Bayern is closing in at the top with a 5-0 win against Schalke
Germany’s record champions went into the match against Schalke with the confidence of four consecutive victories in their last four games and the knowledge that Schalke’s last win in Munich dates back to 2009. Thanks to Leipzig’s defeat earlier in the afternoon, Bayern could move to within one point of the top. Nevertheless, Schalke, who had been completely remodeled and brushed up in the process by David Wagner, should not be taken lightly.
After just three days of training, coach Flick decided against using Bayern’s new signing Álvaro Odriozola and opted instead for the familiar back four of Alaba and Boateng in central defense and Pavard and Davies as full-backs. In front of them, Kimmich returned to the team in defensive midfield while Coutinho dropped to the bench. Perišić, who had performed well in the last game, was preferred to Gnabry.
On the part of Schalke, Wagner made only a few changes from the 2-0 win against Gladbach. Just like against the “foals”, Gregoritsch was the second striker in a 4-4-2 diamond formation alongside Matondo, while ex-Bayern second team player Alessandro Schöpf started from the bench, the same as Benito Raman. Top scorer Harit returned to the team. In the back four, Nastasić and Kabak played in the centre. The latter had declared publicly during the week that Bayern had been interested in signing him last summer. In goal, Wagner again had to do without Alexander Nübel, Bayern’s recent goalkeeper signing for the summer, who is still out with a red card ban.
After an impressive choreo for Holocaust Memorial Day under the motto “Against Forgetting” and a minute’s silence for former managing director Walter Fembeck, the game began as the anticipated tough test. Schalke pressed Bayern high to disrupt their build-up play early and earned their first goal chance through Serdar as a reward for their efforts after just a few minutes. Then, however, out of nothing Bayern was gifted the 1-0 lead. Goalkeeper Schubert underestimated a cross from Müller and let the ball slip through his hands. Perišić got the ball close to the goal-line and cut it back to the center, where Lewandowski had no difficulties knocking it over the line (5′).
But Schalke was not dismayed and continued as before. Their pressing remained effective and forced Bayern to make mistakes. Neuer could only just parry a shot from Matondo against the crossbar after nine minutes. Only when Bayern managed to play over Schalke’s first wave of pressing, they were able to control the opponent better.
After seventeen minutes, the ball nestled in Schalke’s goal for the second time, but the goal was disallowed for offside by referee Gräfe, and the decision stood after the obligatory VAR check. Müller had deflected a shot from Goretzka over Schubert into the goal. Thus the scoreline remained at 1-0.
As a result of the turn the game had taken, Schalke decided to drop off to a deeper position. Bayern now managed to press the opposition into their own penalty area, but missed to score the probably decisive early 2-0. Schalke remained dangerous with occasional counterattacks against a partly shaky Bayern defense.
With this tactic, Schalke seemed to lull Bayern to sleep a little. And just as the fans started worrying that their team was about to invite their opponents to enjoy an unnecessary comeback in a critical phase, Bayern scored again. To nobody’s big surprise, it was through Lewandowski. But the celebrations were cut short as this goal too was ruled out for offside. This time it was Pavard before his cross to Lewandowski. The VAR correctly took the goal back. The scoreline thus remained at 1-0.
When Schalke seemed to have mentally checked out for half time already, Bayern’s players came up with their best passage of play to score the 2-0. And this time the goal stood. Nastasić could not clear his lines in defense, whereupon Perišić skillfully switched the play across. Goretzka headed the ball towards the center where Müller had moved up and was able to put the ball into the back of the net (45’+2).
Right after the break, Schubert had to clear two ferocious shots from Alaba and Thiago. Yet he was without a chance against the third attempt from Goretzka. After a corner, the former Schalke player set himself up with a header against the back of a Schalke defender before he scored from the rebound with an marvellously executed bicycle kick to make it 3-0 for Bayern (50′).
Schalke’s morale was now broken. After about an hour Kimmich won the ball in midfield and sent Lewandowski on his way with a deep pass. The world-class striker proved his vision and put the ball on to the advancing Thiago, who had an easy tap-in (58′). Shortly after that, the game was over for the Spanish goalscorer. He was replaced by Coutinho.
Bayern remained focused in attack, but without creating a lot of big chances. After 68 minutes Gnabry came for Perišić. With his last change, Flick brought on Tolisso for Goretzka, who had had a strong game. Newcomer Odriozola was thus denied his debut in red and white.
The remaining minutes passed by uneventfully. A knackered Schalke side was now not much more than a sparring partner for Bayern’s free flowing passing game and combinational play. The final goal was scored by Gnabry with a shot from the left edge of the penalty area, which Schubert unluckily directed into his own goal (89′). It was not a good day for Schalke’s young keeper.
It is not surprising that Thiago had his best game of the season when Joshua Kimmich was banned on a fifth yellow card. The match against Schalke showed once again that although there is a certain stability in Bayern’s midfield when both players are on the pitch at the same time, the two are (too) similar.
Strong passing skills, being able to hold their own when pressed, and effective against the ball – these attributes describe both the Spaniard and the German. However, the two are at their best when they can build up the game from a defensive midfield position. As a number eight, Thiago is not able to effect the game to the same extent. As a result, both creative players stand on each other’s toes too often or occupy the same tactical spaces without being available to productively link up with one another.
Especially during the early stages of the match, Kimmich frequently tried to drop between the center-backs to reinvigorate his team’s build-up play. This allowed Thiago to drop back from the eight to his original position in defensive midfield. This pattern could be a key for Bayern in the future. However, for it to take full effect the vertical alignment between the two has to be consistently continued in the middle third.
In the first half alone, Schalke’s goalkeeper Schubert had to get the ball out of his own net four times. On the surface, it seemed that Bayern’s offensive was running apace. Especially in the phase shortly before the break, they appeared hell-bent to score the second goal that the VAR had previously denied them twice.
Nevertheless, the record champions also had phases in the game where they lacked creativity going forward. Without a real winger, Bayern missed the element of surprise in attack. Neither Perišić nor Müller could win a single dribble in halftime one. This was left to the full-backs. Davies in particular stood out here and put Schalke’s defense in constant trouble. He had five successful dribbles.
In their approach play around the penalty area, Bayern relied more heavily on shifts of the play across the pitch. However, these often concluded with unimaginative crosses from no-man’s-land, which became dangerous only courtesy of several very generous presents by Schalke. Because Bayern put more men in the box nowadays than they did under Kovač – Goretzka deserves special mention here – Bayern’s crosses are often more dangerous than under Kovač, but nevertheless rarely led to any real danger in this match.
For the first ten minutes Bayern wobbled against a strongly pressing Schalke side. But after Schubert’s gift, which resulted in the lead, the defending champions never looked back. The sheer desire with which they pressed for the 2-0 before the break was impressive to see. In similar situations earlier in the season, the team sometimes felt as though their minds had already been on their way to the tunnel.
But what the record champions showed in the second half was even more impressive. At no point was Schalke given a shred of hope. Whereas last season Bayern often seemingly was unable to close out a game like this, they now presented themselves in a thoroughly superior manner. They attacked Schalke’s goal tirelessly and did not let up after their early lead.
While the competition from Leipzig is struggling, coach Flick seems to have rekindled the team’s faith in itself and their ability to win the title. Next weekend will see the top match between Gladbach and Leipzig. It may be the first chance for Bayern to take the lead in the standings…