Louis van Gaal tactically outwitted Dieter Hecking and set Bayern Munich on their way to a comfortable victory in the Bavarian derby.
Having converted Bastian Schweinsteiger into a defensive midfielder-cum-quarterback last season, Bayern’s Dutch manager elected to use the one-time winger in a more advanced position for the visit of Nuremberg.
Often exponents of the 4-2-3-1 system so popular in the world game today, Bayern started in a formation that resembled a 4-5-1 at its most languid, and a Christmas tree at its most attacking.
With both defences looking to stand high, and the visitors content to let Bayern have time on the ball, 20 outfield players were competing for space in a vicinity of the pitch encompassing around a quarter of its overall dimensions.
Bayern felt their way in using the calm manner Bundesliga fans have become accustomed to, and had both Tymoschuk and Schweinsteiger shuttling back to collect the ball off the hogging centre-backs.
However, Hecking had instructed Julian Schieber – joint top of the assists chart with Lewis Holtby – and the nearest midfielder nearest to vigorously press the piano-carrier.
The tactic was effective, and kept Bayern at bay. It ensured Nuremberg had 11 men behind the ball at all times, and less bobbers to deal with as Bayern’s ball-players were all left facing the wall.
Unimpressed, van Gaal told Schweinsteiger to get nearer to Mario Gómez, and Tymoschuk to start bobbing in front of the opposition’s defensive midfielders more.
He also instructed his centre-backs to launch libero runs, and forced Hamit Altintop into abandoning the right flank as Christian Eigler and Javier Pinola were playing at auxiliary centre-midfield and centre-defence respectively.
Although, initially, this didn’t create anything, Bayern ruffled their guests’ feathers, and could also press higher up the pitch when they’d lost the ball – something Schweinsteiger went at with gusto.
All the while, Hecking’s players tucked in and suffocated the space: responding to the fact both Toni Kroos and Altintop were veering infield.
And then, in the tenth minute, the ball was brought out from the back, and given to Kroos on the chalk. Realising Juri Judt was following his every step, Kroos launched an aimless amble infield.
Like a dog chasing a tennis ball, the former Germany U21 international abandoned his post and scampered after the 20-year-old Bayern midfielder.
With Nurember’s right-winger – and on-loan Bayern boy – Mehmet Ekici not exactly (a). exerting much energy to get back, or (b). knowing what to do when he was back, the home side had acres of space to work with on the left flank.
Using the more ‘free’ of the central midfielders, Andreas Ottl, to gravitate to the left as a decoy (thus pulling Per Nilsson out of position), Danijel Pranjić had the freedom of the chalk.
And when the Serb was fed to gallop into the box, the depleted and misshapen Nuremberg defence had too much to do, and couldn’t stop Mario Gómez from converting the simplest of squares.
The rest of the first-half was totally forgettable – Nuremberg struggled to grab the initiative against a settled, midfield-heavy Bayern side, and stuck with the same system Hecking had presumably started with in the hope of earning a draw.
Both managers made one change each at half time. Breno, who helped Nuremberg stay up last season (along with Ottl), replacing the injured Martin Demichelis in a like-for-like switch that saw Bayern take to the field in the same system. Hecking, meanwhile, elected to amend his system by removing a defensive midfielder, Jens Hegeler, and bringing on Mike Frantz.
Frantz went onto the left wing, and Eigler offered assistance to the highly touted but utterly anonymous İlkay Gündogan in the support-striker/centre-midfield role.
Switching to a 4-1-4-1 was necessary because until then the two centre-backs and two screens had had just two men between them to deal with – Gómez, and Schweinsteiger.
Bayern were a bit stodgy at the back in the half’s opening stages, and nearly paid the price when Frantz got to the byline and pulled back for Schieber.
The striker, on-loan from Stuttgart, couldn’t finish the chance, and wasted an even better one just a few minutes later.
And then, it was déjà vu, as van Gaal again elected to change things within minutes of a half commencing. This time, he used his bench,hauling off an unamused Altintop, and bringing Thomas Müller onto the right wing (attempting, presumably, to restrict Pinola from supporting Frantz, and making the left winger himself think twice about supporting Schieber).
However, it was Toni Kroos who made the game-killing impact just seconds later when he fed Gómez to go one-on-one with Raphael Schäfer. The in-form striker was felled, the goalkeeper yellow-cared, and the resultant penalty converted by Philipp Lahm for 2-0.
Not long after Bayern’s second, Franck Ribery came on for his first appearance since September, replacing Kroos. And in the 75th minute, the Frenchman curled in a corner that Gómez waltzed through three black-shirted players for to convert at the near post. The striker could then have had his third hat-trick of the season, but skied a late penalty.
The win lifts Bayern above Nuremberg into sixth place, but van Gaal’s side are still 11 points off runaway leaders Borussia Dortmund. That gap could be 14 points by the end of next weekend, as Bayern face a tricky trip to in-form Leverkusen.