Bayern Munich begins title defense with win over Leverkusen


Bayern Munich has won five consecutive Bundesliga titles. And on a Friday night at the Allianz Arena about three months after each of the first four, the reigning German champs invariably sent out a signal of intent.

The club beat Borussia Mönchengladbach to kick off its title defense in 2013 and Wolfsburg in 2014. Bayern trounced Hamburg 5-0 in 2015 and thrashed Werder Bremen 6-0 in 2016.

On Friday, the trend continued. And it would be surprising if the Bundesliga title streak didn’t ultimately continue too.

Bayern needed less than nine minutes to take a lead, just nine more to double it, and cruised to a 3-1 season-opening win over Bayer Leverkusen.

Furthering optimism were the identities of Bayern’s key contributors on the evening. Midfielder Sebastian Rudy and 21-year-old center back Niklas Süle, both signed from Hoffenheim over the summer, combined for the first goal:

Süle and Rudy were two of three new signings who made their Bundesliga debuts for Bayern on Friday. The third, Corentin Tolisso, a central midfielder purchased from Lyon, would not be outdone.

Tolisso, who put on an impressive all-around performance, flicked home a header on the doorstep of the far post after some really poor Leverkusen set piece defending:

Munich is embarking on its first Bundesliga season without Philipp Lahm since 2005-06, and first without Xabi Alonso since 2013-14. Its prolific wingers, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, are now 33 and 34 years old, respectively. On the surface, that would seem to provide opportunity for the rest of the league.

But Bayern has reloaded, and Friday exemplified that. It wasn’t just the debutants; Joshua Kimmich, the heir to Lahm, was solid at right back. And manager Carlo Ancelotti didn’t even need contributions from his most glamorous summer signing, Colombian attacker James Rodriguez.

There was also a separate addition that aided the Bavarians: video review. Video assistant referees will be making debuts of their own around the Bundesliga this week, and they were called upon for the first time in the second half on Friday night.

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Early in the half, Leverkusen’s Charles Aranguiz initially got away with a tug on the shoulder of Robert Lewandowski in the penalty area. But Lewandowski tumbled to the turf, the ref put his hand to his earpiece, took advice from the VAR, and pointed to the spot:

Lewandowski converted the penalty himself, and the hosts were in control.

Leverkusen pulled a goal back in the 65th minute, and to be fair to the visitors, the 3-1 scoreline was a far better representation of the game than 3-0. Leverkusen limited Bayern’s chance creation from open play, and created plenty itself. Admir Mehmedi and Kevin Volland both had close-range efforts denied by backup Bayern keeper Sven Ulreich in the first half. Mehmedi got the goal in the second amid intermittent spells of Leverkusen pressure.

Munich was a comfortable winner in the end, but its performance was far from dominant. Last season’s 12th-place finishers outshot the champions 16-11, and possession was 50-50.

Bayern had a somewhat bumpy preseason, and there are still plenty of questions for Ancelotti’s team to answer. They are perhaps less clear-cut favorites than in years past. But they are nonetheless favorites, and Friday was a strong start to a campaign that could yield a sixth consecutive Bundesliga crown.


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