After a recent run of poor form Bayern were finally back to winning ways with a convincing performance against fourth placed Bremen. Two goals apiece from Ribery and Robben decided a rather eventless and one-sided match with Rosenberg’s strike a mere aberration, Bremen never quite mustering enough to trouble Bayern. With other results also going their way, Bayern are now back on top of the league while Bremen remain in fourth for the time being. The match simply showed the gulf in individual quality between the two sides and hinted at Bremen’s bigger problems as a team.
Schaaf was relieved to welcome back the ever influential and seemingly timeless Pizarro after a brief injury as well as Sokratis who was serving a suspension. Mielitz also started in goal for Bremen after Wiese pulled out following the death of his father. Bayern meanwhile remain without Schweinsteiger until the New Year, an absence said to be largely responsible for their poor form as of late. Despite that, Heynckes trusted in the same eleven that lost to Mainz last week with a fit Robben still watching from the sidelines.
Hectic start and the reappearance of Robbery
Perhaps having learned from Bayern’s shoddy performances over the last couple of weeks, Bremen came out very aggressively, trying to push the hosts back and force errors in defense. Similar to Dortmund and Mainz, the idea presumably being to force turnovers and bring the ball forward as quickly as possible and never allow Bayern to get into their groove. Bayern usually do the same from the getgo and it made for a somewhat scrappy and physical affair in the opening minutes. Due to the combative nature, especially in midfield, both sides neutralized each other and few goal-scoring chances were created. Both sides would loosen up as the match progressed though, helped by a particularly clever player.
After some 20 minutes of dogged play and only two shots on goal, Bayern would break the snarled nature of the match. Hunt’s free kick was blocked in Bayern’s half and Alaba was alert, picking up the ball at the half way line and picking out Ribery on the left. The Frenchman cut inside past Bremen’s defenders and slotted in his 7th goal of the season. As usual this season, Ribery was heavily involved and saw the ball more and more after the opening goal. Sokratis, who has been doing so well this season, had a difficult time keeping up with Ribery and only the half time whistle saved Bremen from a player who was becoming increasingly more threatening.
Despite being outplayed going into the break it would be Bremen who scored after the restart. Rosenberg leveled the score with only his second touch after coming on for Arnautovic. Pizarro won a challenge against Van Buyten and played Rosenberg clean on goal, the Swede neatly finishing in the bottom left corner. The goal gave Bremen a bit more self belief but the goal was more anomalous than indicative of a comeback and Bayern responded almost immediately. Fourteen minutes later Gomez was taken down by Wolf in the box and Bayern awarded a penalty. Robben, who had come on just 8 minutes earlier converted with ease and restored Bayern’s lead.
As if Ribery was not enough, Bremen now had to deal with Robben as well and 8 minutes later the Dutchman split Bremen’s defense with a pass that Ribery met and convincingly finished to effectively kill the game. They were not finished though and after Hunt was dismissed due to a vicious tackle on Kroos, Bayern again earned a penalty, Sokratis again failing to deal with Ribery and taking him down in the box. Robben converted his second to round off the score.
4-2-3-1 vs. 4-4-2 diamond
Schaaf’s reluctance to deviate from the midfield diamond has both cost him and earned him a requited self-assurance regardless of its success or failure. More often than not though, the midfield diamond is ill suited against the more flexible 4-2-3-1. In particular, the 4-2-3-1’s strengths out wide are in exact contrast with the diamond’s dearth of width and as expected, Bremen dealt poorly with Bayern’s wide players.
Ribery, and later Robben, had far too much space out wide with Bargfrede and Fritz tasked with holding down the middle as well as coming out wide when needed. The dual responsibility often left Bremen thin either in the center or out wide. Bargfrede was forced to make a match high 18 tackles during the game. With Marin, Pizarro and Arnautovic virtually separated from the rest of the team (all three had the least amount of touches on the ball), Bremen were outnumbered in midfield. Bayern’s most active players meanwhile were their wide players, Lahm, Boateng and Ribery had a combined 275 touches, 37% of all of Bayern’s touches. Bremen’s misplaced passes were also more frequent out wide than in the center with Ignjovski, Sokratis, Hunt and Fritz giving the ball away a combined 33 times.
Epitomized by Hunt’s reckless challenge on Kroos and subsequent dismissal but also by Bayern’s cat and mouse game, Bremen were never allowed to settle and play at their own tempo, being partially down to the drawbacks of said formation. Because the diamond is so centrally focused it lacks the variability to go beyond its initial prescription. Against Bayern, Bremen’s strategy, whether intended or not, was rooted more in stopping Bayern than really creating much for themselves. Seven Bayern players completed more passes than Bremen’s best on the day and the visitors had just 6 shots on goal.
Bayern will think that Christmas came early considering their performance and all other results effectively going their way. A win was important following the disappointment against Mainz and Dortmund. They did fail to keep a clean sheet again though, something they managed just once in their last 9 matches in all competitions, a complete reversal of their 10-match streak without conceding a goal at the start of the season. That said, it was Heynckes’s first win over Bremen in 17 matches as a coach and, while far from their best, an overall improvement in performance
Bremen were thoroughly outplayed and Schaaf outsmarted. What is most worrying though is their continued form against the “top” sides in the league. Their three losses this season are all against teams currently occupying the first three spots in the standings. Schaaf, ever the purist, could also benefit from a little tactical versatility in his coaching arsenal.
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