After the opening round loss to Gladbach at home, Bayern were under pressure to follow up on a positive note but against Felix Magath’s Wolfsburg that was far from guaranteed. Despite a shaky pre-season and some outstanding squad issues Magath is always capable of organizing his side in such a way that would trouble even the biggest clubs in the league. Bayern’s high expectations and Magath’s tactical astuteness meant that just about anything could have happened.
On the contrary though, the match became attritional as it wore on and neither side deserved to take home the three points. It was Bayern that walked away with the spoils in the end as Heynckes recorded his 6th consecutive win over Wolfsburg as a coach thanks to a later winner from Luiz Gustavo after a rather forgettable performance. Magath will be ruing a controversial call ruling a Helmes goal offside while Bayern will undoubtedly prompt dozens of “Bayern Dusel” or “undeserved luck” headlines.
Bayern cautious and Wolfsburg disciplined
Bayern were without Robben who was nursing a back injury which meant that Müller was pushed out wide while Kroos deputized for him in the center, a variation that has not always yielded the most desirable results. Müller works well out wide, as he does for the German National Team, when he has the freedom to come inside but Bayern’s set up features wingers who are more structurally inclined to hug the flank, as last week’s performance against Gladbach showed. As a result, Müller remained isolated for much of the match and was eventually replaced in the second half.
What was visible from the start was a more defensive and cautious Bayern, no doubt seeking to shore up a vulnerable backline that is still learning to play together. That caution was probably a reason why Wolfsburg looked so dangerous early on but the game settled eventually and turned into another episode of Bayern trying to break down a defensively organized opponent, something that the club has struggled with in recent times. Kjaer and Russ did well to win all their duels (16 combined) but rather than employing a patient build up play they often sent long balls to their strikers. It was effective in keeping Bayern out but did little in getting their team on the score sheet.
Bayern’s usual wide play also yielded little results against the defensive work of midfielders Ochs and Salihamidzic so their 27 crosses from last week were reduced to just 8 this time around. Because the wide play caters so much to Gomez functionally and structurally the striker was turned into a spectator, having a mere 13 touches on the ball. Much of the match was spent by the Bayern players hovering outside Wolfsburg’s box trying to figure a way to break down their opponent, passing laterally without clear initiative.
Magath may have thought to capitalize on Bayern’s ineffectiveness up front and introduced more attack minded midfielders Dejagah and Koo in place of Ochs and Salihamidzic to surprise them on the counter. Rather than reversing the pressure, Wolfsburg made themselves vulnerable in the center. Schweinsteiger took a more advanced position alongside Kroos and started probing the backline. The lack of inventiveness or incisiveness in the final third from last week remained however and Bayern still struggled to break through an organized Wolfsburg defense. It seemed inevitable that the game would finish 0-0 at that point as neither side seemed to make any headway and most of the half was eventless. Tragically for Magath, Wolfsburg’s one crucial mistake was to be costly as Gustavo was unmarked in front of the box in the final minutes and slotted home the winner.
Positives despite result and performance
For starters, both Bayern and Wolfsburg’s defenses played formidably and were rarely troubled. Both center back pairings worked well together and as two clubs often criticized for their fragile backlines in the last couple of months there were encouraging signs of improvement. Magath was understandably furious about the disallowed goal but in the first two matches of the season his side showed that they have the ability to actually close out and win matches.
As far as Bayern are concerned, it was a welcome departure from the completely singular predictable crossing game from last week. The failure to involve Gomez may also be a blessing in disguise and steer the team into a more flexible direction. Far from being the most memorable of matches, it did serve as a vital learning experience for both sides with clear improvements in key areas of their play. Lahm said after the match that the team needed to play the ball quicker going forward and make better use of the small spaces on the field. He also outlined the problem the side has relying too much on their possession game and not get caught up in it when they need to get forward. His words may be an indicator of an even more direct style of play shaping up this season.
Most importantly of course, it was three big points after an initial stumble. As captain Lahm put it after the match, “The important thing is the three points, how we get them I could care less.”
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