RB Leipzig and Bayer Munich stood against each other on Saturday evening, in the last chance to win a trophy for any German team this season – the final of the DFB-Pokal. Bayern had, of course, already won the Bundesliga, but they needed to make it a double on domestic soil in order to properly forget the Champions League exit in the round of 16 at the hands of Liverpool.
The league games between these teams this season saw only one goal as Bayern beat Leipzig 1-0 at the Allianz Arena back in December. Veteran Franck Ribery was the goalscorer, while the rematch a few weeks ago ended goalless.
There were no notable absentees for Leipzig head coach Ralf Rangnick, but he did make a few changes from their defeat to Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga the previous week.
Peter Gulacsi was in goal. Willi Orban and Ibrahima Konate formed the central defensive partnership, with Lukas Klostermann on the right and Marcel Halstenberg on the left. Tyler Adams and Kevin Kampl held the middle of the park. Marcel Sabitzer and Emil Forsberg covered the advanced wide positions, while Yussuf Poulsen and Timo Werner led the line upfront.
Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer was at the disposal of manager Niko Kovač having returned from injury, but midfielder Leon Goretzka was ruled out.
Therefore, Neuer stood between the posts. Mats Hummels and Niklas Sule played ahead of him, with David Alaba on the left and Joshua Kimmich on the right. Javi Martinez and Thiago Alcantara sat deep in midfield. The trio of Kinsley Coman (left), Thomas Muller (centre) and Serge Gnabry (right) played behind striker Robert Lewandowski.
The First Half
Surprisingly enough (or not, depends on your point of view), it was Leipzig who took charge of the proceedings early on. They pushed forward and pressed high relentlessly, causing all sorts of problems for Bayern.
It was, however, Bayern who took the first shot of the game through Gnabry. The winger cut inside from the right in the third minute but his effort from the edge of the box went slightly wide.
But Leipzig came much closer eight minutes later. Poulsen headed on target from a corner from close range and forced an incredible reflex save from Neuer.
Bayern searched for a way to cope with Leipzig’s resilient pressing, and it seemed that they had settled on counterattacks as the best tool to charge towards Gulacsi, but they always managed to blow their chances somehow. Muller wasted a good one in the 25th minute by being too slow and indecisive, and four minutes later it looked that a misplaced pass would let Leipzig off again, but Kovač’s men pulled off a great counter-pressing job and moved forward in numbers.
Alaba and Coman combined nicely on the left and the winger whipped in a cross towards Lewandowski. The Polish striker still had a lot to do as the ball went slightly behind his back, but his header was immaculate and caught Gulacsi on the wrong foot.
The goal seemed to have instilled some drive into the Bavarians and confused Leipzig. Bayern now took control and moved their lines forward. Even when Leipzig attacked, they seemed somehow disorganized, lacking fluency and constantly leaving the player on the ball without options.
After some time, they did recompose themselves and relax up to a point, but it almost cost them dearly. Minute 42 was passing when Hummels took advantage of a poor offside trap to release Coman in behind. The winger charged towards Gulacsi, went around him and sent the ball towards the gaping net, but Konate headed it off the very line.
Bayern came close twice more before halftime, but first the Lepizig defence cleared a dangerous cross into the six yards by Gnabry, and then Gulacsi stopped an effort by Hummels from very close range after Muller found his centre-back in an attacking position.
The Second Half
Bayern tried to stick another pin in their opponents straight from the restart and they spent almost a whole minute in and around the box, but the attack ended with Thiago blasting it from 18 yards over the bar.
But only 90 seconds later, a defensive mistake by the Bavarians got Forsberg through and the Swede was off, charging alone towards Neuer, but the German international goalkeeper came out and brilliantly stopped Forsberg from equalizing, just as he stopped Werner too another minute later from a tight angle.
An extremely lively period of the game followed. Just as it looked Rangnick’s men would re-establish the way they played at the start of the game, Bayern broke on the counterattack and Gulacsi only just managed to stop Gnabry’s effort from close range, before Lewndowski threatened again by breaking down the left, cutting inside and shooting low, but Gulacsi was alert again. Then it was Lepizig’s turn as Werner left Alaba for dead with some fantastic skill and shot past Neuer, but Sule cleared it off the line. All that happened within a three-minute span.
Just after the hour-mark, Hummels drove through the middle of the pitch, running past several opponents before shooting from range on target, but Gulacsi made a good save. Bayern immediately threatened again through Gnabry, Gulacsi saved his effort too, before Thiago managed to head the rebound wide of the gaping net from six yards.
In the 64th minute, Rangnick replaced the ineffective Adams in midfield with Konrad Laimer. Kovač responded with a pair of fresh legs of his own by withdrawing Martinez and sending Corentin Tolisso into the fray.
Both teams continued attacking, but it was Bayern who came very close again in the 68th minute through Lewandowski. Gnabry found the striker free inside the box with a great cross, but Lewandowski’s header went a hair’s width wide of the post.
Dayot Upamecano replaced Orban at that point. It would be interesting to learn whether that was just a tactical thought of Rangnick’s, or if perhaps the Leipzig boss reacted to the poor defending Orban had displayed a few seconds earlier by leaving Lewandowski unchallenged for that header. Upamecano may be a defensive midfielder by trade, but he slotted into Orban’s position in the back four nonetheless.
With 17 minutes to go, Kovač introduced the experienced Arjen Robben for Gnabry.
As the game entered its final stage, Leipzig’s attacking players were trying to assume responsibility and breathe some life into their team, but the experience of Bayern’s goalkeeper and defenders made it extremely hard. And in the 77th minute, they were dealt another hard blow.
Koman plucked a looping cross out of the air and brought the ball under control inside the box with sublime skill, turned and fired past Gulacsi.
Rangnick then replaced his other centre-back as well as Amadou Haidara stepped onto the pitch in the place of Konate.
Bayern weren’t going to allow their opponents to launch an all-out attack late on. They pressed hard and looked to disrupt the play as much as possible, and with five minutes to go, they finished the job.
Having defended successfully, Kimmich lobbed a long pass forward towards Lewandowski who broke past Upamecano and coolly slotted past Gualcsi again.
Kovač then gave a few minutes to Bayern’s other great name of the past; Franck Ribery replaced Coman.
Robben came very close to adding a fourth and saying goodbye to Bayern with a goal late on, but Haidara was still composed enough to deliver an accurate last-ditch tackle to thwart him.
Leipzig looked completely broken for the rest of the contest, while the Bavarians kept pressing high and attacking. But it would still be Leipzig with a chance for the last goal of the game as Sabitzer won a foul some 20 yards from Neuer’s goal. Sabitzer took it himself and hit the wall.
Leipzig are a good team, there’s no denying that despite the convincing scoreline in the end. There were numerous moments when they could have, with just a little luck, turned the game around. However, their quality seems very raw when compared to Bayern, who have mastered their role of the dominant force in German football to perfection.
Their policy of recruiting young talents like Coman and Gnabry and getting the best out of them, combined with the strong presence of experienced figures like Neuer, Lewandowski, Thiago, Martinez, Hummels, Alaba and Muller, seems to be too much for any other club in the country to compete with.
It was also nice for Ribery and Robben to leave the club with another trophy in their truly remarkable careers.
RB LEIPZIG: Gulacsi 7, Orban 5 (70′ Upamecano 6), Konate 7.5 (82′ Haidara N/A), Klostermann 6, Halstenberg 6, Adams 5 (64′ Laimer 6), Kampl 6, Sabitzer 7, Forsberg 7.5, Poulsen 7, Werner 7.5.
BAYERN MUNICH: Neuer 8, Sule 8, Hummels 8.5, Kimmich 7.5, Alaba 7, Martinez 7 (65′ Tolisso 6), Thiago 7, Muller 7, Gnabry 8 (73′ Robben 7), Coman 8 (87′ Ribery N/A), Lewandowski 8.5.
GOALS: Lewandowski 29′, 85′, Coman 78′.
YELLOW CARDS: Upamecano 82′, Lewandowski 86′.
REFEREE: Tobias Stieler.
DATE & VENUE: May 25, 2019, Olympic Stadium, Berlin.
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