Werder Bremen 0 – 2 Bayern München – Patient Bayern Maintain Perfect Season

by Aleix Gwilliam

Luis Gustavo and Mario Mandžukić scored in the last 10 minutes of the match to give Bayern all three points in a tricky match at the Weserstadion. A slow first half with no real chances for either side seemed to carry onto the second one, but Heynckes’ changes from the bench brought a breath of fresh air to Bayern, who overcame a competent display from Werder Bremen to win all three points, leaving them with six wins out of six league fixtures, alone at the top of the table.

Lineups and tactics

Thomas Schaaf introduced a couple of changes to his 4-1-4-1 formation, with Lukas Schmitz dropping to the bench for Theodor Gebre Selassie, who slotted into the right-back position and Clemens Fritz moved to the left. Up front, Nils Petersen took Joseph Akpala’s place despite his goal in the midweek victory at Freiburg. Schaaf’s lineup is an attacking and risky one, considering the opposition he’s up against. Nils Petersen might have something to prove to his parent club and if there is any game that might make Jupp Heynckes consider him in his plans for next season, this is it. Zlatko Junuzović’s performance will be interesting, being able to move forward in order to support the attack and outnumber the defence or not venture too far forward in order to not leave spaces for Kroos behind him.

Heynckes uses his squad depth to change things around from the team that beat Wolfsburg 3-0 in midweek. The defence remained the same but Luis Gustavo started in place of Javi Martínez and Arjen Robben’s injury allows Thomas Müller back into the side, with Toni Kroos taking Xherdan Shaqiri’s place behind the striker, who this time is former Werder man Claudio Pizarro instead of Mario Mandžukić. His 4-2-3-1 system should try to push as high as possible against the deep Werder defence, trying to use Pizarro in a pivotal role up front bringing Kroos and Müller into play, as Ribéry will attempt to profit from any spaces that Gebre Selassie might leave behind him if he pushes up.

The match

Chances were few and far apart in this forgettable first half on a cool and sunny afternoon at the Weserstadion. Bremen’s deep tactics and close lines frustrated Bayern, whose first and only chance of the half came after 4 minutes, when Claudio Pizarro got on the end of a Franck Ribéry cross, causing no real danger to Sebastian Mielitz. The home defence were excellent in containing the Bayern forwards, catching them offside on many occasions and thus ending the danger. Thomas Müller looked to draw first blood but his header from a Kroos corner, seemingly destined for the net, was cut out in the last second by Sebastian Prödl, although the linesman’s flag was already up for offside Werder’s tactics crowded the central midfield.  Bayern were forced out wide, with Müller finding Fritz’s back a few times but not being able to capitalise on the chances while Ribéry’s crosses didn’t reach any of his teammates, although the Frenchman gave Gebre Selassie a torrid time all afternoon.

For Werder, Nils Petersen was alone up front and seemed stranded, with the on-loan man from Bayern keen to impress but finding his chances few and far between, as any ball that fell to him was snapped upon and eventually came to nothing. The crowd was starting to get nervous as Bayern’s persistent and hard fouling, particularly Philipp Lahm on Eljero Elia, seemed to be going unpunished by referee Herr Weiner, who handed cards to Bastian Schweinsteiger and Luis Gustavo for hard fouls but not to Lahm. After 30 minutes, no team had any clear chances and the match seemed stale and in desperate need of a goal or a substitution. Pizarro had another chance just before the break but headed just wide from another Kroos corner.

Bayern come out a lot brighter in the second half and were nearly one up minutes into it, with Ribéry running along the edge of the area and shooting low and hard past Mielitz but encountering the post instead, after having turned Fritz inside out. The hosts had to wait another few minutes but they too had their first clear chance, courtesy of a Kevin De Bruyne shot. The next one didn’t take as long, as a minute later, Petersen picked the ball up on the left flank but instead of finding a better option, chose to shoot well over the bar with Aaron Hunt looking less than impressed alone on the edge of the area.

The hour mark saw the key moment in the match. Heynckes had seen enough and made a double substitution, bringing Kroos and Pizarro off, both of whom had been largely unimpressive all game, and subbing them for Shaqiri and Mandžukić respectively. No tactical changes but a completely different approach. It took a few minutes but the game changed and it became more open. Shaqiri’s speed behind the striker meant that Werder’s defence were struggling to keep up with the Swiss international, as all the attacking plays were going through him. Ribéry once again came close, shooting just wide.

Petersen had a chance to impress just two minutes later. He received the ball inside the area from Hunt but, despite having acres of space and plenty of time, he snapped at the chance and shot straight at Neuer, showing perhaps why Bayern feel he is surplus to requirements,  showing nothing to suggest that he should be considered for next season. However, this was Werder’s brightest spell of the match, with Arnautović just missing the ball after an excellent De Bruyne cross to the far post, with Neuer already beaten.

Despite this, it wasn’t just any team that they were playing, it was the Rekordmeister after all, and Heynckes’ substitutions had just started to click. All the balls were going through Shaqiri, who continued causing havoc in the previously calm and composed Werder defence. Luis Gustavo shot just wide and Shaqiri and Mandžukić saw their efforts stopped by the safe hands of Mielitz.   Inevitably and predictably, the deadlock was broken by the Bavarians just a few minutes later, in quite brilliant fashion. Luis Gustavo received the ball on the edge of the area and placed a beautiful shot with the inside of his left foot that curled just over Mielitz and dipped into the net, a truly excellent goal that had been coming for quite a few minutes.

Any chance that Schaaf’s men had to get back into the match quickly disappeared, as Bayern broke on the counter with a 4-against-3 superiority, and finished it in style. Ribéry carried the ball across the pitch and left it to Shaqiri on the left flank, who crossed it low to Mandžukić who was alone at the far post and the Croatian striker just had to slot it comfortably past Mielitz, putting the match out of reach for the home side. It was almost three minutes later as another Shaqiri cross just missed the Croatian coming in alone at the far post once again, but that was the last of it for the match and it was a case of so near but yet so far for Werder’s young team.

The verdict

It was an excellent display by the Werder defence for 70 minutes of the match, as they kept Bayern at bay no matter what they had thrown at them, although admittedly it wasn’t all that much for most of the match.  Werder, though, didn’t really look like scoring. Nils Petersen was isolated up front as the rest of the team sat deep, with any long ball which he managed to control or latch onto causing no concern for Bayern, perhaps due to his desire to impress his parent club and thus snapping at chances. Elia perhaps could have performed better if Lahm had been booked in the first half but having a clean record meant that the German captain was able to contain the Dutch winger by legal and not-so-legal ways. Had Petersen kept his calm in the second half, it could have been a different scoreline and perhaps if Werder were playing any of the other 16 teams in the Bundesliga today, the ball would have gone in. Junuzović appeared very little in the game and more was needed of him in attacking positions helping De Bruyne and Hunt, who worked hard all game but with little end product. Sokratis and Prödl had a solid game until Shaqiri came on and Mielitz kept his composure and concentration with all the shots that came this way, not being able to do much for both goals.

Bayern again showed an outstanding defence Saturday, too.  The Bavarians limited their north German opponents to only two shots on goal as Neuer earned his clean sheet having to make only those two saves.  Heynckes’ squad furthermore held Werder Bremen to two corner kicks, while attaining a massive superiority in passes completed (459 to 196), and percentage of passes completed ( 85% to 74%) while earning 61% of possession.

Bayern clearly showed the importance of having depth in the squad. Unlike last year, the substitutes not only freshened up the team but also improved it, allowing the team to maintain the tactics but approaching the game in a completely different way. Shaqiri brought a lot of energy into the attack and ceaselessly unsettled the Werder defence, breaking down a defence that seemed rock solid for the previous hour. Having 16, 17 or 18 players that can play in the first XI and that don’t alter the quality of the side when they come on will be of the utmost importance this year for Bayern, who will be playing two games a week more often than not.  Heynckes’ willingness to rotate his players in and out of the starting lineup will keep his players fresh, something which was perhaps a major cause of them playing the bridesmaid role instead of champion in three competitions last year. The players seemed frustrated in the first half with the excellent defence but they also managed to keep their calm and persist in attack, and this quality is also a valuable one, since not all games will be easy from the start. Bayern have shown resilience here, proving that they can perform under pressure and manage to break up and win a game that seemed stale.

Bayern continue their perfection in all competitions and will head to Tuesday’s Champions League matchup away to BATE Borisov with confidence and energy, while Werder Bremen will be able to take many positives from this performance, especially in defence. However, they will have to sort out their striker position, with Petersen apparently not the man to bring regular goals to the Weserstadion this season.

Man of the match

The key point in the match, the factor that turned things around and gave Bayern the flair needed to win a tricky game, was the substitution on the hour of Shaqiri for Kroos. Shaqiri brought speed to Bayern’s attack and he unsettled the defence with a little help from Franck Ribéry, who also had a solid game. However, the former Basel man saw all the attacks go through his boots and thanks to his energy and speed Werder lost their solidity, allowing Luis Gustavo to open the scoring and then Mandžukić to finish the game off, with the assist coming from the Kosovo-born player. For this reason, today’s MoTM award goes to Xherdan Shaqiri.

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Author:Aleix Gwilliam

Is a 26-year-old living in Barcelona who gets more pleasure from watching German football than from going to watch his hometown team at the Camp Nou every other week. Passionate about European football and its history, you can follow him on Twitter at @AleixGwilliam
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