Toothless Bayern shackled by cynical Shakhtar

Fresh after their eight-goal demolition of Hamburger SV at the weekend, Bayern were back in Champions’ League action against Ukrainians Shakhtar Donetsk, but after an insipid and at times undisciplined performance they had to make do with a share of the spoils at the Arena L’viv against a solid but professionally cynical opponent.

Coach Pep Guardiola was able to make a number of changes to his starting eleven, with centre-back Jérome Boateng available for selection and midfielder anchor Xabi Alonso back from injury. Boateng returned to a new back four in place of the injured Medhi Benatia, with David Alaba shifted into the Vierekette replacing the benched Holger Badstuber. In midfield the fit-again Xabi Alonso returned to the side, while striker Robert Lewandowski made way for Franck Ribéry who made his first start since returning from injury.

While Bayern came into the match off the back of a domestic goal-fest, it couldn’t have been more different for Shakhtar. Forced to play their home matches in L’viv – six-hundred miles to the west of their fortress at the Donbass Arena – it was also the Ukrainians’ first competitive match for two months after a long winter break. It was a strange and slightly subdued atmosphere, which set the scene for a frustrating and at times fractious encounter.

Bayern were quick to establish themselves at the start. Within a minute Rafinha had scuffed a shot straight at Shakhtar ‘keeper Andriy Pyatov, and just two minutes later a lovely dancing run down the right and cut inside from Arjen Robben found Bastian Schweinsteiger unmarked in the middle of the opposition box. The Dutchman’s looping pass was struck on the volley by the Bayern skipper, but the ball flew high over the crossbar and the chance had gone.

Robben had started the game with plenty of energy, and almost created another chance on ten minutes. Charging down the right and showing good pace and strength to muscle past his marker, his low pass was just a little to far in front of the fast-advancing Thomas Müller.

However, this was as good as it got. Having almost been caught out twice, Shakhtar quickly found their game plan and set about stifling the Bavarians at every opportunity. Runs were blocked, tackles were made, and as half-time approached Robben’s bright start was a distant memory as veteran left-back Vyacheslav Shevchuk stamped his authority on the game. Meanwhile, the cynical approach adopted by the home side was crucial in blunting Bayern’s usually free-flowing possession and passing game. With a mix of little fouls and some overly aggressive in your face posturing – quite literally in the case of Dario Srna’s close encounter with Boateng – the Ukrainians slowly began to get under the Bavarians’ skin.

There were a few half-chances before half time as Müller and Ribéry shot over the target, but it was clear that Bayern were rattled. With the referee unable to spot the fair challenges among the succession of silly little fouls, Xabi Alonso found his way into the notebook.

If the first half had ended on a dire note, the second was even worse. The first twenty minutes saw nothing but a succession of bitty challenges, minor scuffles and ill-tempered glares from both sets of players, and five minutes past the hour Alonso followed in on Alex Teixeira. On his one-hundredth Champions’ League appearance, the Spaniard was off for an early bath.

One might have expected Shakhtar to change their approach with the one-man advantage, but they were unable to break away from their game plan. With Bayern offering little up front even after the introduction of striker Robert Lewandowski, the game rolled on to its inevitable conclusion.

Over the course of the entire ninety minutes both sides had managed to get just two shots on target between them. After Rafinha’s scuffed effort inside the first minute Bayern failed to threaten Pyatov, while at the other end Manuel Neuer could very easily have gone to sleep for the entire match.

Shakhtar had done their homework brilliantly as they sucked Bayern in with a smart combination of professionalism and game-breaking cynicism, aided in part by an official who was all to willing to reach for his pocket. It was enough to put Die Roten out of their stride and display a rare lack of discipline.

While the opening period of the first half provided some bright moments, the second half was little more than sludge. Robben was completely closed down, Ribéry showed that he is still not fully fit, an out of position Müller was out of sorts, while Mario Götze was anonymous throughout. If just to compound matters, Lewandowski was brought on for the last fifteen minutes and clearly had no idea what he was supposed to be doing. With such talent on show, one has to wonder whether the problems lie less with the players and more with the coach’s tactics.

On paper and given the peculiar set of circumstances Bayern should have been away and clear, but Shakhtar will feel that they are in with more than a sniff of a chance in Munich. An early away goal, and things could get just a little interesting. On the other hand, it is worth remembering that Guardiola’s side were held to a goalless draw in similar circumstances by HSV last year – and we all know what happened in the return meeting.

Bayern now have three weeks before they entertain Shakhtar in the second leg, and next up it’s back to Bundesliga action and a visit to SC Paderborn 07. Having just emerged from a ten-game winless spell, Paderborn will have watched the events in L’viv with more than a little interest.

UEFA Champions’ League Second Round First Leg
Arena L’viv, L’viv/Lemberg, 17.02.2015

Shakhtar Donetsk 0:0 (0:0) FC Bayern
– / –

Shakhtar: Pyatov – Srna (c), Kucher, Rakytskiy, V. Shevchuk – Fernando, Fred – Douglas Costa (78. Marlos), Taison (84. Wellington) – Alex Teixeira – Luiz Adriano (89. Gladkiy)

FC Bayern: Neuer – Rafinha, Boateng, Alaba, Bernat – Alonso – Schweinsteiger (c) – Robben, Götze (75. Lewandowski), Ribéry – Müller (70. Badstuber)

Yellow Cards: Srna, Douglas Costa, Fred / Rafinha, Boateng, Schweinsteiger, Alonso
Yellow-Red Cards: – / Alonso 65.

Originally published on the website of the Red Dragons London, the United Kingdom’s premier FC Bayern München fan club

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London-based but with his heart firmly in Fröttmaning, Rick Joshua's love of German football goes back more than thirty years and has witnessed everything from the pain of Spain '82 and the glory of Italia '90 to the sheer desolation of Euro 2000. This has all been encapsulated in the encyclopaedic Schwarz und Weiß website and blog, which at some three hundred or so pages is still not complete. Should you wish to disturb him, you can get in touch with Rick on Twitter @fussballchef. This carries a double meaning, as he can prepare a mean Obazda too.

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