Philippe Coutinho, Robert Lewandowski and David Alaba: do Bayern Munich have the deepest pool of free-kick takers in the Bundesliga?
The German top flight has been home to some deadly dead-ball specialists
before, with the likes of Mario Basler, Mehmet Scholl and Hakan Calhanoglu – who got six in one Bundesliga season for Bayer Leverkusen – springing to mind.
But has a team ever had as much strength in that area as Bayern have now?
Hertha Berlin’s Marvin Plattenhardt has seven Bundesliga goals from free-kicks, but – apart from a couple of Ondrej Duda efforts – it’s been largely a one-man show in the capital.
Borussia Dortmund captain Marco Reus has also registered seven across all
competitions but only one of those – against Werder Bremen in the DFB Cup in February – has come in the last three campaigns. BVB fans will point to Paco Alcacer, and with good reason since he got three in the Bundesliga in 2018/19 as well as one in the cup win over Uerdingen in August.
Bayern, though, seem a step ahead of the rest as far as free-kicks are concerned. It’s hard enough to keep Niko Kovac’s side from scoring from open play, and now more than ever it’s a dangerous time to foul one of their players within shooting range.
David Alaba leads the way for the record champions with nine goals direct from free-kicks, including seven in the Bundesliga. Three of those strikes came within four months in the second half of 2016/17, including one in Bremen on Matchday 18 that helped see off a potential title challenge from RB Leipzig.
Watch: ALL of Alaba's Bundesliga free-kicks!
The Austrian also scored one for his country against Slovenia in March 2018, and the 27-year-old’s most recent successful effort – in a 6-1 victory over Mainz on Matchday 3 – left the keeper rooted to the spot.
“I started working on my free-kicks from a young age,” the Bayern left-back said earlier this year. “Mehmet Scholl was my coach in the reserve team, and he made a lot of time for me. He really helped me refine my technique.”
A week before Alaba’s first goal of 2018/19, Lewandowski had scored a hat-trick in the 3-0 win at Schalke. The prolific Pole got his second goal of that game from 25 yards despite a desperate dive from home netminder Alexander Nübel – and later revealed that he had been deliberately shying away from set-piece duties last season.
“A year and a half ago I had a problem with my patellar tendon [in the knee], so I couldn’t take free-kicks for a year,” he told Munich newspaper TZ after the win in Gelsenkirchen.
Watch: All of Lewandowski's Bundesliga free-kicks so far
The Schalke strike took Lewandowski’s free-kick tally since moving to Germany to six, so it’s little wonder that Bayern were delighted when he extended his contract a few days later.
The four-time Bundesliga top goalscorer’s dead-ball success started with a goal for Dortmund in Berlin on the final day of the 2013/14 campaign. He then got two in a week for Bayern in February 2016, following up a clinching goal at Mainz with the only one at the Allianz Arena as he led his side to a vital group-stage victory over Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League.
In April of that year he nailed another free-kick – this time against his former
team – netting for the 25th time in that campaign as he helped Bayern to a 4-1 win over Dortmund in Munich.
The 31-year-old has been doing it at international level too, scoring four times from dead-ball situations against Montenegro, Armenia and Lithuania ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. His second free-kick goal against Armenia – albeit an indirect one – saw Lewandowski become Poland’s record goalscorer as he smashed home from six-yards on his way to yet another hat-trick.
Watch: The Top 10 Bundesliga free-kicks form 2018/19
Alaba said recently that he has often stayed behind after training along with
Lewandowski to hone their free-kick skills further. This season the pair might well have regular company during those extra sessions.
Following a mixed 18-month spell at Barcelona, Coutinho is looking back to his best in Germany. Given that Lionel Messi was the go-to man for the Catalans from dead-ball range – with Luis Suarez next in line – it’s easy to forget that the latest Brazilian to join Bayern is quite proficient too.
The 27-year-old has eight career goals direct from free-kicks – one for Inter Milan, one on loan at Espanyol, and six for Liverpool. While Alaba can find the corner from almost any range and most of Lewandowski’s attempts have come from closer in, Coutinho is well able to mix it up.
His first successful free-kick for Liverpool – at West Ham in February 2016 – was a shrewd effort passed under the defensive wall from the edge of the penalty area. His next was on the opening day of the 2017/18 English Premier League season, when he arrowed the ball to the top corner from much further out in a memorable 4-3 win at Arsenal.
“I think it was my best one,” he said of that particular peach. “I keep trying.”
The hard work paid off as more free-kick goals followed against Crystal Palace, Middlesbrough and Leicester, before Coutinho showed his creative streak again with another under-the-wall gem against Brighton in December 2017.
Having beaten top international goalkeepers like Petr Cech and Kasper
Schmeichel with some unstoppable shots from free-kicks, Coutinho will be keen to add to his highlights reel for Bayern. His only problem, of course, might be getting the ball out of Alaba or Lewandowski’s hands.