Harry Kane was substituted with cramp nine minutes from time, but perhaps he was also suffering from football vertigo, dizzied by Bayern Munich’s high possession stats.
The champions’ 72 per cent dominance in the noisy Weserstadion was a million miles removed from the minimalist ‘sufferball’ the 30-year-old forward had to endure under Jose Mourinho, Nuno Espirito Santo and Antonio Conte in the last four years. It clearly took some time to getting used to.
Kane’s eyes lit up afterwards, gushing about the pace and quality of the players around him. But until Werder Bremen opened up to chase an equaliser after the break, the control and space they ceded to their opponents in midfield posed their own challenges for the England captain.
Having found Leroy Sane with a trademark through ball for the opener early on, Kane spent the rest of the half struggling to be found by his new team-mates, with the home side barricaded inside their own box.
When the striker was brought on with 30 minutes to spare in last Saturday’s 3-0 Super Cup defeat by Leipzig, wingers Serge Gnabry and Sane switched flanks to their natural sides, with a view of providing service to Kane. The ploy resulted in a lot of rushed, hapless crosses from impossible angles, everyone trying too hard. On Friday night, Thomas Tuchel reinstated Bayern’s traditional set-up of the last decade with two inverted wide players, forcing both them and his new recruit to adapt to each other.
It took a while. Timings, passes and runs failed to align properly. The final ball failed to land like a punchline delivered in a foreign language. Things were just that little bit off, not quite lost but diminished in translation. This certainly wasn’t “The Harry Kane team” Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola had sniffily referred to a few years ago. Not yet.
Futher reading: Inside the deal that took Kane to Bayern from Tottenham
But that wasn’t much of a problem either. Thanks to Kane’s smooth assist, Bayern had both a lead and the the very self-confident swagger that had been so strangely absent from their game in most of the calendar year. His trial-and-error positioning, often in the inside-right channel, didn’t lead to many shooting personal opportunities but he effectively pinned down the Werder back four and held up the ball well to allow the strong attacking midfield to shine all around him. Until he opened his account in the second half, it looked as if the 100 million man might get upstaged on his league debut by an improved Jamal Musiala or the outstanding Kingsley Coman, an irrepressible wonder of trickery and dynamism on the left.
“I’m a number 9, first and foremost,” Kane reminded an international army of interlocutors who all asked about the unselfish part of his game. But one could sense also sense joy and relief in his realisation that he won’t have to do it all by himself in front of goal for this team.
After his scathing criticism of last week — “It looks as if we haven’t trained at all for four weeks,” Tuchel said — the Bayern manager was in a much more generous mood this time, gently dismissing the notion that Kane and the team hadn’t always been on the same page. “I’m not sure that they still need to find each other,” the 49-year-old said. “We had a nice mix between possession play and quick transitions, with good solutions in the half-spaces. Harry is good there. He’s very strong in holding up the ball. He provides depth by being the focal point up front. And he always influences the defence, keeping them busy with his clever movement. He’s very smart in everything he does and incredibly precise.”
Tuchel was especially enamoured with Kane’s “clean first touch and calm finish” for Bayern’s second goal, which effectively killed off the uneven contestant two thirds into the second half. For once, Kane had space for a run straight through the middle after some fine interplay between Alphonso Davies and Coman had pulled the Werder back three apart and keeper Jiri Pavlenka had no chance. It felt like a counter-attack but wasn’t; Bayern will aim to create more of those quick attacking moves to put Kane through on goal in future weeks.
The tactical fine-tuning will take more time — stronger opponents than Werder, who look set for a relegation battle on Friday’s evidence, are yet to come. But if Tuchel’s long, effusive monologue about his new forward was to believed, Kane is already having a less obvious but super-sized impact on a team that wasn’t just in need of goals but inspiration and leadership last season. “The way he trains, the way he steps onto the pitch… he’s so humble, he radiates joy in training and has so much quality to boot,” Tuchel said. “It’s so impressive. He will make every one of the players around him better by drawing so much attention to himself. It was a very good debut.”
It’s hard to argue with that after a 4-0 win (Sane’s second and a fantastic late strike from Mathys Tel completed the scoring). Most importantly, it put the rest of the league on notice. Once he and Bayern really get going in unison, their dominance could reach new heights.
(Photo: Marvin Ibo Guengoer – GES Sportfoto/Getty Images)