and concentration than of physical effort and endurance, irrespective of the thinned-out starting lineup and the tight schedule of games.
If the Bayern players heed his words, are able to re-elevate their focus to pre-Frankfurt levels, and if those who come in from the bench see the game as an opportunity to present themselves, Bayern should and will emerge as the clear winners.