While Zlatan Ibrahimovic was weaving his own magic act over in Belgium, Germany’s record champion put on a dominant display against Czech side Viktoria Plzen. Two goals from Ribery and one apiece from Alaba, Schweinsteiger and Götze stretched Bayern’s winning streak in Europe to eight games, a new club record. It also extends their lead atop their group and puts them in a comfortable position to advance. The performance was also a shining example of the development under Guardiola and the team’s continued upward progress.
Experimentation pays dividends
Many people did a double take when the lineup was announced and natural fullback Diego Contento was the team’s starting center-back but such has been Guardiola’s willingness to experiment and think outside the box since taking over in July. Many expected Mario Götze to start up front but Guardiola picked Mandzukic this time, saving Götze for later in the game. Lahm continued to deputize in midfield while Müller sat out in place of Ribery.
And while Plzen did not exactly pose the biggest of challenges it was an ideal platform to try new things and continue to polish Guardiola’s ideas. The results were impressive to say the least. Bayern dominated from start to finish. They had up to 80% posession in the first half and outshot their opponents 35 to zero by the end of the game.
The combination play and variation in Bayern’s game was especially notable in this game. Ribery, who throughout most of his Bayern career stayed wide has been playing more and more centrally during games in the last two seasons. Under Guardiola, he has been given even greater freedom to roam and come inside to combine with his teammates.
Against, Plzen Ribery was both the engine room and the creative hub of the team. As seen in the pass combinations below, Ribery made himself available to just about every player on the field. Ribery would often cut inside and look to play a through ball to Robben, Mandzukic or the overlapping Alaba. Having him in a flexible creative role makes him even more difficult to predict and use his great vision.
Ribery the King of Munich
Europe’s Player of the Year continued his fine form and it’s no coincidence that when Ribery plays well, so does Bayern. In fact, they rarely lose with him on the field. Ribery played 67 minutes but had an astounding 90 touches in over an hour of match time. He won 58% of his duels, another impressive statistic for an offensive player, and of course he scored two of Bayern’s five goals.
Ribery is without a doubt enjoying his finest moments as a footballer at the moment. He has scored 86 goals and set up another 93 in his 250 competitive games for Bayern, an impeccable record, and he seems to be getting better and better with each game. Louis van Gaal toyed with the idea of Ribery as a No. 10 and he certainly displays characteristics of a playmaker which Guardiola definitely wants to draw out of him. The Plzen performance only underlines the progress and abilities of a player at his absolute peak, and Bayern are reaping the rewards.
Another treble in sight?
It’s still very early in the season to speculate or even predict but at the rate of their progress, and certainly based on their performances in Europe, Bayern have to be favorites in the Champions League, along of course with their usual role domestically. While Guardiola and the players are still critical of themselves and see room for improvement, the fact is that Bayern are playing just as well as they did last year under Heynckes, if not with even more variation and domination. The more time passes in the season, and the healthier players like Martinez and Gotze get, the better Bayern will become. As things stand, the Champions League, along with every other competition, is theirs to lose.
Pep Guardiola: “It’s getting better and better but we need to improve in the league most importantly. Our games in Europe so far have been very good but even there we can do better. But in this game I was very satisfied with our performance.”
Uli Hoeneß: “Franck Ribery talked about enjoying football. What he does with the ball is amazing. It also doesn’t matter who comes in and who goes out: there is always quality on the field that is unparalleled in Europe.”
Mario Götze: “We are doing a lot of things very well. We created many chances, many corners and when you look at the statistics it looks very good. But the group stage is different than the knockout rounds therefore we should not get ahead of ourselves.”
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