Bayern München’s perfect start to the 2012/2013, which included wins in all its eight matches spread over the Bundesliga, the DFB Pokal and the Champions League, came to a surprising end in Minsk Tuesday evening, as the Bavarians fell to an inspired BATE Borisov squad 3-1. The loss for Bayern was its first ever in a Champions League second match Group Stage fixture, and betrayed a certain weakness the club has away from home. The promise of another three points that their trip East provided evaporated at the hands of the disciplined Belarussian club.
For jubilant Borisov, the victory was of great historical consequence. Although the club, a regular in European competition, has beaten teams such as Everton, AEK Athens and AZ Alkmaar in recent years as well as playing to draws against AC Milan, PSG and Juventus, defeating the Bavarian visitors Tuesday was arguably the greatest victory ever in the club’s history, certainly the one most noticed by the rest of the footballing world. Their tremendous victory puts BATE alone atop Group F with six points with a goal differential of +4, while Bayern are now tied with Valencia on three points with a -1 goal differential.
Bayern Coach Jupp Heynckes has had the luxury of rotating his players this season with the depth provided by the huge spending campaign in the offseason. Tuesday’s lineup in Minsk was similar to that displayed in Bayern’s last match, against Werder Bremen, with the difference being Bastian Schweinsteiger and Claudio Pizarro replaced by Javi Martinez and Mario Mandžukić. Arjen Robben, held out against Bremen with a knock, was again absent from the Bayern squad. Tactically not much changed from how they usually play, the primary difference being Ribery and Müller’s interchanging positions.
BATE Borisov’s 35 year-old coach, Viktar Hancharenka, has been with the club since 1998 as a player, coach of the reserve side, an assistant coach and head coach since November, 2007. He started the same XI as he did against Lille in BATE’s first group win excepting the replacement of defender Artem Radkov with Yegor Filipenko. Hancharenka employed a 4-3-2-1 formation with the primary emphasis obviously on defense but their counters would prove to be just as effective.
Although BATE attacker Edgar Olekhnovich put an early scare, causing a good save from Manuel Neuer, Bayern München looked quite capable of taking the lead in the first half at Dinamo Stadium. Mandžukić had a great chance provided by Franck Ribéry, but missed wide while Toni Kroos hit the left post with a 13th minute shot, with Mandžukić assisting. Minutes later left back Holger Badstuber whipped a shot that was saved by BATE goalkeeper Andrei Gorbunov. But it was BATE who shocked their famed opponents when Aleksandr Pavlov scored on a shot from the center of the box following some lax Bayern defending.
Bayern attempted their reply immediately, but headers by Mandžukić and Thomas Müller were saved, and subsequent Bayern efforts were blocked as BATE displayed a great deal of defensive organization. With a 1-0 lead, it seemed the entire BATE club (and even its bench) were behind the ball as blue shirts appeared everywhere to frustrate Bayern’s attack, which was also derailed by searching passes just off-target and three offsides calls in the contest. Bayern seemed to lose focus in the last minutes of the half and sauntered into the locker room to regroup from their surprising deficit.
Expectations of a quick Bayern bounceback as the second half started proved unfounded, as BATE’s Aleksandr Volodko missed wide on an attempt minutes the half. In in fact it was BATE who had the best early scoring chance as Olekhnovich again tested Neuer in the 55th minute, after Dante was off-target on a header five minutes earlier. Seeing that his team couldn’t crack BATE’s stout defense, Heynckes brought in Xherdan Shaqiri, who was a force in Bayern’s win over Bremen, for Martinez just before the hour mark, and later Pizarro and Bastian Schweinsteiger with about fifteen minutes later.
But the substitutions did little to change the direction of the match, as BATE took advantage of Bayern’s need to score when Vitali Rodionov instead scored in the 78th minute. With little more than ten minutes, it was a do or die situation for the Bavarians. Their best moment of the match came in stoppage time, when Shaqiri did well to find Ribéry on the left and the Frenchman unleashed a low shot to finally beat Gorbunov. Pulling the game to a 1-2 level, Bayern had little time to find the equalizer, as BATE scored a counter attack goal from Renan Bressan to complete the 3-1 fueled joy amongst the Minsk crowd, who were loving every moment of their club’s historic win.
Conclusion & Analysis
Although Bayern were expected to deliver a victory on their trip East, especially on the basis of their current form, the wisest among Bayern fans had reason to be anxious. BATE’s 3-1 win in France last week against LOSC Lille provided a successful script that BATE duplicated well Tuesday against a superior Bayern club. In both games BATE built an early lead (three first half goals in France), were happy to cede possession (Lille had 54%, Bayern 66%), concede corner kicks (BATE had 24-1 aggregate deficit in CKs allowed against the French and German clubs) and be outshot in the two wins 44-18. End result: two wins, six goals scored, two meaningless goals allowed.
BATE seem completely willing to absorb attack and frustrate opponents with enough quality finishers to cash in on counterattack opportunities. Goalkeeper Gorbunov, 29, was a tower of strength as the last line of defense and played with an infectious confidence, while former Bundesliga/Arsenal/Barca man Alexander Hleb provided spark and poise. If the Belarussian club can come anywhere near to duplicating their level of disciplined performances as the Champion League continues, one knows that Coach Hancharenka will be receiving some tempting offers from more famed clubs.
For Bayern, Tuesday is a day best forgotten. While it was a surprise that the Bavarians, the best team in the Bundesliga thus far in 2012/2013, would be the first of the seven Bundesliga teams to lose in European group stage competitions, at this point the loss should not be a cause for panic or major concern as rampant as the club has been thus far. In a relatively toothless Group F (especially compared to the company Borussia Dortmund are keeping in Group D), Bayern are still in decent shape to advance although there will certainly be pressure to grab all three points in their next CL match against Lille in France on October 23.
Still, the loss did show some frailty in Bayern’s defending, with Boateng looking slowish at times and Badstuber missing in action on the buildup to BATE’s first goal. Ribery was probably Bayern’s most effective player, playing with energy and will, and it was a good sign that the club was hustling for an equalizer with so little time left. But BATE’s performance will give future opponents a potential template to employ against the Heynckes’ men, although it is doubtful that many could be as thoroughly committed to their plan as the Belarussians have been.
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