Bayern Munich overcame a resilient Hamburg on Friday night to earn a 2-1 win at the Volksparkstadion on Friday. The match marked the first competitive game of 2016 for both sides, and the contestants looked to be a bit off their sharpest.
After surprising many by matching their guests for more than a half hour, Hamburg self-imploded in typical fashion as their defense was caught out by a long ball to Thomas Muller. Under pressure, Mueller volleyed wide, yet well after he released his effort, Rene Adler took down the Germany international with a scything challenge. It was enough to award a penalty that Robert Lewandowski converted.
HSV were given a lifeline with a different kind of bizarre goal: It was an Aaron Hunt free-kick intended to be a cross. But it managed to curl and lazily find its way into the net off a bounce—perhaps with Xabi Alonso having got a stud to the ball first.
After conceding a fluke equalizer, Bayern benefited from another odd goal. Muller took an effort on goal that Adler may well have saved, but Lewandowski, with a reflex, made a slight deflection. The ball would ultimately labor its way over the goal line, dead center, but Adler had already dived to react to the initial attempt. 2-1 to Bayern, and that was enough for the the visitors to extend their lead in the Bundesliga table to 11 points.
Friday's result wasn't the typical Bayern mauling of Hamburg that fans have become accustomed to. It wasn't the 5-0 mauling from last August or the 8-0 obliteration from last February. It was just enough to get the points.
Boateng with an adductor injury, apparently. Considering how long Götze was (still is) out with that injury, that's concerning. #HSVFCB— Jonathan Harding (@JonBloggs66) January 22, 2016
Yet, much as they looked a few steps off their best in last week's friendly defeat to Karlsruhe—their only warm-up match prior to Friday's restart—Bayern were clearly not entirely ready for the match. Kingsley Coman was the exception, but Bayern were otherwise lacking their usual sharpness in attack and athletic edge.
The former would not get in the way of the desired result, but the latter would deliver a potentially devastating blow as Jerome Boateng limped off the pitch with an apparent groin injury, per ESPN FC's Mark Lovell. After making a challenge, the defender immediately requested his substitution.
Although the severity of his ailment has yet to be determined, it appears to be a similar problem to that which has kept Mario Gotze out of action since November.
Muscular injuries have long plagued manager Pep Guardiola's team, and as The Guardian's Raphael Honigstein revealed in December, this is not a coincidence. There are figures at the Sabener Strasse who have been critical of the team's heavy emphasis on drills on the ball and relative lack of regard for traditional fitness drills.
Boateng's injury, caused by what looked to be a rather innocuous challenge, is just the next in a growing number of muscular problems at the club.
If Boateng's injury is serious, it could spell some big problems for Bayern as they look to remain competitive on three fronts. Not only is the Germany international his team's best center-back, but he's one of the few actual central defensive options Bayern have.
Mehdi Benatia is unlikely to return before February, while Javi Martinez and Holger Badstuber are the only fit options at the moment. Martinez is as much a midfielder as he is a defender, and Badstuber has hardly played over the last three years.
The three points earned on Friday will be a positive for Bayern. But should the Bundesliga leaders be without Boateng for a long period, they may well be forced to pursue an emergency signing to shore up their defense. That could be both expensive and risky. Better to hope for good news from the treatment table.