Bayern Munich – Schalke 04: Bayern Assert Total Control After Benefitting From Schalke’s Mistakes (3-1)
Bayern Munich dominated this match from start to finish, even though Schalke made them work for all three points, for some parts of the game at least. However, individual mistakes cost the away side dearly, as they were unable to truly make Bayern worry that they would drop points in this encounter.
Tactical analysis and match report by Carl Carpenter.
To say that for both Bayern Munich and Schalke 04 this season has been a disappointment would be an understatement. Last season’s second place earned Schalke Champions League qualification and manager Domenico Tedesco plaudits for revitalizing the club. Schalke probably expected to be way above the twelfth place they currently reside in.
At Bayern Munich, of course, nothing less than first in the table is acceptable. Niko Kovač has faced stiff criticism for Bayern’s uncharacteristically patchy and poor form, resulting in them trailing Dortmund in the league. Despite all this, Bayern versus Schalke has always been an important and highly anticipated fixture thanks to the stature of both clubs. And in this case, both from a points and perception perspective, the two clubs badly needed a positive result.
Considering the importance of Champions League fixtures for both clubs next week, it would have been no surprise to see a number of changes with this in mind. However, thanks to the shock of Dortmund throwing away a 3-0 lead earlier in the day, the decision of both Kovač and Tedesco to play close to full strength line-ups was a good one. For Bayern, there was one major surprise. Despite the red-hot form of Niklas Süle, the young German international was not given his chance to impress from the start, as Mats Hummels was given the nod.
Formation-wise, Bayern began the match in a 4-3-3 shape, with Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry operating the wide positions. Thiago Alcántara operated as the deepest midfielder, with James Rodríguez and Leon Goretzka (playing against his former club) given license to roam and bomb forward. Manuel Neuer, despite capable of playing, was not risked ahead of the Champions League and was given the day off.
Facing the considerable threat of Bayern’s attack away from home in the Allianz Arena, Tedesco opted to pack the midfield. The end-goal of such team selection of course being to stifle the Bavarians. In a 4-2-3-1 shape, Rudy was selected alongside rising star Weston McKennie; both players possess considerable bite and ground coverage. McKennie provides a somewhat more cultured ability in possession, too.
Eyebrows were raised at Nabil Bentaleb’s positioning in the role underneath the striker. Nominally a player employed in a deeper position, Bentaleb had an important role in linking up play between the rest of the midfield and the lone striker, young Ahmed Kutucu. Defensively, it also served a purpose as well the Algerian midfielder capable of solidifying the center of the park, when Schalke were on the back foot.
Bayern start on the front foot, Schalke struggle to gain a foothold
Perhaps buoyed by the result in Dortmund hours before, Bayern immediately went for Schalke’s throat. Whether it be attacking from wide and fullbacks David Alaba and Joshua Kimmich overlapping to create overloads, When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team.or right at the gut of Schalke; Bayern were very much the protagonists from the off.
The way Schalke tried to hold Bayern up.
To break down the distinct lines of pressure Schalke employed, most of the home team’s build-up play to brake pressure and finds players on the half turn in pockets of space came through Boateng. While his defensive astuteness may have dropped off in recent seasons, his skill with the ball at his feet should never be doubted.
The primary recipient of these passes was number ten James, who was able to slip in between markers and combine. From here Bayern were able to threaten; whether it be through one-versus-one scenarios with Coman and Gnabry, or more central play with Lewandowski at its heart. The opening goal came from this, as early as the eleventh minute. While it was a bit fortunate – or unfortunate for Jeffrey Bruma as the case may be – there is no doubting that the ball which was slipped in from the Colombian midfielder to Robert Lewandowksi was a thing of beauty. Bruma was only able to deflect the ball past his goalkeeper Ralf Fährmann.
Seemingly shocked by the strategy of their opponents, Schalke’s base shape was being stretched and bent out of shape, which offered up a lot of space for Bayern. In addition to their defensive woes, Schalke also panicked when they regained possession, and simply gave the ball back to the home side too often. Such was the lack of threat Bayern felt in behind their defense, that Jérôme Boateng and Hummels positioned themselves in the other half for the majority of the early exchanges. Schalke needed to change something, and fast, or they would leave the Allianz Arena with their tails between their legs.
Increased calm hands Schalke an equalizer, but more individual errors cost them
It was inevitable that, despite their troubles, Schalke would gain some more of foothold in the match. While they still heavily relied on sitting deep and soaking up pressure, they became more of a threat with direct passes to Kutucu up front. Sebastian Rudy’s substitution in the 33rd minute – because of an injury – aided Schalke’s midfield in retaining possession against Bayern’s relentless pressure.
Schalke grew into the game from an organizational standpoint. Sitting deep in their 4-4-2 shape (Bentaleb joining Kutucu to up front), Schalke aimed to make things uncomfortable for Bayern, and catch them on the break. While this was the strategy throughout, after about ten minutes it looked like they would be blown away thanks to their inability to retain possession, or properly pick out chances for counters.
While going a goal down was obviously a blow, Schalke remained resolute and were rewarded for their efforts through McKennie’s ability. Twenty-five minutes in, Schalke broke well and the young American picked out Kutucu to finish. Unfortunately, with whatever has gone positively for Die Königsblauen this season, they have often been dealt a blow immediately afterwards, and this was the case again. A poor pass in their own defensive third, If you divide the pitch in three horizontal zones, the defensive third is the area closest to a team’s own goal. combined with a slip from Rudy (his last action before being brought off) allowed Lewandowski again to easily stroke the ball into the net. It was the last thing they needed going into the break at half-time.
Bayern gain a stranglehold, Schalke without answers despite best efforts
Tactically, the second half required little adjustment from Bayern Munich. While their pace of play was not nearly as cutthroat and direct as the first half – primarily thanks to Schalke’s increased resolve around their penalty area) – they manipulated possession as it suited them and created a number of quality chances.
Schalke changed little in strategy as well, looking threatening again in quick transitional moments and exposing the disconnect between Hummels and Boateng with the fullbacks caught high up the pitch, which was a big problem for Bayern earlier in the season.
While these were worrisome to say the least, despite Schalke’s effort and fight to make the game level again, a lack of quality in the last part of the pitch left them shorthanded. Amin Harit, a more offensive minded player, was brought on to try and create more play in Sven Ulreich’s goal, but without majorly threatening Schalke’s goal with sustained possession around the box, it did little to change the tide. Now, it would be untrue to say that Schalke did not make Bayern work for the result. Ulreich was made to work on a few occasions, but once Gnabry scored the third goal, Schalke always faced an uphill task. In the end they would be unable to further break the resistance.
Schalke will not be downtrodden at losing away at the Allianz Arena; few teams come to Munich and leave with all three points. However, they will be upset at the manner of the defeat. Tedesco’s decision to set the team up on the counterattack was undoubtedly the correct one, but combined with a poor opening stanza of the match and individual mistakes costing them goals it was all for naught.
In terms of mentality as well, the 4-2-3-1 shape provided stability for Schalke but they often sat far too deep to have an effect as an attacking threat. Bayern have shown this season that they are prone to conceding goals; pressing higher up the pitch (even marginally) and winning the ball fifteen yards up the pitch would have set them up for more success.
Bayern’s victory will no doubt give them the confidence to continue their run at displacing Borussia Dortmund atop the league. Despite this positivity, they still face a number of issues. Primarily, how does Kovač want his team to play? Many times, this season Bayern have tried to perform at 100 miles per hour in attack, devastating the opponents. However, when they operated at a more measured speed probing and finding openings in the opponent’s armor they were much more threatening. With players like James, Thiago, Boateng, Kimmich, etc. this suits the make-up of the squad much more. Combine this with the one-versus-one ability of young players like Gnabry and Coman to speed up the play when required, and Bayern might have found their best style of play for success.
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