A quickfire second half double saw Bayern Munich leapfrog Frankfurt in the table and move to within five points of the Champions League spots.
From the off, Bayern deployed their usual pass n’ patience tactics in the face of a 4-5-1 – part and parcel of being the visiting side at the Allianz Arena. Louis van Gaal had two playmakers on the pitch in Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos, and two direct attackers in Franck Ribéry and Thomas Müller. With so many options in the Frankfurt half, Michael Skibbe kept his banks set, rather than pressing Bayern vigorously and leaving gaps for them to exploit.
Nevertheless, Theofanis Gekas’s game is based on running, so he was left to hurry the centre-backs and Anatoliy Tymoschuk. Not only is the Greek international highly effective at doing this, it also helps him score goals. In the first half, Gekas forced several errors from Daniel van Buyten and Breno, and at one point found himself one-on-one with Hans-Jörg Butt. However, the former Portsmouth striker fluffed his lines, and Sonny Kittel did little better with the follow-up.
The 17-year-old Kittel was making just his fourth appearance for Frankfurt, and was a thorn in the side of Bayern down the left. Quick to join in or make counter-attacks (something Frankfurt did decisively – no second thoughts, no holding and waiting for Bayern to flood back), Kittel also sent in a series of testing set pieces for Marco Russ, Halil Altintop, Aleksandar Vasoski & co. to hurl themselves at.
On the subject of big guys and headers, Skibbe’s primary tactic at restarts involved long punts to the centre circle for the 1.96m-tall Alexander Meier to flick on for the deliberately semi-circular midfield three and Gekas hovering behind him in amongst Bayern’s defenders. Yet when they got the ball down in Bayern’s half, the lack of space available saw Frankfurt panic, and either squander possession, or pass back to Ola Nikolov.
Bayern were equally urgent in throwing themselves forward on the break, but often made one pass too many, allowing Frankfurt to storm back and protect Nikolov’s box. The Macedonian custodian was indebted to his defence on a number of occasions, but flapped at nearly all of Bayern’s first half crosses, and seemed unable to hold onto the tamest of shots. As Müller and Mario Gómez’s aforementioned match-sealing double illustrated, Nikolov hadn’t learned his lesson after the interval, and spilt at the feet of both attackers in the space of two minutes.
With Frankfurt using the raw Kittel, Bayern had their own outlet on the left in the experienced form of Ribéry. Identifying the threat he posed, the visitors sought to treble up on the Frenchman where possible. With Müller veering inside, the full-backs became essential for Bayern, and helped open up a disciplined Frankfurt side. Off-ball, they were playing a 4-3-2-1 in order to stifle the home side’s central concoctions. Although this left space on the flanks, Frankfurt were content letting balls come into the box, and making sure the first man adopted a safety-first policy to clearing them at the near post.
Inviting Bayern’s full-backs on did however give Frankfurt the chance to launch Kittel down the channel. Nonetheless, Bayern’s monopolization of possession was bound to reap rewards sooner rather than later, and Frankfurt’s clear-to-touch attitude gave Danijel Pranjić too many opportunities to perfect his set-pieces (wayward or not, the sheer amount Bayern won meant they practically camped out in Nikolov’s box). Bayern’s opener was eventually set up from the right-hand side, as Müller squared, and Tymoschuk side-stepped before curling a left-footed strike into the bottom left-hand corner.
If Bayern’s breakthrough was obvious enough, Frankfurt’s method of equalizing was just as predictable. Marcel Heller attacked space down the right, Bayern’s uncertain backline – consisting briefly of just the two clumsy centre-backs – weren’t quick enough to pick up decent positions, and Gekas buried Heller’s cross at the second attempt after van Buyten’s air-header left him stranded.
It was a shame then that Frankfurt allowed Bayern to turn the screw in the second half. Sat deeper than they were initially Frankfurt parked the bus and pricked its tyres. By allowing the home side to camp in their half, Die Adler exposed Nikolov to the pressure that handed Bayern the win. Although the away side pressed higher and harder when 3-1 down, it never ceases to amaze me how even the dodgiest of centre-backs can look composed when their team has a commanding lead.
That’s not to say the visitors didn’t cause any problems to Bayern. Skibbe’s side began utilising the attacking prowess of their full-backs, and launched a pitch-wide ground assault of Bayern. Louis van Gaal’s side, now with Mark van Bommel in the middle, simply broke the Frankfurt resurgence through the tried and tested tactic of fouling by rota, and then easily mopping up the countless number of poor set-pieces. The second ball didn’t cause Bayern any trouble either, as they pressed it back to Nikolov.
Those second balls that Bayern did manage to take down saw the trio of Müller, Kroos and Ribéry launch swashbuckling one-touch breaks. While this didn’t result in much of a goal threat (one of the three often slowing the pace down or making one clever pass too many), it allowed Bayern to win their own set pieces, and persist with their take on Scholes-vs-Bradford. They thrice exploited Frankfurt’s deep zonal marking system – which tried protecting Nikolov from the aerieally dominant Gómez – to crack in first-time volleys from the D, but unfortunately, the likes of van Bommel and Tymoschuk aren’t renowned for their shooting skills.
That defensive midfield pair played a crucial role in seeing the game out for the hosts, however. With Butt starting short, Frankfurt stood higher, and pressed higher. With van Bommel insuring against any errant passes, Tymoschuk drove on into the space, and fed the ‘3-1’ Bayern still had stationed on top of the away side’s defence (Kroos now behind Gómez). Their visitors suitably worn down, it was unsurprising to see one of the cute little triangular passing moves come off at the death. Despite Gómez and Ribéry crafting the goal, the Ukrainian international poked it past Nikolov for game, set and match.
The win was the best possible way for Bayern to bounce back from their 3-2 humiliation at the hands of Roma in the week. As for Frankfurt, They’ve now conceded eight goals in their last two games. They have an even tougher task next week when this season’s surprise package Mainz come to town. Bayern, meanwhile, go to Felix Magath’s Schalke.