5 Lessons from Bayern Munich's Win over Augsburg

Ian Holyman@@ian_holymanFeatured ColumnistOctober 27, 2016

Bayern Munich enjoyed a comfortable DFB-Pokal win.
Bayern Munich enjoyed a comfortable DFB-Pokal win.CHRISTOF STACHE/Getty Images

You may think there is not much to be learned from a midweek, early-round DFB-Pokal game other than there are a lot of teams that have chosen green—fluorescent in FC Augsburg's case—as the colour for their away kits.

This was the third successive home game for Bayern Munich in which they have faced a team wearing green shirts, but thankfully Wednesday's 3-1 win at the Allianz Arena also threw up a number of far more noteworthy issues than football's latest fashion trends.

     

Thiago: The Answer at 6?

Manager Carlo Ancelotti has definitively settled on a 4-3-3, though he still seems to be wrestling with which players should be used where in that system. This was a game in which experiments could be made, and perhaps the Bayern boss stumbled upon something.

Thiago Alcantara was nominally the deepest man of the midfield trio, and though Augsburg's timid attempts at attacking made it difficult to judge how good he could be in that position long term, the Spain international made a success of the role on the night.

He was far more prominent in the game than in either of his last two starts, when he was further up the pitch and Xabi Alonso was in the deep-lying role. Ancelotti recently defended the veteran Spaniard, stating that he felt empathy with the fact the 34-year-old Alonso's advancing years had made the former Liverpool and Real Madrid man—never the quickest—even slower.

"Alonso is slow," Ancelotti had stated before Saturday's game against Borussia Monchengladbach, per Kicker. "That's true. I was slow too. That's not a bad thing. What's important is that the ball circulates quickly, and Xabi is the best for that."

There is no doubt Alonso has been—and can still be—a wonderful player, but Thiago is nearly 10 years his junior, and his display suggested he can fill that role with more energy, no small matter when Ancelotti's system leaves Bayern open to counter-attacks.

The former Barcelona man has nothing to envy about Alonso in terms of his passing range, and his well-timed forays forward and shooting ability provide Bayern with a goal threat from outside the box, as witnessed by the clutch of shots sent fizzing narrowly wide of Marwin Hitz's goal.

This is an avenue Ancelotti should continue to explore, though given the former Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain boss' staunch defence of Alonso, he may not be quite ready to do so just yet.

     

A Curious Case of Turnover

Following his predecessor's domestic success, Ancelotti can be forgiven for wanting to ensure Bayern can at least repeat the double Pep Guardiola led them to in his farewell season.

But surely this match provided the opportunity for him to use his squad a little more sensibly. Philipp Lahm's return at right-back was inevitable given Rafinha's injury, and what a finish it was from the captain to give Bayern an early lead.

Yet what was Jerome Boateng doing back? The Germany international has not played much admittedly—Wednesday's was only his seventh outing all competitions this season—but surely this was not the game for him and Mats Hummels to be accumulating time on the pitch as a centre-back double act with more important fixtures in the offing.

True, it was only the second time the pair had started together since Hummels' summer arrival from Borussia Dortmund, but they hardly need to build an on-pitch understanding. They—along with two other members of the back five, Lahm and Manuel Neuer—won the 2014 FIFA World Cup together.

Having said that, the way Boateng was unable to move his feet quickly enough to contend with Dong-Won Ji's shimmy that led to the South Korean's superb goal for the visitors suggests there are some cobwebs that need sweeping away before the forthcoming UEFA Champions League tie away to PSV Eindhoven.

With that in mind, this was a game in which Sven Ulreich could have taken the load off Neuer's shoulders. Whether he would have made the penalty save Germany's No. 1 did is questionable, but a competitive outing would have done the Bayern back-up stopper no harm.

      

Renato Sanches Starting to Settle

The hype around Portugal international Renato Sanches was ratcheted up further ahead of the Augsburg game with his triumph in the Golden Boy vote for European-based players under 21.

At UEFA Euro 2016, everyone saw what Benfica fans already knew he could provide, and his display over nearly 90 minutes on Wednesday was exactly what Bayern fans—and the board members up in the Allianz Arena stands—wanted to see.

That already familiar bounce was in the stride of the 19-year-old as he covered a huge amount of ground, with "all action" not doing justice to the comprehensive, jack-of-all-trades-and-(very-nearly)-master-of-them-all display the teenager put on.

Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

Box-to-box throughout, he had a number of shots—though none seriously troubled the goalkeeper—popped up in wide positions and got back to cover. He understandably faded a little in the second half, and was replaced by Arturo Vidal, who remains a more influential player than his young team-mate.

But Wednesday's game provided signs that Bayern have already assured themselves of a potential upgrade when the Chile international is deemed to be past his best.

     

Robben Dependent 

Eyebrows (or in Ancelotti's case, that would be singular) were raised when it was Sport1 reported on Wednesday that Arjen Robben would get a two-year extension to his contract, which is set to expire at the end of the season.

At 32—33 in January—that is a luxury the Netherlands international would not have at many other major European clubs. It appears particularly generous given Robben's notoriously fragile body, but Bayern's show of faith serves to underscore the Dutchman's continued importance to the side.

Restricted to the role of substitute-cum-cheerleader against Augsburg, Robben was enthusiastic, though that may have been because one of his rivals—much younger rivals—for a place in the starting lineup was struggling.

Kingsley Coman, so brilliant under Guardiola, has yet to recapture that form with Ancelotti, and the freedom he had to drift inside appeared to be a burden to him, with the France international more comfortable in wide positions, facing play.

Robben has made an art form of cutting inside from the right, a ploy seen so many times before but still seemingly unstoppable for opponents, and his verve, creativity and impetus were conspicuous by their absence against Augsburg as the front three laboured.

"We're now too dependent on Arjen," former Bayern captain Mark van Bommel told L'Equipe recently (h/t Orange). He was talking about the Netherlands national team, but he could just as easily have been referencing Bayern. The question is, will someone else step up before Robben inevitably ends up in the treatment room?

      

Going Forward?

So Julian Green got a start. The 21-year-old U.S. international did quite well. His running was tireless, there was a neat touch to tee up Thiago late in the first half and, less than 60 seconds later, there was a smartly taken goal in the form of a laser-guided glancing header.

But as promising as he might be, and however much potential he may have, Green cannot cover up the fact Bayern cannot replace Robert Lewandowski.

An unused substitute, Lewandowski looked not quite as enthused as Robben when Green nodded in Bayern's second, but the Poland international need not worry about getting his place in the side back.

What Bayern should be concerned with is their lack of experienced, high-quality support for the former Dortmund man should misfortune befall him and he be sidelined for a period of time.

As the game against Augsburg showed, not only are Bayern a more toothless side without Lewy in it, regardless of his five-game Bundesliga goal drought, but they are also more disjointed, with the striker's link-up play and ability to hold the ball up a massive part of their game.

With Thomas Muller off-colour in front of goal—how often has he missed a penalty like that?—and Green still learning the trade, Lewandowski is the one piece of the Bayern jigsaw Ancelotti simply cannot afford to have to replace.

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