Schalke suffocated by possession in a 0-1 Bayern away win
A cup night. FC Schalke against FC Bayern. What often used to be a fiercely contested match in the past has been a rather one-sided affair this season. With 3-0 and 5-0 wins in both league fixtures, Bayern clearly had the better of the men in royal blue this season.
Compared to the match against his former club Hoffenheim last weekend, Bayern coach Hansi Flick changed his team in two positions. Goretzka and Tolisso returned to the starting eleven for Boateng and last week’s goal scorer Zirkzee. The two made up Bayern’s midfield along with Thiago. Kimmich played at center-back for the first time in a long while, as Boateng was out with an illness and Hernández was injured. Interestingly, Pavard remained in the right-back position. Coutinho, Müller and Gnabry formed the attacking trident with Müller in the center, Coutinho on the left and Gnabry on the right.
Bayern’s bench was made up mostly of players from the Bayern reserves besides the newly recoverd Martínez and winter arrival Odriozola. And so with Dajaku and Batista-Meier two players were on the bench who are due to help Bayern’s U19 win the game against Dinamo Zagreb in the UEFA Youth League this Wednesday.
On Schalke’s part, coach David Wagner decided make extensive changes to his team. Kabak, Harit, Gregoritsch, and Raman had to make due with a place on the bench. The most prominent change was in goal. Here, Schubert replaced his team’s former regular number one Alexander Nübel, whose recent string of errors has lead to several avoidable goals in recent matches. As is well known, the youth international will move to Bayern in the summer and it seems entirely possible that he will not play another game for Schalke before then.
The first chance of the game belonged to the home team, but former Bayern player Alessandro Schöpf’s curled shot from distance went just past the right post.
Schalke played a very low 5-4-1 block and managed to draw Bayern very high upfield. By doubling up in defending the wide positions, they managed to pull the sting out of especially Davies’s customary high tempo sprints down the flanks. At the same time, they remained dangerous on counterattacks, frequently managing to play over Bayern’s high press. The biggest chance for Schalke came when Weston McKennie managed to put a high cross to Burgstaller in the penalty area, but Burgstaller’s artistic attempt only hit the crossbar.
From a similar situation a little later, Schalke even scored a goal which was rightly called back for offside. Matondo charged down on Bayern’s unorganized back line at pace and managed to put the ball on to Burgstaller, who knocked it in. But the striker was half a meter offside.
Bayern’s only chances up to this point came from rebounds from blocked shots. Two of these chances fell to Pavard and Müller, whose strikes from distance were saved by Schubert, however. It seemed fitting that Bayern’s best chance would come from a header by Schalke’s Todibo on his own goal, which Schubert could keep out with a brilliant save.
The elementnof chance was Bayern’s best playmaker on the night. It played a vital role, for example, in bringing about their opening goal: Schalke’s defense cleared a corner from Coutinho right into the feet of Kimmich, who struck the ball towards goal with a drop-kick from sixteen metres. His shot went through and past several of Schalke’s players into the back of the net (40′). With a 1-0 lead in the bag, a sobering first half for Bayern came to an end.
Both teams returned to the pitch unchanged. The game too continued in much the same vein as before the interval. Bayern had the overwhelming share of possession, but were not able to create a real threat on Schalke’s goal. Only a few intermittent corners lead to a modicum of goal threat. Although Schalke were mainly harmless, Bayern’s one goal lead was anything but comfortable.
After an hour Coutinho hit the crossbar with a spectacular strike from distance. By quite some margin, this shot was the best scene of the second half up to this point. Wagner reacted first and brought on Raman for Boujellab to strengthen his team’s attack. One minute later the substitute had a huge chance to level the score. Once again Matondo escaped Bayern’s defense and squared the ball to Raman in the center. Raman, however, incredibly missed out on what was a sitter from five metres. Thiago had been able to put the striker off at the last second despite sliding past the incoming ball.
The game became a bit more intense now. Bayern’s players now knew that they should put the game to bed as soon as possible. Gnabry and Müller each had a good chance to do so within a short period. The highlight certainly was a bicycle kick by Goretzka, which looked spectacular but was placed too high.
While time was running out for Schalke, Wagner brought Kutucu for his hitherto most dangerous player Matondo. On the part of Bayern, Zirkzee replaced Tolisso who had had a torrid night. This led to Müller dropping back into midfield. With their final change, Wagner brought on Gregoritsch to get the attack going. But the Austrian too was not able to turn around the fortunes of his team in attack.
At the end of an uneventful game, the final scoreline showed a dull 0-1 away win. Thanks to this, the record-holding champions will advance to the semi-finals of the DFB-Pokal. The logic behind Wagner’s plan for the match, which saw his team relying on counterattacks even as late as the 85th minute while being a goal down, did not become quite clear even after the final whistle. Well, Bayern will have been fine with that. The semi-finals will be played on 21/22 April.
The lineup with Tolisso and Goretzka starting might have been a small surprise to some at first glance. In the past, these two players had often been deemed incompatible to play alongside each other, as they boast a very similar playing style and skill set. After a few minutes, however, the plan that Flick had come up with became obvious on the pitch.
Without his main man in attack Lewandowski and youngster Zirkzee, the two attacking midfielders were meant to support Müller in the center-forward role. Or even replace him when the famous “raumdeuter” went on one of his runs. When Bayern switched the play out to the flanks, both players were obviously also supposed to push up into the penalty area in order to create overloads in the center and force Schalke’s defense to lose their organization. Especially on crosses, both are a danger in the air and in attacking second balls. One could almost think that it was Flick’s strategy to attack and win second balls and therefore have his team frequently use high crosses in their approach play.
However, Bayern failed to create compelling chances from their own build-up play despite their very high line with Alaba and Kimmich at 40 meters from Schalke’s goal often being the deepest players on the pitch. All too often, they and Thiago only passed the ball back and forth between themselves, while Tolisso, Goretzka and Müller waited statically on a level with Schalke’s back five. Thus, without a proper distribution and movement of the offensive players there was also little link-up to the top. As a result, Bayern was hardly able to create any chances from open play throughout the match.
Last weekend’s most visible pattern was a regularly recurring feature in this game too: The long ball over the top. As a means to play over an incredibly deep and compact Schalke defense, Bayern again and again tried to play a long ball over the top to get behind Schalke’s last defensive line. Especially in the game’s early stages, they wanted to surprise Schalke with well-timed runs in behind and accurate passes.
However, it turned out that Bayern lacked sufficient coordination and precision to pull this off successfully. Some balls ended up in no-man’s-land, while others found their way to a teammate, but did not lead to chances. While Alaba in particular has stood out with his distribution of long balls in the last few weeks, the (temporary) center-back has not yet reached the level that Boateng – or even Hummels – had in their prime. It will take the Austrian some more hours of practice before his long balls will split up the opposition’s back lines as skilfully as his current and former teammates’ did under Guardiola.
On the other hand, it always takes two to complete a pass. With Lewandowski out, Alaba currently lacks a counterpart who is as skilled as the Polish striker at getting at the end of a long ball or anticipating them well in advance. There is not the same level of harmony with Müller, Goretzka and Tolisso. It will be interesting to see whether Flick will stick to his long ball tactics against smaller sides while Lewandowski is unavailable.
Along with Bayern’s high positioning in their own attacking game, an old acquaintance also crept into their game. The protection against counter-attacks. Especially in the first half, this once again proved to be very shaky. Schalke was able to create several dangerous opportunities from fast attacks on the break. Just based on the number and quality of chances, Bayern could not have complained had they been behind at the interval.
The combination of two high central midfielders in addition to a very high defensive line turned out to be very risky strategy. In the event of a simple turnover, for example after a misplaced long ball, Kimmich, Alaba, and Thiago often were on their own in defense. Especially the fast Matondo was repeatedly able to cause trouble for this trio.
There is a reason why Flick prefers to play with Thiago and Kimmich in midfield. Their strengths are not only in organizing and directing their team’s game in possession, but also the game against the ball, which shows especially in gegenpressing situations and during counter-attacks. Flick will certainly hope to have Hernández and Boateng back at his disposal soon so that he can restore his best midfield partnership of Thiago and Kimmich.