Bayern extended their lead atop the Bundesliga standings with another dominant display in Hamburg. A diving header from Bastian Schweinsteiger, a cheeky goal from a tight angle from Thomas Müller and a trademark hammer from Toni Kroos gave Bayern their first win in Hamburg since 2006. After their first league loss to Leverkusen last week, Bayern bounced back in style and are now 7 points ahead of second placed Schalke and 11 ahead of defending champions Dortmund.
Lineups and Tactics
Their last couple of encounters have been one sided to say the least so Thorsten Fink shifted things around a bit. First choice striker Rudnes was benched in favor of defensive midfielder Rincon which altered the shape of the team to something more closely resembling a 4-3-3 than their usual 4-2-3-1 with Son and Beister out wide and Van der Vaart in an unaccustomed role in the center playing slightly ahead of the two wingers. The intention was clear, defend in greater numbers and not get run over in midfield as every other side in the league seems to have been this season against Bayern.
Bayern boss resumed with his first choice line up after making several changes for the Cup match against Kaiserslautern and only Boateng and Alaba remained in the squad. Robben continued to sit out while regaining full fitness.
The match was billed as the battle between the league’s two best goalkeepers this season but it was really won (or lost) in the wide areas and on the sidelines. Fink’s tactics, while well thought out, gave Bayern the upper hand on the flanks and the dangerous Ribery-Alaba combination took full advantage. His tactical changes, prior and mid match, also affected his team’s ability to cope and adjust to Bayern.
Similar to their last couple of encounters, the opening phases were more tentative than anything else with both teams adjusting and feeling each other out. With Hamburg’s confidence improving with their results in recent weeks a point or more certainly seemed feasible against Bayern. If anything, the first 20 minutes showed why Bayern had not won in Hamburg in such a long time. The hosts held their new shape well but Bayern also patterned a lot of their play on the left which made their game predictable and easier to defend against. Son ended up doing a lot of tracking back to catch Alaba which was effective but limited Hamburg when they did regain possession.
How deep Hamburg stood was exemplified best by their first real opportunity where Van der Vaart, who should ideally have been their most advanced player, picked up the ball 25 meters from Bayern’s box in the 12th minute and played it out wide to Jansen. The Dutch playmaker rushed forward to meet Jansen’s returning ball but his shot was blocked right in the knick of time by Dante. A minute later Bayern got their first good chance of the game when the increasingly dangerous Ribery had a go from distance.
One of the best things that has happened to Bayern since Heynckes took over is that they no longer rush into games haphazardly at the start as was the case so often under Van Gaal. It has improved their defense massively in the last 12 months and it allows them to slowly find their way into games. The same was true against Hamburg. After a disciplined and balanced opening Bayern slowly started gaining the upper hand and momentum began shifting in their favor. Ribery and Alaba initiated the first of many attacks down the left in the 25th minute. Ribery held the ball, Alaba overlapped, picked it up and sent a ball into the box that beat everyone including Jansen at the far post but Mandzukic’s header went just wide of the post.
Hamburg soon found out that they could either sit deep, defend and catch Bayern on the break or commit numbers forward and open themselves up. To find a balance became impossible with Bayern’s increasing pressure. A minute after Mandzukic’s header Bayern exposed this very scenario when the hosts turned the ball over and Gustavo quickly launched a counter attack. The Brazilian ran down the left while Ribery cut inside to receive the ball and release a shot. Again it was just centimeters off target. Bayern were getting closer and Hamburg’s previously solid shape quickly began to loosen.
Five minutes before the break the proverbial dam burst when Bayern broke quickly following a Hamburg corner. With players committed in Bayern’s box, Hamburg were outnumbered at the back and Ribery exposed the space brilliantly with his speed. Thomas Müller’s header found Kroos and instead of shooting he took the ball around Adler and to the right before patiently planning and placing an inch perfect cross to the oncoming Schweinsteiger on the other side whose diving header deservedly put Bayern in front.
Fink noticed the absence of a focal point in attack and brought on Rudnevs after the break. Hamburg reverted back to their usual 4-2-3-1 and hoped to put more pressure on Bayern in their own half. After the opening 20 minutes Hamburg struggled to get out of their own half and Bayern’s relentless pressing caused more unnecessary turnovers than Fink would have liked. With three in midfield though Hamburg did force Bayern to play from the flanks. By removing Rincon he also removed a player that kept a firm eye on Kroos throughout the first half. With Rincon shadowing him, Kroos was forced to go out wide often, particularly to the left, and to play long balls. In the second half Kroos completed every single one of his passes and distributed the ball more evenly across the pitch.
Sure enough, the second half belonged to Bayern. Two minutes into the half the lively and unpredictable Müller popped up on the right and found Mandzukic in the middle only for Adler to react in time and keep his side in the game. He couldn’t do it on his own though and a minute later Bayern doubled their lead almost inevitably. Ribery was the architect yet again as he set up Müller on the left. Alder did well to put pressure on Müller by rushing out but backed up expecting a cross only for the cheeky Bayern striker to put the ball past him from a near impossible angle. It was not the first time Müller succeeded with the audacious this season. It is not a stretch to say that the young player is in the form of his career at the moment.
Unfortunately for Hamburg, just about every other Bayern player is in form as well. In the 51st minute Lahm crossed from the right, Ribery reacted quicker than Mancienne and had another golden opportunity saved by Adler from close range. Bayern were in their best spell of the night and just as Hamburg were catching their breath Kroos made it 3-0. Free from his marker and ahead of every defender player Kroos drifted into open space and behind the Hamburg backline after a one-two with Ribery before hammering the ball past Adler at the near post. Just like they practiced on the training ground. Before the hour mark the game was just about settled. Fink brought on Aogo for Beister but with little effect. Bayern played keep-away for the remaining half hour with Hamburg chasing ghosts.
Hamburg were much more effective in the first half. They may have been more limited offensively but they coped with Bayern’s attack better. Credit to Fink for wanting to take the game to Bayern and win but removing Rincon may have had a counterproductive effect. Arslan only won 6 duels throughout the match and struggled against Mandzukic who constantly dropped deep to pick up the ball and win challenges. The Croatian striker had another industrious performance, winning an impressive 15 duels and and always showing for the ball. Switching formations mid match also left Jansen and Diekmeier more vulnerable against Bayern’s attackers, particularly the latter who struggled against the pacy and proactive Ribery and Alaba all match long. The two Bayern players had more touches than any other players on the pitch and combined with each other more frequently than any other pairing in the game.
Hamburg are now winless in their last six matches against Bayern. Even though things could have perhaps been done better Hamburg are still in a good position and their form on moving upwards. At this point last season Hamburg were second from the bottom. They’ve doubled their wins this year and almost their points total and are much closer to the type of football Fink wants them to play than last year. Losses against Bayern are going to be common this year, not just for Hamburg but for nearly every team in the league. Next week Hamburg have the opportunity to improve on their form when they travel to Freiburg.
Bayern meanwhile have now scored 14 goals against Hamburg in their last three matches. Hamburg have gone from being Bayern’s bogey team to their whipping boys in the course of two seasons. More important than that though is Bayern’s killer instinct and ability to expose teams at the right moments. As soon as Hamburg showed the slightest signs of weakness Bayern pounced and never looked back. They will face one of their biggest tests to date though next week against surprise package Eintracht Frankfurt.
Header courtesy of smp.no & Reuters / NTB scanpix
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