Bayern Munich moved into third spot as the division’s second highest scorers (42) hammered the Bundesliga’s fourth sharpest shooters (39) in a remarkably one-sided affair. Arjen Robben’s second half brace wrapped up the points, but Mario Gómez put FC Bayern on track for all three points inside the opening two minutes.
The home side took the lead after 75 seconds as Hoffenheim sought to swamp the centre and stop Bayern’s two widemen from cutting inside. Cluelessly, they thereby left themselves exposed on the wings to full-back overlaps. If only the blob of blue in the middle was sat slightly deeper, this may not have been such a problem. However, Robben, located superbly by Thomas Müller, had time, space, and yards of green between the defence and goal in which to pass the ball across, and Gómez intelligently let it come across his body to leave Tom Starke helpless.
With everything now to play for, Hoffenheim set about bombing their own full-backs on: the hungry and home side-owned David Alaba bobbing all over to show for the pass, or play one-twos with colleagues to find chinks in the home side’s armour. But Bayern pressed the ball high with pace and discipline, and therefore forced neat but sideways passes and eventual hurried crosses to no one in particular. Hoffe were initially stopping Bayern’s short restarts, but the long kicks (and the visitors’ determination to draw Bayern out and onto their own short goal kicks) only served to show Marco Pezzaiuoli’s tactical inexperience. His 4-3-3 formation meant Bayern had more bodies in the centre to mop up the loose balls, and thus maintain their dominance.
Nevertheless, Bayern’s general vulnerability was shown when Beck swung in a cross. Despite being swamped by four red-shirted defenders, Vedad Ibišević still managed to get a header off. If he’d have got that effort on target, things might have turned out differently. But as it was, Hoffenheim’s suicidal gameplan lost them the game inside the opening 15 minutes – 1-0 becoming 2-0 when Isaac Vorsah hesitated, passed the ball to the pressing Müller, and after he played in the subsequently lax Franck Ribéry, the 20-year-old mopped up, side-stepped and passed intelligently into the net.
Pezzaiuoli was now onto Plan C – quicker and direct balls from the back to the lively Bosnian talisman up top (save for the occasional clever quarterback spray from Alaba – playing in the role where Luis Gustavo once thrived). The movement of the centre-forwards on both teams was clever and confident, but whereas Ibišević ploughed a lone furrow, Gómez had intelligent support and crisp passing service.
Hoffenheim’s Plan D? Off went the anonymous Sebastian Rudy, replaced by the combative Tobias Weis – Germany’s very own Lee Cattermole. Hoffe’s young tactician narrowed the midfield, and widened his defence; switching to a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Babel playing closer to Ibišević, but never fully moving away from the left flank. This gave Pezzaiuoli’s side central midfield cover, and more immediate options on the break. Yet Bayern were able to use the switch to their advantage, holding the ball on the left, waiting until Babel ambled infield, before switching play out to the right – giving Hoffe no time to readjust. On one such occasion, a superbly timed dart by Müller saw Bayern breach the away side’s defence. His pull-back was inch-perfect, but Gómez delayed the finish and allowed it to get blocked.
But as noted earlier (and as shown by the 3-2 reverse away at Cologne last weekend), Bayern can often be too careless and casual in their own half when they win back possession. Hoffenheim weren’t able to punish this inexcusable laziness, despite three long-range shots from Sejad Salihović. Pezzaulio’s side had again switched formations; now playing a 4-1-4-1, with Salihović in front of the defence, Alaba and Weis hurrying Bayern’s passing (the former occasionally dropping deeper to make it a 4-2-3-1), and the team as a unit now diving into tackles. Although this helped the visitors revert to the original tactic of getting the full-backs up towards the corner flags and letting the wide-midfielders cut inside, the now slightly deeper Bayern had chances to run at their guests on the break.
They made little of such opportunities, however, not that it really mattered – Hoffe never tested Kraft, bar Ibišević glancing several chances goalwards from set-plays.
Given the relative youth of Hoffenheim’s central defensive triangle (Vorsah is 22, Alaba 18, and Marvin Compper 25), 32-year-old Josip Šimunić came on for the Ghanaian in the second half. But Bayern were determined to see out the win with discipline and experience of their own, and played with patience in possession.
As if things weren’t bad enough tactically from open play, Hoffe nearly conceded a third moments into the second half due to a poor set-piece system. Their six-yard-box-focused zonal marking system allowed Schweinsteiger to peel away at the back post, but Andreas Ibertsberger eventually managed to block the shot after the hosts’ Germany international dawdled.
Bayern finally put the game to bed in the 63rd minute – a third goal which showed that you can have the smartest tactician in the world as your manager, but if the team he manages plays mishit passes that leave the back-four exposed, his chalkboards and pearls of wisdom count for nothing. The move started when Alaba, partially responsible for the home side’s second by failing to force Müller outside onto his left foot, gave the ball away. His fellow Austrian, Ibertsberger, was again shirking his duties when it came to protecting the flank, and this allowed Arjen Robben to pick the ball up, skip inside (Compper made a half-hearted attempt to track him, before giving up), waited, waited (skipping all the while), before finally bobbling a shot into the right-hand corner.
Despite Hoffe shooting themselves in the foot, the experienced Louis van Gaal was still using his system to outwit the young upstart on the opposition bench. The Dutchman had granted Gustavo more freedom in the second half, exposing the constantly-bombarding Beck. With Hoffe now in a 4-1-3-2 (Ryan Babel, so lifeless yet so often ignored by his colleagues, again joining Ibišević up top), their narrow midfield was pulled across to cover, and Bayern were getting occasional chances to add to their tally by sending crosses to the back post for ghosters coming into the box from the right side of the pitch. For a side so utterly dominant, chances weren’t coming by the bucket-load. More often than not, when the opportunity to pick the away side off on the break came about, Bayern were merely content to take the ball out of their own half and wind the clock down.
Despite this, there was enough time for Robben to add Bayern’s fourth; the Dutch winger curling decisively into the top left-hand corner from inside the box. His compatriot Babel, however, was left to wonder what might have been: gifted a gilt-edged one-on-once chance, the ex-Liverpool attacker hit the ball tamely at Kraft. On this evidence, neither Babel or Hoffenheim look worthy of a place in next season’s Europa League, let alone the Champions League. Bayern will no doubt have a few more hiccups along the way, but it’s now looking certain that they will retain their place in Europe’s premier club competition.