Bayern was on the road over the weekend, visiting the determined and physical side of Mainz, and while the contest was a test of both teams and their commitment to their game plans, it was Robert Lewandowski who kept it 100 (and 101) to help Bayern secure a seventh win in seven matches as the perfect start to the 2015-16 season continues for Bayern.
It's another short week for European football, the Champions League is back at it mid-week and Bayern has a match on Tuesday. As such, the squad rotation was on for Guardiola yet again. While this squad isn't necessarily as deep as in some season of the past, there is still real quality in players available for selection. The addition of Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman look absolutely brilliant right about now, given the unavailable status of both Ribery and Robben for not the first, second, third, fourth or fifth time in the last couple of seasons.
The constant change theme continues for Bayern, both in squad rotation of starters and in the formations that are implemented using said players. It's actually kind of brilliant and enjoyable. While we have said over and over that Bayern formations are more fluid and apt to change, given the versatility at the disposal of Pep, it remains true as the opening formation was 4-2-3-1. A bit of a throwback to the not-so-distant glory days of Jupp Heynckes.
Douglas Costa moved from right wing to left wing, replacing Mario Gotze who went to the bench, and Kingsley Coman got the start on the right side. A nice little flip of their system that puts players better suited to the positions into the equation. Regardless of formation, I remain unconvinced that Gotze is the best option to be playing wide anywhere. A creative and talented young player with great ability, has always seemed better trying to create in a more central role. But, I'm not a scout or a tactician so what do I really know?
After his massive explosion off of the bench, setting all kinds of record in scoring five goals in a span of less than 10 minutes, Robert Lewandowski returned to a starting position, supported by Thomas Muller.
There were many things to note in this matchup, particularly the relationship between Bayern's possession-based approach and the high-effort, aggressive pressing of Mainz. The contest was really about who could withstand the other longer.
It was a particularly physical first half, mostly on the part of Mainz, though Bayern began to respond as the match got going. There were some sites that criticized the lack of a Bayern midfield, but I didn't see it that way. Where there may have been a case of accusation of a lack, I saw it as a fantastic display of calm under pressure. Bayern able to maintain possession while being under the gun was a major victory. The struggles against the gegenpressing scheme over the past few years really confounded Bayern when taking on other clubs of fantastic quality, such as Dortmund. Here, Bayern appeared able to deal with defenders who came sprinting and crashing.
There were all kinds of little hiccups along the way, but mostly that wasn't midfield disaster, but more about the kind of things we are used to seeing. Which brings a chance to mention a favorite - Neuer doing Neuer things. Only 10 minutes into the match, Neuer made a rather risky venture out of his box in the midst of both teammates and the opposing squad. Fortunate, yet again, the ball never made it to the back of the net and was never particularly close to it, unlike the Wolfsburg match.
A not-so-fun first half surprise: Muller missed a penalty! And it wasn't saved, he straight sent the ball out of the park all on his own. Really cheeky of him to immediately look to the turf as if it had caused him to slip and miss. No, no, no, Mr. Muller. And despite his hot start this season, that was as close to scoring a goal that he came all day. Must be due to Oktoberfest.
The first half ended scoreless, but Mainz was begin to show fatigue due to their high intensity pressuring of the ball for almost the entire first half. Ultimately, Bayern was able to absorb their pressure and still control most of the match. A few big saves, the biggest being a tip of a wicked Costa shot from the left wing, helped Mainz stay even. But, their failure to score a goal of their own meant that they were going to tire and still be on level ground, not having the luxury of a goal to fall back on while having to revert to a more conservative approach in the later stages of the match.
Bayern had some great and not great formation and tactic situations play out over the course of the first hour that really stood out. Their addition of the longball as a release valve against high pressure looks great. The used it great effect earlier this season and again today, they were able to use it pick out Costa on some runs. That they can connect on these, even when not scoring off of them, relieves the pressure and changes the run of play into a more favorable position. Good to see that they can exploit that.
The not great aspect of Bayern's play comes from trying to employ give-and-go type interactions with players not named Franck Ribery or Arjen Robben. Those two players have an special ability to somehow use blinding speed and fantastic footwork to blow by defenders by taking them head on in tight quarters. Trying to employ the same approach with more traditional talented wingers tends to just slow down the Bayern attack and rarely produces chances. When Mainz tired and was still pressing, Bayern was finding loads of free space in the middle of the field and that is when they looked at their strongest. This was also something they did extremely well under Heynckes and helped them win the treble. Either the team is evolving or Guardiola is realizing that his preferred tactics are wasting a window for Bayern to hoist another Champions League trophy before the powers in England and Italy regain their form.
The first goal of the match came from Lewandowski, a great header from a Coman cross, but just inside the far post. Great run of play from both players. Coman really had a coming out game. Getting the assist on Lewandowski's 100th Bundesliga goal, he has done so at a pace faster than any other foreign player in the league's history.
He struck again, securing the brace, 13 minutes later. Some play in the open field resulted in Alonso hitting Vidal who slid the ball forward to Lewandowski who was just barely onside and basically unmarked in the center of the box, defenders being pulled forward to Vidal. He went around the keeper and scored his 10th goal of the season. With that goal, he reached 10 goals in seven games, only Gerd Muller has also done that and he is the greatest German striker of all time.
Kingsley Coman finished off a fantastic match by netting his first goal for the Reds. Costa escaped down the left wing and sent a low cross across the turf, beyond the reach of goalkeeper and defender, onto the side foot of Coman who calmly sent it into the back of the net, 3-0.
Bayern is rolling on their form right now and are set to host Dinamo Zagreb mid-week in the Champions League, I'd have to assume they will continue their form and win big, check back for a report on that match later this week.
by Daniel Coughlin (@xvanwilderx)