In case you missed it:
Guardiola made only one change to the lineup that we saw against Hamburg, replacing Robert Lewandowski with Mario Götze. The formation however was a completely different one, a 3-5-2 system that resembled a 3-3-4 in possession. David Alaba started as a left half-back, Philipp Lahm on the other hand moved to defensive midfield to support Xabi Alonso. Hoffenheim coach Markus Gisdol went for the same starting eleven as he did on matchday one.
Prior to the match, Matthias Sammer warned that it could be a very difficult match due to the heat and the offensive-minded opponent who wasn’t willing to sit back and hide. Some players appeared to have missed or ignored that warning. Alaba played a wayward square pass to Boateng and Hoffenheim forward Kevin Volland reacted quickly and, with the first touch of the ball, made it 1-0 for the hosts after 9.3 seconds. It only added to the absurdity of the moment that Manuel Neuer slipped a little before attempting to stop the ball.
Pep Guardiola chose a 3-3-4 formation.
Trying to recover from such an early shock, Bayern attempted to stay calm and execute the initial game plan. Robben, Müller, Götze and Costa were positioned high up the pitch. The latter wasted two early scoring chances in minutes 8 and 12 that were created by fast diagonal plays. As they had announced beforehand, Hoffenheim executed high pressing with Volland, Kuranyi and Schmid up front. Bayern were the far superior team but not accurate enough to take advantage. TSG keeper Baumann stopped a Müller header in minute 33 and saw the same player hit the post just a minute later. To make matters worse, Medhi Benatia once again had to be subbed off with a thigh injury. Rafinha was brought on to take his spot in the back-three.
Shortly before the halftime break, Costa initiated the equalizer with his best move of the half when he took a shot at full speed. Baumann allowed a bad rebound that Thomas Müller naturally took advantage of and slotted into an open net. A much deserved goal for Bayern.
The second half didn’t start as spectacularly – at least partially due to Hoffenheim retreating more and more. Costa and Vidal wasted the biggest scoring chances. When Guardiola replaced captain Lahm with Robert Lewandowski, the message was clear – attack and get those three points. Minutes later and completely out of nowhere, Hoffenheim should’ve taken the lead. A Rafinha turnover led to a free kick (and a booking for Boateng). Said free kick, delivered by Sebastian Rudy, was blocked by Boateng’s hand, leading to a sending-off (Boateng’s second yellow) and a penalty kick for the hosts. Polanski only hit the post and Manuel Neuer was very lucky that the ball didn’t hit his back but his leg, allowing the ball to be cleared. Bayern had to play the final 20 minutes without any centerback. Xabi Alonso moved back to defense.
From then on, it was all a mess. The wild closing phase saw Bayern waste several huge chances and furthermore included lots of yellow cards and injury breaks. Within a few seconds, Lewandowski and Müller wasted four massive scoring chances in the 88th minute. Shortly after, they finally got it done. Douglas Costa, dribbling past several opponents down the right wing, passed the ball inside the box, Mario Götze’s slight deflection brought it right to Robert Lewandowski who managed to score the late winner.
This was a very important win for Bayern in a match that could’ve ended 1-1 or 1-2 despite the team’s dominance. They rewarded themselves for not giving up and accepting the draw but going for the win despite being shorthanded. The Bavarian’s squad depth once again proved to be valuable, as Guardiola was able to influence the match with his substitutions, after all he brought on the scorer of the decisive goal. All in all, this was a victory that’s as hard-fought as it is dearly bought (Boateng’s sending-off and Benatia’s injury).
Three things we noticed:
1. Bayern’s different positional play
Despite a completely different formation compared to the one against Hamburg, Bayern’s positional play looked unlike the one of last season. When in possession, the four attacking players Costa, Götze, Müller and Robben moved high up the pitch, leaving the midfield to Alonso and Lahm. Douglas Costa in particular provided lots of depth and tore the Hoffenheim defense apart, being positioned at the left sideline. Vidal provided many diagonal runs from the left to the center. Due to Bayern’s high and wide positioning, the Hoffenheim defense was continuously forced to make a decision: block the passing path down the center and isolate Götze and Müller, or be more widespread to stop Costa and Robben from receiving the ball with lots of space. Their own high positioning in pressing phases made it impossible to do both. Most of the time, Hoffenheim decided to defend the passes down the middle.
It was pretty much exactly this pattern that led to the 1-1, when Costa was all by himself on the wing, receiving a lovely diagonal pass from Alonso. Costa had time and space to pick up pace and dribble past his opponent, taking a shot on target. Müller converted the rebound. This move happened several times but the Brazilian often failed to take advantage of those opportunities by being too overhasty or inaccurate. Guardiola’s great plan was impaired by bad execution. In the second half, most of the structure was gone.
In the first 50-60 minutes, it was obvious how Bayern tried to skip the midfield, getting the ball directly to the attacking zones instead, either through the center to Götze and Müller or over the flanks as mentioned. This visualized the changes to Bayern’s positional play and build-up which are no longer as complex and patient as they used to be, often leading to a siege of the opponent’s box. The match against Hoffenheim showed how effective this new direction can be against pressing teams – if executed correctly. A pleasant side effect: Xabi Alonso receives more support in build-up and is no longer such a big target for the opposing waves of pressing.
2. Brownie points for Götze
For Mario Götze, this was a big opportunity to prove that he belongs in the starting lineup. He didn’t convince completely, as he was invisible far too often. Nevertheless, he showed some good signs. It took the 23-year-old a long time to get into the match and his stride. Guardiola put him in a central attacking position to have an option that’s more flexible and technically capable than Lewandowski. Götze wasn’t really a part of the match for a long time until he gained some confidence early in the second half. His dribbling in the 52nd minute was particularly pleasant, as he went past three opponents and created a decent scoring chance for Costa. However, it’s a bit worrying that he was the only offensive-minded player to finish the match without a shot on target. Still, Götze looked more and more relieved as the match went on.
After Boateng was sent off, Götze had to move back in the midfield a bit, a change that helped his game quite a bit. From minute 70 on, he often carried the ball through the Hoffenheim midfield, causing them quite a few headaches. It’s no coincidence that he was kind of involved in the winning goal, (intentionally or unintentionally) deflecting Costa’s pass right to Lewandowski. Guardiola should take a close look at the closing minutes as it was really obvious how much better Götze looked in a central midfield role. His efforts didn’t go unnoticed as Götze covered the biggest distance of anyone on his team (11,75km).
It’s still debatable if his performance was enough to turn him into a serious candidate for the starting lineup. Götze will receive further chances. The benchmark is that he needs to be a player who visibly improves the team. In that regard, the last 20 minutes against Hoffenheim were a step forward.
3. Children of sorrow
Despite the successful start with a perfect record after two matches, there are several Bayern players who are a cause for concern. Medhi Benatia’s latest muscle injury could be a huge setback, depending on the severity. Since Boateng will be banned against Leverkusen, Guardiola will have to improvise in central defense. A back-three of Alonso, Alaba and Rafinha doesn’t look like a sustainable solution. Dante might be the only centerback available and his current form is questionable at best.
It’s a similar case for Thiago whose current role seems to be a bit undefined. Guardiola’s tactical changes have made the central midfield area a bit less valuable and the Spanish sensation hasn’t exactly looked explosive lately. Some minor injuries set him back the last few weeks. Right now, it’s difficult to predict who will be dropped for him. Lahm might be the first player to come to mind but it’s highly unlikely that Guardiola would bench his captain. Vidal has already become close to irreplaceable with his tackling skills (17 tackles won).
Arjen Robben hasn’t been convincing either. Compared to Douglas Costa who’s involved in many scoring chances, Robben looks weirdly off. Against Hoffenheim, he wasn’t played in such a central role as he was against Hamburg, something that should help his game. Nevertheless, Robben didn’t win a single dribble and was involved in only two shots. Compare this with Thomas Müller who was involved in twelve(!) shots or Costa who was involved in six shots and furthermore had five successful dribbles. Robben didn’t look like his usual self and wasn’t much of a threat. He deserved to be subbed off.
The squad depth makes it possible to give struggling players some rest. That being said, it also raises questions. Guardiola has to decide whether to help players like Robben or Thiago get back into stride or to field the most in-form players. This much is clear: some players need to improve again.
|TSG Hoffenheim – FC Bayern München 1-2 (1-1)|
|Hoffenheim||Baumann – Kaderabek, Schär, Süle, Kim – Schwegler, Schmid (64. Rudy), Polanski, Zuber – Volland, Kuranyi (69. Uth)|
|Subs||Grahl – Strobl, Toljan, Ochs|
|FC Bayern||Neuer – Benatia (38. Rafinha), Boateng, Alaba – Xabi Alonso, Lahm (67. Lewandowski) – Vidal – Robben (59. Thiago), Müller, Götze, Douglas Costa|
|Subs||Ulreich, Dante, Bernat, Rode|
|Goals||1-0 (1.) Volland, 1-1 (41.) Müller, 1-2 (90.) Lewandowski|
|Cards||Yellow: Schwegler, Kim, Polanski / Rafinha, Müller – Second bookable offense: Boateng|