December 17, 2017

Bayern Munich and Pep Guardiola go in the record books

With their 2-1 win against Hoffenheim, Bayern Munich have equalled Hamburg’s record of 36 consecutive Bundesliga games without a defeat, set back in 1983.  The win also means that Pep Guardiola is undefeated in his first eleven games in charge of the club, the first coach in club history to do so.  Goals from Mario Mandzukic and Thomas Müller put Bayern back atop the league after Dortmund’s win on Friday night and it also continues Hoffenheim’s winless record against the defending champions.

Bayern keep on winning

This was the third game in a row where Bayern came from behind to win a league match.  The last time that happened was eight years ago.  Despite some being critical of their form.  First it was Mainz, then Hertha Berlin and now Niklas Süle and Hoffenheim.  Despite the 18-year-old’s opening goal (which makes him the team’s youngest ever goalscorer in the Bundesliga by the way), Bayern kept playing their game and patiently caught up to their opponent, a common characteristic under Guardiola this season.

Perhaps it was Martinez’s first start this season, and Lahm reverting to his usual right back spot, that unsettled Bayern’s rhythm a bit at the start.  Götze also got a rare start behind Mandzukic with Robben sitting out.  The rotation will become a more prominent element in Bayern’s squad planning as the season continues and it could very well mean a certain accommodation period for the players.

In spite of the changes, Bayern’s collective quality has been very consistent across all competitions so far and that more than anything else has been the standout feature of Guardiola’s still short tenure. The ability to win even when changing personnel, when trailing, when underperforming, is the ultimate challenge for a club with Bayern’s aspirations and standards.  As such they have picked up where they left off last season and are a game away from rewriting the record books.

Ribery again makes the difference

The mercurial French winger assisted both goals, had a match-high 102 touches on the ball, won a staggering 69% of his duels and was directly involved in 10 of Bayern’s 17 attempts on goal.  Simply put, Ribery won Bayern the game.  That’s not to say that it was a one man show but as has often been the case for Bayern, domestically and in Europe, Ribery is the catalyst and the difference maker when things don’t quite go the team’s way.

Ribery's passing volume with his teammates, by far the player most engaged in the game.
Ribery’s passing volume with his teammates, by far the player most engaged in the game.

Hoffenheim could not be blamed for preferring a Bayern side without Ribery.  The Frenchman has now been involved in nine goals in the last four encounters between the two clubs.  His clever flick assist to Müller’s goal not only showed his awareness but also his selflessness and importance in the team’s overall offensive synergy.  He no longer initiates attacks purely down the left wing but through the center, from the right, from deep positions as well as bringing others into play.  He currently operates very similar to how Guardiola used Andres Iniesta at Barcelona, roaming playmaker.

Lahm and Bayern’s evolving tactical role

Even though Martinez returned to the lineup and Lahm started at right back Guardiola will likely continue to use Lahm in some sort of midfield role.  After the break against Hoffenheim, noticing that Hoffenheim’s attacks came mostly down the right, Guardiola instructed Lahm to push into midfield.  Boateng, Dante and Alaba stayed back with Schweinsteiger or Martinez covering when necessary.  At times Götze tracked back down the right as well, all allowing Lahm to pull the strings in midfield.

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One of the variations allowing Lahm to push into midfield
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Cristian Nyari

Cristian is a football writer and analyst living in New York City, fascinated with the history and study of the beautiful game and all it entails. Follow Cristian on twitter @Cnyari

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