Bayern stutters but bulldozes through Mainz
Although Thiago was back again fit from injury, Kovač surprisingly did not simply revert to the starting lineup of the Hertha game.
Instead, Kimmich once again started in defensive midfield while Thiago and Couthino took the two positions in offensive midfield. Out of form Müller and Tolisso started from the bench. Ivan Perišić started instead of Serge Gnabry, who was out with a knock.
Despite a good beginning and an early chance through Lewandowski, Mainz managed to go in front with their first real chance of the game: Pierre-Gabriel crossed a high ball from the right flank into the penalty area, where Pavard came late against Boëtius and could not stop him from converting a header on goal from short distance, making it 0-1.
As if shocked by that, Bayern entered a period of indifference where they did not achieve much of anything. Until the 30th minute, the spectators witnessed a shiftless Bayern game marked by missed passes and lazy crosses. Then, Perišić managed to win the ball in the final third, drove into the penalty area but failed to convert. This seemed to alert Bayern to their indolence and their game started to improve. A little later, Alaba drove a free kick into the wall from 18 meters out and, again, Perišić failed to score from the rebound. In the 36th minute, Perišić played a beautiful curved high cross into the penalty area from which Pavard scored with a spectacular volley not quite dissimilar to his World Cup goal last summer. 1-1.
Thiago had fallen back and sat deeper in this phase, which injected new life into Bayern’s ponderous build-up play. In the 44th minute, Hack could only stop Lewandowski from pushing into the penalty area with a foul. Alaba once again took the free kick, and this time he postage-stamped it square into the upper right-hand corner of the net, giving Bayern a 2-1 lead. In the first half’s closing minutes Thiago could have increased that margin even further, but his shot went over the goal.
Bayern returned to the pitch unchanged. Thiago remained in his deep position, slightly shifting the overall formation to a 4-2-3-1. The next big chance for Bayern saw Pavard driving a high cross into the penalty area, where Perišić netted from a header for the third Bayern goal, making it 3-1.
Lewandowski should have scored the fourth Bayern goal in the 62nd minute, but Niakhaté scratched the ball from the line. Two minutes later, the goal finally came: Kimmich’s corner went past everyone in the box, allowing Coman to simply raise his foot and score with a tap-in from 6 meters out.
The game was now essentially over, and so too was the workday of the two new stars in offense. Davies and Müller came on for Perišić and Couthino. But this did not stop Bayern from scoring. In the 78th minute, Müller played a low cut-back from close to the goal line for Lewandowski to calmly convert for 5-1. Just three minutes later, Alphonso Davies scored his second Bundesliga goal against Mainz already. Lewandowski in the middle chipped the ball out to Müller who played a square pass into the path of the advancing Davies who had a tap-in. 6-1. Meanwhile, Mickaël Cuisance had come on and got his first Bundesliga minutes in a Bayern shirt. Thus it remained and at the final whistle the scoreboard noted a 6-1 home win for Bayern. It was a deserved victory because of Bayern’s superior individual quality, but it should not paper over a number of issues in the Bayern game.
It seemed like the logical thing to do: in order to prevent the two number eights from being positioned too high up by the pitch and leave the holding midfielder isolated, Kovač started not with two dynamic, but three creative players in midfield.
The result was shattering.
Instead of winning control in midfield, improving their positional play, and gaining more options in building up the game, almost the complete opposite happened. The idea seemed to have intensify Bayern’s problems instead of redressing them. This points the finger more and more in the direction of the coaching team.
Situations where Kimmich in possession in his own half was closed down by several opponents at once with the next player in front of him 30 meters away with his back turned to him, were the rule, not the exception.
Thiago should know how tiresome a match can be for the holding midfielder if no one makes an effort to be available for a pass and the next player forward is many meters away. But he always remained so high up the pitch and thus far away from Kimmich that it this could not have been happened by accident. But surely, it could not have been part of the plans of the coaching team to deprive their build-up players of any passing options, could it?
As a consequence, ball after ball was played out to the wings where Mainz left the Bayern players in just enough space to drive hapless crosses from nowhere, one worse than the next, despite the absence of any targets in the penalty area.
Things improved in the second half. Thiago was positioned much deeper so that there finally was a link-up player in midfield. Fortunately, the quality of Bayern’s crosses improved too. Whereas most of Pavard’s crosses in the first half did not amount to anything, his cross for Bayern’s third goal was well timed and smoothly delivered. Consequently, Bayern managed to stack up the goals but two caveats should be mentioned: firstly, Mainz surrendered sometime in the middle of the second half, and secondly Mainz’s individual quality is not good enough to withstand the constant assault of a Bayern team permanently surging forward, no matter how poor the execution. No, Mainz is a certain relegation candidate this season – and that in mind, Bayern’s performance was just not good enough.
Although it was generally scoffed at, the signing of Ivan Perišić was a logical act of reason: a seasoned winger to bolster up a much too thin squad. With how he was used against Main, however, he seems to have punched holes in this reasoning. Instead of simply resting Gnabry and playing Perišić in his position, Kovač decided to put Coman on the right wing instead of his accustomed left. Kingsley Coman is the best left winger in the Bundesliga. Is it really a good idea to deprive the league’s best left winger of his accustomed position just to allow a decent new arrival to play there? Coman’s game is much more versatile than many people still believe, but on the right-hand side it really has something of the much decried ‘one-trick-pony’: a crossing sprinter.
As if he wanted to proof this point, Perišić wasted two promising chances in the 29th and 34th minute, where an inversely playing right footed winger would have had a much easier opening on goal. Perišić’ however had to switch the ball to his left foot first, wasting priceless fractions of a second.
If Coman has to play on the right wing making place for an auspicious, young talent like Davies – fine. Good idea, well worth doing. But one would expect a long-standing, seasoned veteran like Perišić to be able to play on his off-wing wing as well.
6-1. Sounds great. But if one takes a closer look at each goal separately and broadens the perspective to include the match against Schalke as well, early signs of a troubling development appear.
1-1: a wonder strike goal from a high cross.
2-1: a beautiful free kick
3-1: a header from a high cross
4-1: a goal from a corner
Add to that the first two goals against Schalke resulting from a penalty kick and a free kick.
This is not all bad news, of course: after just two games, Bayern has already scored more goals from free kicks than they sometimes do in an entire season. Set pieces in general are an often underappreciated weapon Bayern is very good at. Yet there remains the lingering impression that Bayern can only score from set pieces and crosses, with the latter being especially problematic because crosses are among the most easy actions to defend against in the game of football. In the game against Mainz, Bayern had 28 in total.
Teams that cannot score from open play are usually destined to fail sooner or later in the course of a season. And that perhaps is the most tragic realisation from what might otherwise be called a successful start to the new season.