January 24, 2014 by backofthenetjl
After the mid-season break, the Bundesliga made a long-awaited return this weekend, as on Friday night league-leaders Bayern Munich travelled to Borussia Park for their fixture with the impressive Borussia Monchengladbach, whose home form has been excellent this term. In all truthfulness, when the mighty Bayern Munich are in town, you are always in for a difficult game; a difficult game is what the home side got. Despite a reasonably good performance which perhaps would have seen them pick up a result against a lesser side, goals from Mario Gotze and Thomas Muller condemned Lucien Favre’s side to a 2-0 defeat.
Here I’ve decided to offer some thoughts/analysis on the game.
Bayern set the tempo of the game relatively early on in the game, shifting the ball around as they normally do. Before his well-taken goal, Gotze had a great chance to open the scoring, when his exquisite piece of skill led to him being in on goal, yet he failed to hit the target; dragging his shot wide. With Mario Mandzukic absent from the squad due to poor performances in training, Gotze had an important duty of leading the line, in the false nine roles which he has taken on so well. As hard as Mandzukic works on the pitch and his threat in the area, Gotze is arguably more effective and contributes more with Bayern’s play; which is the way in which Guardiola wants his focal point of the attack. In all fairness, the move proved to be a shrewd one as Gotze led the line superbly and linked up with the likes of Muller, Shaqiri and co excellently.
Moreover, Philipp Lahm was a key figure in the Bayern side as per usual, slotting into a now more familiar role in the midfield, alongside Thiago and Toni Kroos. The midfield trio were a main factor in Bayern’s triumph, particularly the skipper Lahm.
Lahm has always had a clear talent on the ball, even when used at full-back. This was demonstrated again tonight as he kept Bayern ticking throughout the game; looking unbelievably comfortable on the ball. The image above is a typical example of this. We can clearly see that Lahm is playing what we could consider to be a simple pass, however because this was such a regular occurrence, it killed of Gladbach’s pressing, with Raffael who usually operates behind the striker finding it difficult to nullify his presence. With Lahm such a tremendous recycler of possession, it granted the more creative and inventive players in Kroos and Thiago to take up more advanced positions – which I will discuss further into the piece.
Here we see from the opening goal, Muller makes a brilliant run to get in behind the Gladbach back-line, and by doing so, it means Wendt follows him. This then leads to Dominguez/Stranzl retreating to minimise the space Muller has to work in; yet Muller cleverly cuts the ball back in for Gotze to slot home. Because the defenders are drawn to the ball and Gotze drops off, it gives Gotze a good deal of space to operate in and they ultimately pay the price. A simple move, but one that is executed extremely well.
Aside from Philipp Lahm putting in a customary performance for the Bavarians; his midfield partners Thiago and Kroos offered valuable assistance in the middle of the park. Such a dynamic and versatile trio troubled Gladbach massively, as they were unable to cut out the supply to the front-three. Although you would expect Thiago and Kroos to occupy positions ahead of Lahm, often one would be alongside him; this enabled either of the two to conduct the play and carve out attacks.
The image above is an example of the aforementioned point. In this case, Toni Kroos is the player who drops deep to collect the ball. We can already see from his body-positioning that he is looking to play the ball forward into space, where he knows the likes of Thiago and Shaqiri will appear. While Kroos resided in deeper positions, Thiago found space in between the lines, and when the two inter-changed (which they did quite frequently), the same pattern continued. Had this not happened so regularly, Bayern would not have been able to orchestrate attacks in the manner which they did, and there wouldn’t been as much space to work in and exploit.
In the first half, Die Fohlen struggled to find the right rhythm in their play, at times finding it difficult to get the ball down and passing the ball around to get the best out of players like Xhaka; who is at his most effective with the ball at his feet. Even though the first-half display wasn’t too substandard, it was no suprise that Gladbach put Bayern under more pressure when they passed the ball around better in the latter stages. Xhaka was able to get on the ball a bit more, meaning Raffael and Arango were more involved and more prominent. Below is a typical model of this, where Xhaka took up a position in-between the two centre-backs (see my article on Xhaka here). It was just unfortunate that none of this resulted in Gladbach pulling a goal-back, despite a few decent chances.
In conclusion, the game was quite a fascinating one; featuring two sides have been in good form and possess some devastating players. Bayern’s overloading of the midfield, accompanied with the constant switching between Gotze, Muller and Shaqiri proved dividends as Bayern became the first side in the Bundesliga to win 15 of their 17 opening league games. As for Gladbach, they can take pride knowing that only conceding two (one of which was a penalty) against a side with so many dangerous players who are capable of racking up goals with ease. The Bundesliga has returned in positive fashion, so have Bayern Munich.
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