Bayern and Hoffenheim offered defensive horrorshows in the DFB-Pokal. It was only the Bavarians’ scoring credentials that saw them through.
No Pokal upset – barely
Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig suffered defeat at the hands of seemingly lesser rivals on Tuesday. Both results came as a surprise, as they rendered two of Germany’s top teams out of the DFB-Pokal. No, Werder Bremen and Eintracht Frankfurt aren’t minnows, but they’re still considerably far from la crème of Bundesliga teams. With BVB and RB Leipzing bowing out, Bayern emerged as clear favourites to retain the title.
Cup upsets remain a hallmark of domestic knockout competitions. On the night, Bayern narrowly avoided such destiny. Hoffenheim proved a tame side, but Bayern’s complacency in the second half allowed them back into the game in added time. Indeed, if Bayern’s defending was sloppy, Hoffenheim’s was sloppier. Characteristic of this was Robert Lewandowski’s second goal. Hoffenheim allowed Lewandowski to trace a diagonal inside the box unchecked as he searched for Joshua Kimmich’s incoming corner. It looked almost comical.
For all the dominance and brilliance in the second half, Bayern became sloppy in the second. There was less direct football and more cooling-down in possession. Hoffenheim found themselves in more space and under less pressure. This has been a trademark of Bayern for a couple of years now. With the team scoring more goals under Flick, though, the persistence of this trend has become less relevant. Bayern mistakes led to three Hoffenheim goals, and were it not for Lewandowski and Müller up front, we would indeed have had a cup upset in our hands.
Needless to say, this is unnecessary.
Corentin Tolisso and Philippe Coutinho made the Startelf, replacing Thiago Alcântara and Leon Goretzka. Both players needed to deliver to convince Flick they’re important.
Without many fireworks, they delivered. Despite Coutinho’s annoying tendency to be individualistic, he was very good at times. So was Tolisso. Their stance in the squad reflects a depth that is needed to go a long way in three competitions. They may not be good enough to be starters at the moment, but they can deputise better than most. Giving them a start is a nice and significant nod from Flick, who is showing his man-management credentials while being clear about the direction he wants the team to take.
Football fans moan a lot about the offside rule, especially in the age of VAR. Robert Lewandowski saw a goal of his disallowed after Thomas Müller was ruled offside prior to assisting him. The replay revealed Müller’s foot as the culprit, marginally ahead of the Hoffenheim defence’s line. Mind you, when I say “marginally”, I mean Müller cannot have been offside by more than a couple centimetres.
The laws of the game leave no room for interpretation. IFAB’s website states that a player is in an offside position when “any part of the head, body or feet is nearer to the opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent”. Indeed, hands and arms are ignored in offside rulings. But the rule remains clear: ahead means ahead, nearer means nearer, if only by a millimetre.
As we know, the offside rule is meant to eliminate undue advantages to the attacking team. But what exactly constitutes an “advantage”? Was Müller really profiting much over the Hoffenheim defender by virtue of his toenail trespassing the offside line? VAR and ever-improving camera technology allow for much more precise, scientific rulings. As a result, seemingly ludicrous calls like this one are made.
However, think about it for a minute. Unless the rule was unequivocal, we’d be in a slippery slope to justify certain offside positions.
Thomas Müller continues to thrive under Hansi Flick. He participated in Bayern’s equaliser and scored the subsequent second goal. However, his performance today, and indeed his performance of late, goes beyond the impressive goal tally he is accruing. Müller looks lively once again, whether it is starting from the wing or marshalling the central area in the attacking third.
A return to 2016-esque form is welcome for Müller as he presents his candidacy for a contract extension. Bayern fans love Müller for his unrestrained love for the club, and his embodiment of its ethos and culture. Tomás’ resurgence is yet another product of Flick’s influence, even if the player was well on the road to recovery for a while. So far in 2020, he has one goal for each game he has played, effectively repelling Philippe Coutinho’s challenge for a permanent starting spot.
With this level of performance, it’s hard not to pick Müller as a starter. Even harder to remotely think about letting him go.