This weekend, German fußball really gears up as the DFB Pokal opening round begins. However, Bundesliga fans were treated to a preamble with Bundesliga-related action on Wednesday and Thursday this week. On Wednesday, Bayern beat São Paulo FC 2-0 in the first round of the Audi Cup, a tournament the Die Roten hosted at Allianz Arena. On Thursday, Bayern came from behind to beat a strong Manchester City side 2-1 in the cup final. Surely, a comforting results for, arguably, Europe’s best side after last weekend’s 4-2 loss at Borussia Dortmund in the Super Cup final.
Meanwhile, VfB Stuttgart opened its Europa League campaign with a trip to Botev Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s charter top flight club. The Swabians left Plovdiv with a 1-1 draw.
Bayern Munich 2 – 0 São Paulo FC
Bayern’s lineup: Neuer / Rafinha (Højbjerg 89′), Martínez (Boateng 63′), Danté (van Buyten 63′), Alaba (Schmitz 89′) / Schweinsteiger (Kirchhoff 63′) / Robben (Müller 59′), Lahm (Weiser 72′), Kroos (Shaqiri 67′), Ribéry (Green 78′) / Pizarro (Mandzukic 46′).
Goals: Mandzukic (55′), Weiser (86′).
Honestly, a scoreline that flattered the Brazilian side. Bayern entirely dominated this match, but couldn’t find the net as it poured in shot after shot. However, SPFC pulled back into a defensive bunker, denying Bayern the best spaces for shots. Consequently, the visitors really only looked dangerous for a brief spell before halftime.
When Mandzukic subbed on for Pizarro (46′), this switch provided the spark Bayern needed, as Robben sent in a cross to the far post that Mandzukic mundanely tapped in for the goal (55′).
The scoreline remained 1-0, despite Bayern’s continued dominance of possession and tempo. Finally, as Bayern piled on attack after attack, Shaqiri’s rifled shot struck the post, but pacy 19 year-old sub Mitchell Weiser (a potential “Mario Gomez hair” replacement?) was there to score on the put back. 2-0 Bayern. Oddly, Manuel Neuer was forced to save a penalty from SPFC keeper (and captain) Rogério Ceni (!).
Now for the most important news: Bayern opened the match with the 4-1-4-1 formation we’re beginning to become accustomed to. This time, Javi Martínez joined Danté in central defense. Meanwhile, Rafinha and Alaba started as backs, again pushing Philipp Lahm in a central midfield role. Rafinha looks great as a rightback in Pep’s emerging system; the Brazilian run ceaselessly and distributed key passes repeatedly. Finally, Pizarro started on top (in place of Mandzukic).
However, it would be silly to say Bayern used a formation; rather Die Roten played a beautiful fluid match in which almost every player (it seemed) shifted or run around the whole pitch: the effect was totaalvoetbal-esque. For example, both Martínez and Danté frequently penetrated into the attacking third with their runs, while Ribéry and even Robben tracked back into more defensive midfield roles at times. The Frenchman was especially active, running fluently on both the right and left sides, as well as through the middle. Lahm seemed perfectly comfortable with his central midfield role, too, even getting a solid shot off on goal. In all, a beautiful performance from Bayern.
Bayern Munich 2 – 1 Manchester City
Bayern’s Lineup: Neuer / Lahm (Weiser 90′), Martínez (van Buyten 67′), Danté ( Boateng 67′), Alaba / Schweinsteiger (Kirchhoff 62′) / Robben (Mandzukic 57′), Thiago (Shaqiri 57′), Kroos (Rafinha 59′), Ribéry / Müller.
In the Audi Cup final, Bayern met a powerful-looking Manchester City side, who dispatched AC Milan 5-3 the day before; this, after the English side went up 5-0 before halftime (!).
From the beginning, Bayern controlled the tempo of pitch, enjoying large swaths of possession. Man City was content to pull into defense, waiting for counter-attacking opportunities. Frequently in the first half, Bayern played a very quick passing game from the back and around the midfield, waiting for openings. Thiago and Schweinsteiger were particularly instrumental in this role. Perhaps the Bayern version of tiki-taka?
However, Man City played solid defense, holding down their box. Again and again, Bayern penetrated into the right and left corners, launching crosses into the box that just didn’t quite find any Die Roten feet for goal shots.
Slowly, Man City gained more possession of the ball, actually creating some chances on goal. Finally, in a lightning fast counter-attack, new signing Alvaro Negredo found himself streaking toward the goal with the ball, one-on-one against Martínez, whom was simply out-muscled as Negredo scored a goal (61′) on a tight angle into the far post, as Neuer’s leaping attempt couldn’t save the shot.
However, just five minutes later, Müller easily scored on a penalty given, thanks to Zabeleta’s handball in the box. Finally, seven minutes later, Mandzukic scored the go-ahead goal (73′) on a back post tap in from Müller’s pass. The 2-1 score held in Bayern’s favor until full time.
Again, we saw Pep’s side trot out a 4-1-4-1:
Although Bayern didn’t look as fluid in switching positions, instead Bayern seemed to rely more on shortish midfield passing to build up attacks, which were triggered by lay offs or aerial balls into the corners, then crosses into the box. Clearly, Man City was a more organized side, defensively; however, this Bayern side is too good to simply stay in a defensive posture against, as eventually one of its scoring chances finally go in. Interestingly, Bayern look more dangerous with a striker like Mandzukic in the lineup, since the Croatian can receive the crosses into the box. Regardless, watching this Bayern side play will be a pleasure all season, given its skill, depth, and Pep’s willingness to move players around the pitch.
PFC Botev Plovdiv 1 – 1 VfB Stuttgart
- VfB Stuttgart: Ulreich / Rüdiger, Tasci (C), Schwaab, Rausch / Leitner, Torun (Cacau 56), Boka / Werner (Maxim 66′), Ibiševic (Abdellaoue 88′), Traoré.
- PFC Botev Plovdiv: Stachowiak / Hristov, Sprockel, Grncarov, Minev (C) / Galchev, Anicet (Sarmov 72′), Jirsák / Nedelev, Ognyanov (Domovchiyski 67′), Kortzorg (Dyakov 87′).
Goals: Ibiševic (67′) 1-0 Stuttgart, Domovchiyski (73′) 1-1 Plovdiv.
- VfB Stuttgart: Rausch (47′) yellow, Werner (51′) yellow, Rüdiger (58′) yellow.
- PFC Botev Plovdiv: Nedelev (66′) yellow.
Due to making the DFB Pokal final against Bayern in May, Stuttgart qualified for this year’s Europa League competition. Of course, last season Stuttgart, despite a tepid Bundesliga performance, advanced furthest in this competition of all German clubs.
So the Swabians began their Europa campaign in Bulgaria on the home ground (18,000) of Botev Plovdiv, the oldest club (1912) in the Bulgarian F.A. Last season, the Canaries finished 4th in the Bulgarian top flight, making steady progress after a financial collapse in 2010. The Canaries qualified for Europa play after CSKA Sofia was disqualified, due to financial troubles. Both sides trotted out fairly direct 4-3-3 formations.
Stuttgart started the match dourly. Although the club enjoyed close to 60% of possession, it played the ball around very passively. Plovdiv created the match’s only real chances in the first half, as Stuttgart seemed content to simply wait the half out. The Canaries enjoyed fantastic support from its Ultras, who jumped often in the long sideline stand.
The match remained fallow as the second half began. Stuttgart seemed just slightly more assertive on the ball. Finally, and somewhat against the run of play, Stuttgart scored when sub Maxim took a free kick following a Nedelev yellow card. Maxim’s free kick, inevitably, met the head of Ibiševic (67′) for the goal.
However, Plovdiv went back to attacking, yet nearly gave up another goal when Schwaab missed for Stuttgart. The deserved equalizer came from sub Domovchiyski (73′). Stuttgart was fortunate Plovdiv didn’t get another before full time, as the Canaries had a couple decent chances. The score remained 1-1.
In this match, Stuttgart’s main issue from last season was still present: who is this club without forward Vedad Ibiševic? Again, the Bosnian was clearly the only real threat for the Swabians, who were feckless offensively. Loanee Moritz Leitner (from Dortmund) made little impact, and while the Torun and Boka intrigued in the midfield, they were not inspiring. Perhaps Stuttgart resorted to passive tactics because these types of roadtrips are difficult in Europa play, but the result was not encouraging for Stuttgart supporters.