There’s been somewhat of a malaise around Bayern Munich for a few months now, with big names being linked with moves away, scant action in the transfer market and the hiring of manager Niko Kovac, who hardly moves the needle like the Pep Guardiolas and Carlo Ancelottis of the world.
But because this is Bayern Munich, it doesn’t matter.
Bayern opened defense of its record six straight Bundesliga titles by pushing past TSG 1899 Hoffenheim 3-1 at the Allianz Arena on Friday, scoring two late goals to end the upset bid by last season’s third-place finishers.
The winning goal came from the foot of Robert Lewandowski in the 82nd minute on a penalty. Franck Ribery drew the initial whistle by taking advantage of Håvard Nordtveit going to ground foolishly early, but Lewandowski missed the initial spot kick only to have Arjen Robben clean up the miss.
Video Assistant Referee, however, correctly determined Robben had entered the box early and therefore the penalty was retaken. Lewandowski sent Hoffenheim goalkeeper Oliver Baumann the wrong way this time:
Lewandowski was one of the names rumored to be leaving Bayern this summer, along with defender Jerome Boateng. Deals might still be made ahead of the German transfer window closing on Aug. 31, but the speculation has created a veil of relative uncertainty amid the club, which has largely been absent for years.
Hoffenheim came to the southeast of Germany ready for a fight, and the physical play got under Bayern’s skin on several occasions. It turned ugly at the end of the first half, when a rash of rough challenges culminated in Nico Schulz scissor-tackling Bayern’s Kingsley Coman and injuring Coman’s ankle in the process.
The young Frenchman had to come off after the incident, and Schulz was shown a yellow card:
The visitors gradually grew into the game and equalized in the 57th minute when Adám Szalai cut back nicely and fired a hard finish far post:
But Lewandowski’s goal made the difference, and Robben tacked on a third late after Thomas Mueller had opened his 2018-19 league account with a header in the 23rd minute. VAR was called upon a second time to disallow a late goal that deflected off Mueller’s arm on a shot by Leon Goretzka.
Hoffenheim will challenge for a Champions League spot in Germany again with a squad full of talented players in their second or third years together under third-year manager Julian Nagelsmann.
The class of the Bundesliga, however, is still clearly Bayern. Kovac is a smart, up-and-coming manager who figures to excel in his first marquee job, and the Bavarians have won the league by an average of 17 points the past six seasons, only once failing to clinch the title before May. That appears to be in the cards again this year, no matter how much of a challenge Hoffenheim, Borussia Dortmund, Schalke 04 or other second-tier clubs mount.
Bayern’s main quest is to summit the Champions League, which now appears more open with Real Madrid in transition after the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and manager Zinedine Zidane. That’s how this Bayern season will ultimately be judged, as things would have to get a whole lot worse in Munich for the rest of the Bundesliga to have a shot.
Joey Gulino is the editor of FC Yahoo and moonlights as a writer. Follow him on Twitter at @JGulinoYahoo.
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