This week’s report was always going to be a little different, with my being in the south stand of the Allianz Arena in Munich to watch FC Bayern live in what was arguably a modern revival of the age-old Klassiker of the 1970s against Borussia Mönchengladbach. Sadly, for Bayern fans the game wouldn’t quite match up to our expectations – and in what was surely the cruellest twist of fate I ended up having witness at first hand what was probably Bayern’s most insipid display of the season.
Coach Pep Guardiola made a number of changes to the eleven had started against Werder Bremen the previous week; ‘keeper Manuel Neuer returned between the sticks in charge of Pepe Reina, the fit-again Arjen Robben came in for Thomas Müller, and the coach’s persisting with the defensive midfield partnership of Xabi Alonso and Bastian Schweinsteiger picked up again with former Spanish international replacing Sebastian Rode. Elsewhere, Holger Badstuber rejoined a rejigged back line in place of the suspended Medhi Benatia. Philipp Lahm again made the bench, alongside another long-missed name, Thiago.
Having made my way to Fröttmaning on the U6 after spending the early part of the afternoon at the BMW Museum – located close to Bayern’s old home, the Olympiastadion – I popped into the club shop and picked up the latest addition to my collection of FC Bayern Trikots, the black design with “3 – Alonso” on the back.
If I had hoped for a positive omen, I was quickly disappointed. The Alonso-Schweinsteiger partnership once again made Die Roten look stodgy and one-dimensional in midfield as they struggled to turn possession into chances, and although the opening twenty minutes saw Guardiola’s men control the pace of the game there was little to worry Mönchengladbach’s Swiss ‘keeper Yann Sommer as Lucien Favre’s side gradually settled down.
The Südkurve were in great voice – as, I will have to admit, were the away fans tucked away in their little corner at the top of the north stand – but there was little in the way of inspiration for the home side down on the pitch. There were a few half-chances early on, but a crunching challenge by Tony Jantschke on Robben and the Dutchman having to leave the field with a stomach muscle injury just moments later pretty much removed the only real spark in the Bayern attack. With Franck Ribéry’s absence already being felt, Robben’s withdrawal removed all remaining creativity.
Just as one was thinking that things could not get any worse, they did. In what was the visitors’ first meaningful foray with any purpose into the Bayern half, Brazilian Raffael got a shot in on goal, but straight at Neuer.
Easy for the Bayern ‘keeper. Or not.
In what felt like a slow-motion nightmare, Neuer seemed to paw at the ball, which squirmed off and past him before rolling over the line. It was not the first mistake by the Bayern Torhüter against Gladbach, and for a while I truly believed that the man between the sticks was an impostor, replaced by a gentleman whom I had seen buying a Neuer short in the club shop less than an hour earlier.
Having taken the lead Gladbach tightened up considerably, and from that point on were determined to make like difficult for a Bayern team that without Robben or Ribéry looked bereft of ideas. Half-time came with Die Fohlen looking increasingly solid.
The opening twenty minutes of the second half saw the visitors pick up where they had left off at the end of the first, and when the game passed the hour mark Bayern were still to register a meaningful shot on goal. The disappointing Alonso was replaced by Sebastian Rode, and while the young substitute tried his best to inject a little more urgency into the Bayern attack the side was largely let down by an off-colour Müller, a largely anonymous Mario Götze – not for the first time – and striker Robert Lewandowski who continued in his struggle to adapt to the coach’s system.
The listless Götze was eventually replaced by Lahm with twenty minutes remaining, but try as they might there was no way back for Bayern against an obdurate Gladbach defence. Juan Bernat – another one of the few bright sparks – tested Sommer, but with thirteen minutes remaining Patrick Hermann and Cristoph Kramer broke down the right at pace, with the young German international setting up Raffael for his second. It was as not an obvious an error as the first goal, but as the ball hit the back of the Bayern net for a second time Neuer must have been wondering whether he had been transported into a parallel universe and turned into David James.
At two goals down there was no realistic chance of a Bayern revival, and as the match approached its end Gladbach were really starting to look the part. Another fast-paced attack saw sub Max Kruse get another shot on goal, with Neuer this time able to fly to his right and pull off a fine save.
Bayern finished the game having dominated the possession with figures if close to seventy percent, but had nothing to show for it in terms of the actual result. For me in the stands it was a bitter blow and a real dampener on what had been an otherwise enjoyable weekend in the Bavarian capital, and I slowly made my way out if the stands as I tried not to think too much about the longish trek towards the U-Bahn station.
Overall it is fair to say that Gladbach got the result they craved, while Bayern simply didn’t crave enough. The defensive midfield combination continued to misfire, the front line was blunted completely by a disciplined opposition defence, apart from the excellent Jérôme Boteng the defence still have plenty of questions to answer, and the extremely rare sub-par showing by Neuer simply compounded the problem. If just to rub it in, news emerged after the match that Robben was going to be out for the best part of two months – ruling him out of the Champions’ League quarter-final against FC Porto and possibly for the remainder of the season.
With second-placed Wolfsburg held to a 1-1 saw by Mainz, Bayern’s lead in the Bundesliga was cut by the smallest of margins to just ten points, and despite the setback Guardiola will be looking to get things going again after the international week. One couldn’t ask for a more interesting opponent when things resume in the first week of April: Borussia Dortmund.
Man of the Match
A rock in what was arguably a sea of confusion – Jérôme Boateng. Other bright(ish) sparks: Juan Bernat, Sebastian Rode.
There is plenty of talent in Guardiola’s squad, but the loss of the influential Robben – who has been by far the best player in Bayern colours this season – is a major blow. With Ribéry also struggling for fitness, the highly-rated Götze not exactly setting the world alight and Lewandowski continuing to misfire, Bayern’s attack looks woefully thin in terms of creativity. There is the craft and guile of Thomas Müller, but there is only so much one man can do.
1. Bundesliga, Week 26
Allianz Arena, München, 22.03.2015
FC Bayern 0:2 (0:1) Borussia Mönchengladbach
– / Raffael 30., 77.
FC Bayern: Neuer – Rafinha, Boateng, Badstuber, Bernat – Alonso (61. Rode) – Alaba, Schweinsteiger (c) – Robben (24. Müller), Götze (70. Lahm) – Lewandowski
Mönchengladbach: Sommer – Jantschke, Stranzl, Alvaro Dominguez, Wendt – Herrmann (89. Nordtveit), Kramer, Xhaka, Johnson – Raffael (81. Hazard) – Hahn (72. Kruse)
Yellow Cards: – / Jantschke, Hahn
Originally published on the website of the Red Dragons London, the United Kingdom’s premier FC Bayern München fan club
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