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FEATURE | Leon Goretzka brilliant as Bayern Munich close in on ninth consecutive Meisterschale

Leon Goretzka put in an esteemed performance for Bayern Munich on Saturday as they overcame RB Leipzig at the Red Bull Arena. His goal put Hansi Flick’s side seven points clear and within touching distance of a ninth consecutive Meisterschale. No league leader in Germany has ever squandered a seven-point lead at this stage in the season, noted Kicker’s Oliver Hartmann, and even without 35-goal striker Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich’s quality is unrivalled.

Playing as the eight in a double-pivot alongside Joshua Kimmich in a 4-2-3-1, Goretzka tormented RB Leipzig’s midfield and defensive line throughout. Applying pressure, the Germany international proved troublesome as Tyler Adams and Co. looked to play the ball out from the back. Hurrying defensive players, Goretzka was only bettered by Lucas Hernandez in tackles won and registered three interceptions, per FbRef. Played with a ferocious intensity, the opening 38 minutes was a high-quality affair with perhaps RB Leipzig edging it. That was until Goretzka made a well-timed run into the penalty area, meeting Thomas Müller’s cross and smashing the ball beyond Péter Gulácsi.

It’s a trait the German has mastered. Playing alongside Kimmich both domestically and for the German national team has developed the duo into perhaps Europe’s best midfield pairing. Their intelligence is superior and the understanding they have created is exceptional. Goretzka and Kimmich work in tandem and when Bayern Munich are under pressure, they turn in a big performance when it’s needed most. Replaced by Jamal Musiala after 72 minutes, perhaps with their Champions League tie vs Paris Saint-Germain in mind, his performances have become the epitome of a powerhouse midfielder, like that of Michael Ballack, with his physicality, stamina, intelligence and goalscoring prowess.

Their win at RB Leipzig made even more impressive without Lewandowski, who picked up an injury on international duty for Poland vs Andorra. The 32-year-old is set to miss four weeks of football, including both legs of Bayern Munich’s Champions League quarter-final clash against PSG. In place of Lewandowski was Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, the former Stoke City forward did his task astonishingly well. Although he doesn’t have the goalscoring attributes of his teammate, the Cameroonian harried RB Leipzig’s defensive line, forcing them into mistakes. Whether Choupo-Moting starts ahead of Serge Gnabry on Wednesday is a question that only Flick knows the answer to. Even without their star striker, Bayern Munich still pose a threat.

The same can’t be said for RB Leipzig. Whilst the Saxony club were better at times, they’ve struggled to find the net in the Bundesliga. Eintracht Frankfurt (55) and Borussia Dortmund (55) have scored more goals than RB Leipzig (48) with Stuttgart equal (48) this season whilst Wolfsburg (46), Bayer Leverkusen (45), and Borussia Mönchengladbach (46) have scored one or two goals fewer. The departure of Timo Werner has certainly hampered their title challenge. RB Leipzig are missing a striker that can score them 20 goals a season with midfielders Christopher Nkunku (6), Emil Forsberg (6) and Marcel Sabitzer (6) all outscoring strikers Yussuf Poulsen (5) and Alexander Sørloth (3).

Julian Nagelsmann was aware that Bayern Munich are at their most vulnerable inside the opening 15 minutes and despite creating numerous chances with a false nine, failure to find the net despite almost 60 percent possession inside the opening 20 minutes, as noted by Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Christof Kneer, was ultimately their downfall. There was no out ball. Time and again RB Leipzig found themselves in an excellent position but failed to test Manuel Neuer from inside the area. It wasn’t until 15 minutes from time that Nagelsmann brought Poulsen and Sørloth on, a bizarre decision considering their need for a goal. Especially when you consider that Nagelsmann said in his pre-match presser that a defeat or draw against Bayern Munich would likely bring an end to their hopes of a first Meisterschale.

If RB Leipzig are to challenge Bayern, they need to be at their absolute bests. Having eight shots on goal to Bayern’s zero inside the first 15 minutes of the second-half must yield a goal and again, not having that centre-forward has ultimately contributed to them falling short of Bayern Munich.

Flick complimented RB Leipzig and praised the “morality and mentality” of his Bayern Munich team as they overcame their only real threat towards their ninth consecutive Bundesliga title. A truly deserving victory as their competitors once again fall short.

1 | Borussia Dortmund fell further adrift from the final Champions League place after a 2-1 defeat against Eintracht Frankfurt, the club rivalling them for fourth spot. After father Alf and super-agent Mino Raiola were pictured in Barcelona and Madrid, Erling Haaland again looked a frustrated figure throughout Saturday’s defeat. The Norwegian registered just 45 touches, as his teammates struggled to break down an impressive Eintracht defence. Now seven points adrift of fourth place, the remaining seven games will prove important for Borussia Dortmund’s 2020/21 season. Miss out on Champions League football and they may lose out on key figures such as Haaland and Jadon Sancho, qualify for Champions League football and they could be given a new lease of life under Marco Rose, who arrives from Gladbach at the end of the season.

2 | Like Eintracht Frankfurt, Wolfsburg also strengthened their chances of qualifying for next season’s Champions League. Against an FC Köln side who have dropped into the relegation play-off, the Billy Goats put up a fight at Wolfsburg. It wasn’t until 20 minutes from time that Josip Brekalo slotted the ball past Timo Horn, perhaps against the run of play. Oliver Glasner has done a commendable job this season, his Wolfsburg side have picked up 29 points from a possible 33 in an excellent run of form that also yielded seven consecutive clean sheets. FC Köln sporting director Horst Heldt on Sunday confirmed that head coach Markus Gisdol would be in charge for the upcoming six-pointer against Mainz 05, two points separate the two teams.

3 | A run of seven games without a win, Borussia Mönchengladbach looked down and out. A win against bottom club Schalke before the international break preceded an impressive win against Freiburg on Saturday evening, putting Die Fohlen back in the race for European football. Just four points separate Gladbach and Bayer Leverkusen, who occupy the final Europa League spot with seven games remaining. Although going behind to Roland Sallai’s opener for Freiburg after ten minutes, Marco Rose’s Gladbach fought back admirably. Jonas Hofmann tested positive for Covid-19 whilst on international duty with Germany and so Gladbach had to do without one of their best players this season. A seven-minute Marcus Thuram brace could prove important in their European football quest and ultimately, his future.

4 | Like Borussia Mönchengladbach, Union Berlin are also four points behind Bayer Leverkusen after their 1-1 Berlin derby draw against Hertha BSC. Robert Andrich, who was sent off in the return fixture, opened the scoring for Union before Dodi Lukebakio equalised from the spot. An important point for Urs Fischer’s Union, it’s an equally important point for Hertha in their battle against relegation. Just two points separate Arminia Bielefeld in 17th and Hertha Berlin in 14th with both Mainz and Köln down there. Hamburg and Greuther Fürth are joint second with Holstein Kiel occupying fourth in the 2. Bundesliga, and just four points behind with two games in hand and so, with just seven games remaining, the relegation play-off battle is just as intriguing.

Daniel Pinder

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