Both teams seeking rebound
Both teams had mixed fortunes last week. Schalke had an impressive victory against last year’s Champions League semi finalists Olympique Lyon, securing qualification to the next round and putting themselves in prime position to finish first in the group. They were riding a wave of confidence going into their Bundesliga match against Kaiserslautern only to crumble and lose 5-0 to the newly promoted side, an unprecedented loss during Magath’s spell at the club. After the game Magath declared that such a result was inexcusable and punishment was due for a team that needed to focus more on the domestic competition rather than just Europe. They needed to bounce back and Bayern presented a difficult albeit perfect opportunity to do so.
Bayern on the other hand just came off an impressive performance and win against Eintracht Frankfurt, arguably their best this season. Just a little over a week ago however Bayern experienced their worst European collapse since that infamous night in Barcelona in 1999. Bayern has made a habit of throwing games away this season, failing either to capitalize on their chances or to stay disciplined and hold off opponents. After the result against Frankfurt, Bayern traveled to Gelsenkirchen with the right attitude and looked to avoid squandering another opportunity to get closer to league leaders Dortmund.
Changes galore and tactical setup
Felix Magath dropped both Jermaine Jones and Jefferson Farfan, who has a mild cold, after the disaster in Kaiserslautern and fielded what most closely resembled a 4-2-2-2 formation with a few deviations. Raul dropped off Huntelaar as he normally does while Jurado and Edu were instructed to provide the width although neither stayed out wide much during the game. This created an element of disorder that allowed Bayern to really take advantage of space left all over the pitch and outnumber Rakitic and Kluge in the middle.
Van Gaal paired Breno and Tymoshchuk at the back to accommodate returning captain Mark van Bommel, who was paired with Toni Kroos in central midfield. Schweinsteiger meanwhile was again pushed up into a more attacking role, a strategy that has paid off so far this season when needed. Diego Contento also returned from injury for his first start, replacing Daniel Pranjic, who was still nursing a cold, at left back. The shape remained the same as it has been all season and the intent was to keep the ball and press Schalke as much as possible.
Bayern impose themselves in the first half
Van Gaal’s men came out all guns blazing in the first half and dominated the opening 45 minutes. Mueller enjoyed a surprising amount of space on the left hand side setting up Schweinsteiger twice. Kroos and Mueller then also got in on the action only to be denied by Neuer and Schalke’s defense. Because Bayern outnumbered Schalke in midfield they saw a lot of the ball and found it easy to win it back after losing possession. Overall, Bayern outshot Schalke 14 to 4 in the first half and was denied twice by the post and an in form Manuel Neuer. Bayern were a bit unlucky not to be ahead at the break but it was not the first time this season that missed chances would come back to haunt them. This game was reminiscent of the Dortmund match earlier this season where Bayern was in control in the first half, failed to make use of their chances only to suffer the consequences in the second half.
Bayern benefited from a very unorganized Schalke midfield. Neither Jurado or Edu were very disciplined with their positioning and Rakitic and Kluge were unable to get a grip on the trio of Schweinsteiger, Kroos and Van Bommel. Schalke’s two striker formation was a disadvantage and the 4-2-3-1 proved overwhelming for Magath’s more traditional 4-2-2-2.
Schalke disciplined and take advantage in the second half
Despite being pressed by Bayern throughout the first half Schalke did well to keep their shape defensively. Characteristic of a side managed by Magath, Schalke were organized and disciplined at the back and denied Bayern much space in the final third . Magath seemed content to absorb Bayern’s attacks and see out a draw while perhaps catching Bayern out on the counter. Oddly enough, this was the same back four that leaked goals just a week earlier. The inconsistency in performance has really been the trend for Schalke this season. At the beginning of the season they looked helpless at the back and found it difficult to score while more recently Magath has seemingly ironed out those defensive kinks to better effect. The Kaiserslautern result showed though that the team is still very much a work in progress.
The first goal was an example of the breaks Magath had hoped to exploit. Neuer kicked the ball upfield and Raul got into a 1v1 position against Breno. An unfortunate slip got the Spaniard past the Bayern defender and in an ideal position to square the ball to an unmarked Juardo whose finish was helped by the post to give Schalke the lead. The second was even more fortunate as Benedikt Hoewedes finished his own rebound after he headed a Kluge cross into the far post. Schalke had two chances on goal and two goals, a classic example of what happens when a team doesn’t capitalize on its chances.
The two goals gave Schalke a new-found confidence alongside an energetic Farfan, who had come on after Raul suffered an injury during the first goal. The tricky winger was instructed to take on players and cause as much disturbance on Bayern’s left hand side as possible. Bayern’s urgency to get back into the game made it that much easier for Schalke to attack them and hold their lead. Schalke ended up outshooting Bayern in the second half despite having less possession and defending for the remainder of the match.
Final word: Bayern squander chances while Schalke redeem themselves.
Bayern had nearly 70% possession in this match and several opportunities to put themselves ahead but failed and were punished later on. Once again, Bayern conceded shortly after half-time, something that has become a bad habit and a real weakness. Van Gaal has voiced his frustration about throwing away games they should have won numerous times. Although the loss was unmerited and Bayern performed admirably it serves as a stern reminder that nothing cane be taken for granted in football, especially at Bayern this season.
Magath admitted after the match how difficult his side had it in the first half and that luck was on their side but overall they did well to take advantage of the few chances they created for themselves in the second half. More importantly, Schalke showed the defensive and tactical discipline that Magath is trying to instill in this team. Suffice it to say, Schalke made up for their poor showing last week and it will be interesting to see which Schalke side will show up against Mainz.
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