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Bayern Munich Finds Its Escalation Gear

No club turns on the relentlessness quite like Bayern, which Salzburg found out the hard way after entering their UCL last-16 second leg with hopes of a famous upset.

What was all the fuss about? A draw in the first leg against RB Salzburg, secured only in injury time, had led to suggestions that Bayern Munich might struggle to make it through to the last eight of the Champions League, but an emphatic, 7–1 win in the home leg offered a reminder of just how ruthless it can be if given the opportunity. Skeptics will say this was only Salzburg, and that there were some defensive concerns before the goals began to flow, but this was still an impressive response under pressure.

Bayern has not been playing well in recent weeks. Before the first leg, it suffered a 4–2 defeat at Bochum and, having struggled to break down Salzburg in Austria, it followed up a 4–1 win over struggling Greuther Fürth with an unconvincing win over an out-of-sorts Eintracht Frankfurt and a draw against Bayer Leverkusen. It’s a very modern form of superclub wobble, given that Bayern leads the Bundesliga by nine points, but the relentless attacking has not been quite so relentless recently.

Bayern Munich thrashes Salzburg in the Champions League

Progress here, though, was never really in doubt. Bayern had been the better side in Salzburg, winning the expected goals, depending which model you use, by a little under 2.5 to a little under 1, and criticism of its performance was perhaps in part conditioned by the scoreline. On Tuesday, it was careless at times, but it almost went ahead through Lewandowski in the first minute. Philipp Kohn saved Salzburg on that occasion, but twice before the halfway point of the first half Lewandowski was fouled in the box by Maximilian Wober.

Twice Lewandowski converted, and he completed his hat trick after 23 minutes, following in after Kohn’s attempted clearance had cannoned off his shins and bounced against the post. Only 10 minutes and 22 seconds passed between his first and third goals as he set a new record for the earliest competed hat trick in a Champions League match. It also took his goal tally for the season to 42, marking the seventh season in a row that he has reached the 40-goal mark.

That was it for the series, and Salzburg almost visibly wilted. Serge Gnabry added a fourth on the half-hour mark, although he was helped by Mohamed Camara being caught in possession by Kingsley Coman and then a less than convincing attempt to save by Kohn. Given the two clumsy fouls and then the messy buildup to the third, it was hard to avoid the thought that Salzburg, having been so disciplined in the first leg, had rather given the game away.

Bayern, of course, deserves credit for having been so ruthless when chances arose, and it is the sort of team that puts an opponent under pressure, but better sides than Salzburg will not be so accommodating. And it will also be of concern to Bayern how open it had looked before the second goal. Twice in the first 10 minutes, Salzburg, as it had in the first leg, got in behind the Bayern wingbacks and Nicolás Capaldo probably should have done better with a second-minute effort that Coman managed to deflect wide.

By the time a Salzburg goal finally did arrive through Maurits Kjærgaard after 70 minutes, it was five down, with Thomas Müller having added a fifth after a sharp turn on the edge of the box. Müller got a sixth after a one-two with Lewandowski and then yet another defensive lapse gifted Leroy Sane a seventh for another famous German 7–1 win, and another Bayern 8–2 advancement on the Champions League stage. But somewhere back before all that, those defensive flaws will rankle.

Bayern Munich thrashes RB Salzburg

To an extent, perhaps, they were a function of Bayern’s injuries. Manuel Neuer returned, and that perhaps added a measure of authority, but the absence of Alphonso Davies with post-COVID–19 myocarditis is possibly what conditions the use of the back three. It’s still not entirely clear when the Canadian international will be able to return. With Leon Goretzka and Corentin Tolisso both injured, there is a shortage as well at the back of midfield, where Joshua Kimmich is essentially the only defensive presence.

That hints at a wider issue for Bayern, which is that its squad is not as deep as the elite clubs of the Premier League. To an extent that doesn’t matter, because it can afford to rest players domestically, but it does leave it vulnerable to a couple of key injuries in a similar area.

But that is for the future. The question here was whether Bayern could get by Salzburg, and that it did easily—and in some style.

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