We are finally at the point of the season where we can start to look at past performances and see trends emerging for teams and players alike. Dortmund appears to have shaken off the 2014-15 Klopp-funk and re-emerged as one of the top teams in European football. Bayern continue to win over and over. Gladbach's head coach, Lucien Favre, has stepped down after losing their first five Bundesliga matches and losing their European opener.
Bayern has had a few rocky games, benefited from luck, and flat dominated their opponents at different points so far this season. So, while their record has them in second behind Dortmund, only trailing due to goal differential, they might be a more curious team thanks to their lack of convincing form so far this season.
Hardly could there have been a better slump-buster for Bayern than the newly promoted Darmstadt. Fortunate to have broken into the top flight this season, their story like that of a true sporting underdog. Darmstadt was plying their trade in the fourth division of German football just five years ago. The odds of making it from the fourth division into the 1 Bundesliga in such a short time are slim to none. Unless you have some sort of crazy money infused into your team via major abuse of the 50+1 ownership rules that are meant to prevent corporate sponsors taking over a team altogether. Looking at you, Red Bull Leipzig.
Being promoted from the Regionalliga Sud to the third division, Darmstadt broke into the 2 Bundesliga only because the team that finished ahead of them went into administration (similar to bankruptcy) due to financial mismanagement. As a penalty, they were not promoted and Darmstadt took their place. Incredibly, the newly promoted side went straight to the top of 2 Bundesliga, finishing second - good enough to guarantee promotion to 1 Bundesliga, the highest level of soccer competition in Germany.
After that crazy run, Darmstadt continued to impress through their first four games in the top division. Aftering drawing their first three matches, Darmstadt picked up their first Bundesliga win of the season - their first Bundesliga season in 33 years. Could they build on that momentum against a Bayern side that required some serious luck to pull out wins against lesser opponents in Hoffenheim and FC Augsburg? No.
I could have tried to hold on to the suspense, but we know that Bayern was always going to win this match, even if it was going to require a late penalty or some really painful, drawn out possession domination without any real threat on goal, eventually forcing one into the net against the minnows of Darmstadt.
Bayern made a few changes to their lineup, resting a few players who normally fall under the category of indispensable. A lucky break for Bayern on this matchday, playing against a team they were heavily favored to beat. The German Englische Woche approaches, a time when the German clubs are forced to take on a practice that is common in England, though no so in Germany, by playing three games in the space of a single week, adding a mid-week league match into the normal schedule of games on Fridays/Saturdays/Sundays.
The rotation in the squad could be viewed as both good and bad, depending on your perspective. Guardiola's modern adaptation of a system that was employed by Johan Cruyff, a famous coach whom Guardiola played under at Barcelona, shows you a 4-1-4-1 at the start, particularly with players being plugged into holes where needed and maybe out of position - Alaba is not a centerback, Goetze is not a pure striker to be played alone up top. But, fluidity is paramount because it creates endless possibilities and combinations - you don't know where the real threat of the attack is. Alaba is a capable and dangerous offensive player, Vidal, who scored a brilliant opener in this match, also commits to crunching tackles as a defensive midfielder.
With the short rest week before a Tuesday tilt with title contender Wolfsburg, Guardiola left team captain Philip Lahm on the bench, along with the league's joint goal-scoring leader Thomas Muller and Xabi Alonso. Lewandowski was left out of the squad altogether due to an light injury picked up against Olympiacos in their Champions League matchup. Taking their place in the starting eleven were Sebastian Rode, Kingsley Coman - making his first start as a Bayern player, and Joshua Kimmich.
Speaking to fluidity and starting out of place in a non-fixed formation, Joshua Kimmich was the '1' pivot in the 4-1-4-1 at the start, with Vidal and Rode playing central midfielder positions ahead of Kimmich. In a normal universe, either player would be better suited playing deeper while Kimmich would be a more central/forward player in comparison. Fluidity.
A real pattern is starting to emerge for Bayern, not only do that continue to pass their opponents to death, but they remain more patient and less lethal in straightforward attacks. The long ball has also founds its way into the Bayern game plan, somewhat comically as it actually has worked a few times this year to break down the defenses they are facing.
Not to be down on Kimmich, but the two standouts of this match as time wore on were the other new additions to the starting side, Rode and Coman. The two players scored in consecutive minutes in the second half to guarantee the victory for Bayern. Coman scoring first, on a great take on by Rode, beating his defender down the line and then centering the ball for Coman to tee off, tucking the ball into the lower left corner of the net under great control. A minute later, it was Rode coming down the right wing again, this time he followed his own shot the bounced back to him from the inside of the post, to tap it home.
Rode found his way to many hard tackles, giving me a flashbacks to the great days we used to have with the recently departed Bastian Schweinsteiger. I was definitely overreacting as one is a generational talent and the other is still trying to emerge from the reserves as a key piece of the Bayern present and future.
I'm intrigued to see what is next for Coman. A highly regarded youngster with boatloads of talent, but still not close to the finished product. His goal showed great poise and skill. Hopefully, a sign of things to come.
Costa has been a bit quiet of late, after wowing to open the season. His workrate is still very high and he continues to be a very important piece of the Bayern puzzle, particularly due to the current absence of both Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben.
And congrats to Arturo Vidal! Vidal scored his first goal as a Bayern player to open the scoring against Darmstadt on Saturday. And his goal was a fantastic strike, off the bounce, curling the ball away from the keeping and off the inside of the post from the edge of the box. A goal worth watching more than once.
Next up, Bayern play Wolfsburg tomorrow. One of the biggest matchups of the early season between two sides who figure to compete for the top three spots in the league this season.
by Daniel Coughlin (@xvanwilderx)