With their win against Stuttgart, Bayern München booked a place in the DFB Pokal semi final for the fourth time in the last five seasons. In their five previous Cup games the two teams have averaged 4.8 goals per game, Bayern eliminating Stuttgart on each of those occasions. But this game did not quite live up to that excitement, goals from Ribery and Gomez deciding a rather uneventful match. Bayern will now wait to see who of Dortmund, Mönchengladbach or Greuther Fürth they will face next month while Labbadia’s lifeline at Stuttgart continues to wane.
Line ups and Tactics
Labbadia fielded the 4-4-2 he has adopted since Ibisevic joined the club last month, starting the Bosnian up front with Cacau. Schieber, a natural center forward, was again deployed out wide on the left and Niedermeier was again favored ahead of Maza in central defense. Harnik and Hajnal had to watch from the bench. Heynckes meanwhile surprised a few people himself by leaving Robben out of the line up and playing Müller in his position. Kroos returned to his preferred #10 role and Rafinha replaced Tymoshchuk at right back.
Kroos dictates play
The opening minutes were sluggish and characterized by many niggling fouls, Schweinsteiger being the biggest casualty after a collision with Niedermeier. The young Austrian, David Alaba, had to replace him just 17 minutes into the game. The change surprisingly did not affect Bayern too much and the visitors started to slowly take control of the game. Kroos found space in the middle on 20 minutes and released a precise shot that Ulreich just barely parried away with his finger tips. The resulting corner again found Kroos but his shot from distance was aimed into the stands instead of the goal. Five minutes later Kroos was again involved in Bayern’s attack after he combined with Ribery to set up Gomez, his effort blocked by Boulharouz this time.
The breakthrough came at the half hour mark after Rafinha played a ball into the path of Müller’s on the right, who had gotten behind Molinaro, and sent in a low cross tapped in by Ribery in the middle. The Frenchman had escaped his marker and Tasci saw him too late. It was an easy enough finish for Ribery and left Stuttgart goalkeeper Ulreich fuming at his defense. A nearly identical play unfolded just a couple of minutes later when Müller found Ribery again, who beat Boulahrouz quite comfortably but Tasci was there this time to block his shot.
Stuttgart never really settled in the first half, did not win enough challenges and saw too little of the ball. When they did have possession they lacked the necessary invention to make it count. The biggest tactical development was the freedom and space under which Kroos operated. Bayern’s playmaker was free to roam the field and create, with both Stuttgart holding midfielders locked into place and dealing with Ribery and Müller. Stuttgart’s attackers were limited by Labbadia’s chosen formation and remained wide for much of the game, allowing Gustavo, Alaba and Kroos free reign in the middle of the pitch.
Stuttgart lack response
The narrative of the first half pretty much continued in the second. Labbadia made no changes despite being outshot 10 to 1 in the first half. As it were, they were made to pay for it just 30 seconds after the restart. Just as soon as Stuttgart kicked off Bayern regained the ball and launched a counter attack. With Stuttgart players committed forward Müller crossed unchallenged to Gomez, his first shot saved by Ulreich but powerless against the rebound. It was Gomez’s 8th goal in 6 matches against his former club. The Bayern striker was virtually unchallenged in the middle with Niedermeier still finding his way back from the halfway line. Ulreich again voiced his dissatisfaction with his defenders.
To get anything out of this game, Stuttgart now had to throw everything forward. Labbadia eventually brought on both Hajnal and Harnik but it may have been too little too late. Any and every Stuttgart attack was now characterized by desperation rather than being well thought out and patient, making it easy for Bayern’s defense to repel and regain possession. Of course, this also made Stuttgart vulnerable on the break for the remainder of the match and 15 minutes from time Ribery nearly scored with a header but Ulreich again was up to the task. Without their goalkeeper, Stuttgart could well have continued the goal quota these two sides have provided over the years.
Kroos was Bayern’s fulcrum once again. It is no coincidence that no sooner was Kroos used in the #10 role that Bayern’s performances improved dramatically. Against Stuttgart, he dictated the tempo from the beginning and was behind nearly every positive move. The best retention player in the squad next to Schweinsteiger, Kroos’s ability to edit the game got the best out of Müller and Ribery today, all while remaining a big goal threat. (Kroos had more shots than all Stuttgart players combined) Stuttgart failed to mark him properly and paid the price.
The last time Bayern lost Schweinsteiger it affected their performances considerably, making his 2-4 week absence a potentially title deciding event. With the Champions League restarting later this month Heynckes and Co. will hope to draw Fürth in the semi finals and avoid the two sides that have beaten them earlier this season. That said, they can be satisfied with their performance against Stuttgart. While not being a vintage display it was a marked improvement over their sluggish displays since the start of the Rückrunde.
Stuttgart meanwhile are in their darkest period this season, still without a win in 2012 and their last chance at a European appearance next season out the window. It was the worst birthday present Labbadia could have gotten with his job security under threat if conditions do not improve in the coming weeks. His inability to adapt as the match progressed is symbolic of the club’s stagnant form.
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