With their 1-0 win against Viktoria Plzen, Bayern Munich have equalled Barcelona’s record of nine consecutive Champions League wins, set back in 2003. The win also meant that they have officially qualified for the knockout stage of the competition and remain unbeaten in all competitions going back to July.
After their 5-0 win against Plzen in Munich Pep Guardiola felt comfortable enough to change things up a bit. The unorthodox pairing of Daniel van Buyten and Diego Contento started at center back while Mario Götze lead the line up front. Rafinha and Toni Kroos also slotted back into the lineup after resting over the weekend.
Slowly but surely Bayern adjust to Pep’s rotation
Plzen upped their game this time around and put Bayern under a fair amount of pressure. So far this season Bayern have not been at their best in the first half of games but that has not been a problem in Europe so far, until this game. Perhaps it was the reverse result that made players a bit overconfident or the back line changes ruffled them. Either way, Plzen continuously found ways to put pressure on Bayern in the first half with Contento nearly conceding a penalty after a long ball over the top caught the team off guard. Luckily Bayern got away with what could easily have been called a penalty.
Bayern’s left side in particular was susceptible. Just before the half Horvath sent in a great cross that Kovar nearly headed past Neuer. A lot of that uncertainty, or positional discrepencies stemmed from Götze’s inclusion up front. With him Bayern do not have a direct focal or reference point, meaning he is free to interchange with the wide players and step out of the box to link up. The consequence is a constantly shifting front three that can leave room behind if not covered properly.
That said, it is part of Guardiola’s continuing tactical education at Bayern and with players like Götze and Martinez returning to full fitness, rotation will become an even greater element of Bayern’s week to week squad changes. With that of course comes adapting on the field, having shuffled the deck and utilizing different personnel. But with a squad as talented and the size of Bayern it is natural evolution that is also necessary with multiple competitions and the pressure to perform at an extremely high level.
Magic Mario saves the day again
Sometimes Mario Mandzukic’s importance gets lost in the overall spectacle that is Bayern, their coach, their stars and all they’ve accomplished over the years. Like his international teammate, Ivica Olic, though, Mandzukic has become an integral part at Bayern. Not too different from what Mario Gomez offered, Mandzukic provides something different. Something Guardiola sought at Barcelona with the acquisition of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. A presence up top that provides the traditional function of a #9, both physical and good in the area, while good at holding up the ball and dealing with multiple markers.
Alongside Thomas Müller, Mario Mandzukic is Bayern’s top scorer this season with 10 goals. Whereas Müller started 16 games in all competitions Mandzukic only started 13 and was taken off in 5 of them. When Guardiola’s appointment was announced many already counted Manduzkic’s out and in a way they could not be blamed. Mario Götze’s arrival meant a “False 9” ala Lionel Messi would become the norm. And perhaps it would have had it not be for Götze’s injury but Mandzukic took the opportunities he was given and excelled. He proved Guardiola that he can continue to be an impact player and has won Bayern multiple games already this season, starting or coming off the bench.
What record next?
It’s not difficult to imagine Bayern beating CSKA Moscow to set a record of 10 consecutive wins in the Champions League. Similarly, a win at the weekend in the Bundesliga against Augsburg is all but expected and with it a new record for the longest unbeaten streak in league history. Despite the occasional slow start to games, Bayern have improved every week this season. The new players are becoming better integrated, the squad players deputize without a noticable drop in quality and the level of performance is maintained throughout. So, what record next? All of them!
Pep Guardiola: We knew it wouldn’t be possible for the game to go as well as it did in Munich. All matches in the Champions League are dangerous. Plzen are a very, very good team. And if you lose 5-0 like Plzen did, you’re even more focused in the next match because you’re determined to do better. We spoke about all this beforehand. We played very well in the second half and created plenty of chances. I’m very, very happy we’ve equalled this record, and I hope we can extend it in Moscow. I’m grateful to Jupp. He’s made a bigger contribution to the record than I have.
Philipp Lahm: As quickly as possible, we have to make sure we don’t sleep through the early stages like we’ve been doing recently. We keep letting our opponents believe they can take something from the match. We beat Plzen 5-0 at the Allianz Arena, so it’s possible we were a bit more relaxed about tonight’s match, but we can’t be letting that happen! This is the Champions League! That aside, we can be pleased because we have a perfect record of 12 points from four matches.
Manuel Neuer: We didn’t start well. Against opponents like these, it’s important to get the ball out wide, let the ball do the work, camp out in their half, and then get behind the defense and put in our crosses. The goal came from a good cross, and it was a great finish by Mandzu. The record is great, but we were looking for a better performance.
Toni Kroos: It wasn’t a festival of football. We had a relatively hard time of it. We had more chances towards the end and it became easier, but it was tough at the start. We gave away possession far too cheaply. We then started passing well in midfield at times, but we didn’t make the most of it. We hardly created anything in the first half, which made it tough going. But we’ve taken 12 points from four matches, and that’s never guaranteed, so we can be proud of that. But we have a few areas for improvement.
Thomas Müller: We’ve not covered ourselves in glory, but we’ve won it, and that’s the most important thing. We’re not about to sit down in the dressing room and crack open the champagne. We simply made too many errors, and gave away possession far too easily in the build-up. Nor did we make the most of our chances. Plzen here at home are a completely different proposition compared to when they came to Munich.
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