Far from pretty, but effective: three takeaways from Bayern’s tight win in Mainz
It was a struggle at times against an obdurate 1. FSV Mainz 05 and the injury list continues to grow, but the Bavarians are back up to second spot in the Bundesliga.
In my three-take look at the Champions League win over AEK Athens, I suggested that Bayern fans should be prepared to watch the team play ugly. That was exactly what they did in Mainz. It was far from pretty to watch, but the statistical requirements were all met. One more added to the wins column.
When put into a purely statistical context, it was a decent result. Mainz had been unbeaten at home, and had only conceded one goal in four matches at the Opel Arena. Bayern would have a Thiago effort chalked off and then were pegged back early in the second half, but were able to dig that little bit deeper to eke out the result.
The downside, of course, was Mainz’s goal. Die Nullfünfer had not troubled the scorers in their previous five matches – well over a month – but became the eighth opponent to puncture the Bayern net in thirteen league and cup outings this season.
If not scoring goals is a major worry for Niko Kovač, the inability to keep a clean sheet is not far behind.
It is fair to say that things have not worked out as well as we all would have liked for Leon Goretzka. There was a massive weight of expectation on the young midfielder following his arrival in Munich from Schalke 04, and at times he has looked well below par in a Bayern Trikot.
But this is not the full picture. While Goretzka has had some poor games, he has never really been fully fit. Confidence can only be built by getting a good run in the team, and this in turn can only happen when a player is the right physical condition. Every time Goretzka puts in a decent shift, he seems to end up on the treatment table.
Today’s game was the perfect microcosm of Goretzka’s time so far in Munich. Having made the starting eleven, he scored a stunning volley to give the Bavarians a first-half lead. Here, surely, was the moment the ex-Schalker would finally start firing.
Alas, no. Just ten minutes into the second half, a hobbling Goretzka made his way off the pitch with a suspected ankle injury. If this story does not change, it will be continue to be a struggle.
Kovač’s side are still a good distance away from rediscovering their mojo. The sort of fluid, free-scoring football Bayern fans have feasted on for ages is currently on the menu in Dortmund. But the last three games have shown that Die Roten have been able to knuckle down and get the basics right.
So long as the fundamentals are in place, the rest will surely follow. We have been used to Bayern steamrollering opponents like Mainz, but right now a slow build might be just the ticket. Get the basics right, gather momentum, and build a head of steam right when it matters.
Hot of the back of their 4:0 demolition of Atlético Madrid in midweek, Borussia Dortmund were held to a 2:2 draw at home by Hertha Berlin. Borussia Mönchengladbach, the team that had destroyed Bayern with an almost perfect performance at the Allianz Arena, fell to a 1:3 defeat against unfancied SC Freiburg.
Should the entire season continue to follow this pattern, we can all do the maths. Forget Dusel, refereeing decisions or supernatural skullduggery. This is why Bayern win titles.