2013 continues to be a historic year for Germany’s record champions as they added another trophy to their impressive haul, this time the UEFA Supercup following their 7:6 win against Chelsea on penalties. In a near reverse of the 2012 Champions League final two years ago in which Chelsea beat Bayern in their own stadium Bayern equalized late to take the game to extra time and eventually penalties where they won the cup for the first time in their fifth attempt.
Bayern were forced to start without their midfield talisman Bastian Schweinsteiger who could not pass a late fitness test. His midfield partner from last season, Javi Martinez, too is still working on gaining 100% fitness and started on the bench. Jan Kirchhoff also missed out due to injury while Thiago’s long term injury forced Pep Guardiola to start with Toni Kroos and Philipp Lahm in midfield.
Jose Mourinho started Fernando Torres up front after playing without a striker against Manchester United earlier this week with much of the pre-game discussion dominated by the continuing narrative of his rivalry with Guardiola. Individual tensions aside, it was a match both teams and coaches were really eager to win, as a scintillating game would prove.
In 2012 Chelsea put essentially their entire team behind the ball which successfully stifled and frustrated Bayern. Throughout his career, Mourinho has perfected the art of sitting deep, absorbing pressure and exploiting space on the counter. Possession was surely to be conceded to Bayern again this match so Mourinho employed similar tactics. The first half featured many similarities to the 2012 final with Chelsea only having one shot on target which also happened to be Torres’ goal.
Bayern spent the good part of an hour trying to figure out different ways to break down a stubborn Chelsea defense all while having to deal with the energetic pressing from players like Oscar, Schürrle and Hazard who, instead of playing in their own half, actively pressed Bayern’s defenders to try and disrupt their build up play. Kroos and Lahm, normally not accustomed to playing as the lone holding midfielder, alternated picking up and distributing the ball from the back but hit a brick wall upon entering Chelsea’s final third. For a long time it seemed as though 2012 would repeat itself all over again and Bayern would frustrate their way to another Supercup loss.
Martinez and Ribery turn the game
Chelsea’s good organization aside, Bayern created a plethora of chances (41 shots by the end of the match), many coming from outside the box (19). One of those was the crucial equalizer from Europe’s recently crowned best player, Franck Ribery. And after Martinez was brought on and Lahm reverted back to his usual right back position Bayern found some tactical continuity and really began taking the game to Chelsea. Mourinho’s side were getting visibly fatigued and Ramires’ expulsion forced them to sit behind the ball for the rest of the match
As the game wore on, Bayern were creating more and more chances as a result and Chelsea goalkeeper Peter Cech was single handedly keeping his team in the game. And with minutes running out Bayern were pushing all outfield players into Chelsea’s half with Neuer playing just about at the halfway line at points. And just when it looked as though Chelsea were going to win a loose ball fell to Martinez who scored with the last kick of the game. Bayern’s pressure had paid off. More importantly, they had the all the momentum and an extra man going into extra time.
More important than the trophy itself perhaps is the fact that this win will give Bayern an extremely important psychological boost. Manuel Neuer himself admitted how the win will benefit their psyches, especially with the early pressure of living up to last season’s standards all while adjusting to a new coach and system. Guardiola has come under a good amount of pressure, or a certain feeling of hesitation and skepticism in any case, for making changes to what was almost universally regarded as a perfect winning formula.
Furthermore, winning on penalties will be a surefire boost for a side that have struggled from the spot in recent years. In fact, since April of last year they have missed 10 penalties (including shootouts) and eight different players have misfired. All penalties were converted against Chelsea and Bayern are looking much sharper now not just from the spot but on set pieces in general.
Guardiola is seemingly working out the kinks while also continuing to implement his own vision at the club, albeit at a gradual rate. He admitted when he took over that there would be some hiccups along the way, particularly at the beginning, but the players have backed him and his new methods. And that is why win, as serendipitous as it may have been, is at least somewhat of a vindication of a not so ideal start to the season. The club and its players remain behind Guardiola though which is the most important thing to note of all.
For now Bayern can celebrate its and German football’s first Supercup after nearly four decades of trying.
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