A poor showing from Bayern Munich ultimately didn’t matter as they won their second consecutive game in the Bundesliga to keep the pressure on the sides above them in the Champions League places.
Looking at the history of this fixture, the odds looked pretty stacked in Bayern’s favour – no defeats in the last 17 Bundesliga clashes between the sides, and a 4-2 win at the Allianz Arena in October. But with ‘lame duck’ manager Louis van Gaal overseeing a disastrous exit at home to Inter in the Champions League on Tuesday, one which confirmed that Bayern would end the season without a trophy, Freiburg had a great chance to rub salt in the dethroned champions’ wounds. However, Robin Dutt’s side have been tailing off after a great start to the season (four defeats from the last five games), but luckily for the health of their supporters, they’ve established enough of a cushion to dismiss any notion of going down. Fans of goalscorers were more than adequately catered for here – the clash pitted two of the league’s finest against one another, Mario Gómez and Papiss Cissé.
The home side had to do without first choice custodian Simon Pouplin (although deputy Oliver Baumann has done a fantastic job in the Frenchman’s absence), Daniel Williams, Tommy Bechmann, and Jan Rosenthal. Daniel van Buyten and Arjen Robben, who had to be subbed against Inter after picking up knocks, were both passed fit to play a role at Freiburg, so it was still only long-term absentee Ivica Olić out of action for the Bavarian giants.
Freiburg started in an extremely direct and urgent manner, drawing a free-kick, a corner-kick, and a save from Thomas Kraft inside the first two minutes. When they faced a Bayern restart, they man-marked the dropping quarterbacks, and kept their foremost ‘4-1’ in the Bayern half. In response, the visitors looked to take the sting out of the game, aimlessly sharing possession between the centre-backs and Kraft. This general lethargy infected their all-round early play, however, as seen when Freiburg quickly won back possession on halfway, and played an early through-ball for Cissé, who timed his run to perfection against a static and dozy backline (the ball had a little too much zip on it, unfortunately).
With Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos marked out of the game, Bayern were forced into playing long-diagonals, and getting the likes of Robben and Franck Ribéry to drop into their own half and collect the ball. But the hosts kept up their frenetic pressing, forcing Bayern into increasing the tempo they pushed the ball about with. This soon worked against Freiburg, with Oliver Barth drawn out and into shoving Thomas Müller. The free-kick, located in the shadow of the final third of the pitch down the left wing, was curled in delicately by the right foot of Ribéry, and Goméz sidestepped too quickly and intelligently for Ömer Toprak, glancing Bayern into an unlikely eighth-minute lead.
Tactically and formationally, Dutt stayed the same after conceding – pushing his 4-1-4-1 as high up the pitch as possible. When the home side had the ball, Bayern responded accordingly by sitting off in a 4-4-1-1, and while not pressing frantically in their own half, sending two men across to block the angles available for the man on the ball. Thus, although Freiburg were seeing the ball in the final-third, they weren’t always able to use it penetratingly, as epitomised by Mensur Mujdža’s panicky forward pass which rolled into the path of Luis Gustavo. However, a communication breakdown saw the Brazilian leave it for Kraft, only for Cedric Makiadi’s diagonal dart to ensure that he made a connection with the ball, and drew a trip from the ‘keeper. Alas, presented a golden opportunity to equalize five minutes after going behind, Cissé’s penalty was soft, central, and held by Kraft!
But the Senegalese striker made amends just four minutes later, as Freiburg kept the pressure on Bayern. The away side were poor in clearing their lines, and slow to push out. As a result, a Felix Bastians header back into the box allowed Cissé to place a shot past Kraft just off the six-yard-box for 1-1! Two minutes later, Barth had a headed chance from a Julian Schuster corner, as Freiburg continued to dominate their mentally and physically drained looking guests, . The visitors were totally second best, finding it impossible to get their double-marked wingers and quarterbacks involved in the game, and therefore struggling to dictate the game’s tempo and put Freiburg on the back-foot.
Resultantly, Müller was a key player for Bayern, and covered so much ground in a bid to pull Freiburg out of his side’s half, and draw free-kicks – the away side’s only real hope of scoring. Inevitably, Freiburg had to have the occasional breather (and looked far more incisive when they had less time to think about what to do with the ball anyway), and even when Bayern were able to get a foot on the ball (in their own half), there was always one attacker sprint-pressing the ball. Cleverly supplementing this, Dutt had his players fouling by rota.
Despite being outnumbered and suffocated in the midfield, van Gaal only moved to change his starting XI on the half-hour because Robben was clearly not at optimum fitness. He was replaced by Turkish midfielder, Hamit Altintop. The wideman’s introduction coincided with a sudden injection of urgency and high pressing into Bayern’s game, but Freiburg were still in the ascendancy, and their confidence was encapsulated in the 35th minute when, despite being surrounded by four men near the right strip of chalk, Daniel Caligiuri fired in a shot across goal which bounced off the left-hand post. Yet Cissé, responding far quicker than either centre-back, could only slide the speedy rebounding ball over the bar. The aforementioned locally-born young midfielder and the on-fire striker had a fantastic first 45 minutes – Caligiuri always on the move, on and off ball, constantly keeping Bayern under the kosh with his intense pressing and quick, canny uses of the ball. Cissé, meanwhile, was superb in a variety of ways, be it holding the ball up with ease, or chasing lost causes.
One might argue that Bayern were making it easy for them, and this, to a degree, is true. Despite enacting more intense pressure when Freiburg had possession in their own half as the game went on, Bayern’s own uses of the ball were very poor – slow, obvious, and wasteful. But in the final minute of the first half, the quality of the front five was highlighted with a quick passage of play that involved interchanging, sharp passes in the final-third, culminating in the first time a full-back had space to collect a pass on the overlap. Unfortunately for van Gaal, Freiburg overcame being overrun in the midfield by positioning themselves quickly and effectively to cut out Danijel Pranjić’s squared pass.
Tactically, there wasn’t a lot van Gaal needed to amend at half time, other than perhaps pushing one of the two deeper centre-midfielders higher up the pitch to take a bit sting out of Freiburg’s high-pressing. But mainly, he just needed his side to play with more haste and mobility on the ball, and cut out the mistakes at the back (a tough ask given that this has been Bayern’s problem all season). As for Dutt, it was unsurprising to see him make no changes for the second half. However, as his side’s defensive tactics generally involved stopping Bayern through fouling, it was imperative that Dutt saved his subs to replace any yellow-carded players walking a tightrope.
Bayern dominated the opening five minutes of the half, playing with more swagger, aggression and invention than they had done in the previous 45 minutes. Kroos was all of a sudden bobbing higher up the pitch, and the ball was delivered more swiftly from the back. Thus, Freiburg soon had nine players in and around their own box, and no bridge to the lone striker. Correspondingly, they began to look less sophisticated tactically – resorting to more long punts in a bid to push Bayern out of their half. The highest ‘4-1’, which had been over the halfway line in the first half, was now ever so slightly behind it, despite one midfielder rushing out to support Cissé with the pressing (less effective now Bayern were moving the ball out more quickly).
Although Bayern were bossing the game at this stage, and moving the ball with more speed, there was still a paucity of hasty movement off-ball up top, regardless of Bayern now deploying more of a ‘4-1’ further up the pitch. Indeed, it was the hosts who still posed the most danger in front of goal, shown in the 53rd minute when a speedy and telepathic interchange between Makiadi and the hard-running Anton Putsilo released the latter on the overlap to pull-back via a shoulder-drop for Cissé (who shot into the side netting). Seconds later, Freiburg responded quickest to a cleared ball, teeing up Barth for a scissors kick which went narrowly over.
Both sides were looking to feed their high-standing strikers with long, low passes upfield when the opportunity presented itself. The energetic Cissé used such chances to outpace the panicky Bayern defence, but, detrimentally, had to wait for a colleague to join him every time to use the ball. Goméz had less of a wait for another teammate to join him, but Bayern weren’t playing on the same wavelength, and persistently gave possession away. Even when they found a target in and around Baumann’s box, Freiburg’s full-backs were particularly adept – by fair means or foul – at cutting the danger out. Their team shuttled back into a 4-5-1 so quickly (and then pressed one at a time with such tenacity and determination), that even when Bayern had the ball in the Freiburg half, it was the team out of possession who soon began to exert control of the game. As if Bayern weren’t low enough on confidence as it was, their inability to penetrate the hosts soon saw them resort to giving the ball away cheaply at the back again. But as previously noted, despite Cissé’s exceptional ability at holding the ball, the time spent waiting for colleagues to lay on cost his side the opportunity to outnumber Bayern in their own half and guarantee a bit of action for Kraft.
With 20 minutes to go, van Gaal took off Müller, decreasing in influence with Freiburg’s players swamping him, and brought on Miroslav Klose. With the widemen now permanently stood higher up the pitch, the personnel switch was complemented by a tactical switch – long, early balls for the quasi-four-pronged forward line, seeking to catch Freiburg off-guard when they committed numbers forward for an attack. When Altintop got on the end of such a ball through the D in the 77th minute, Baumann pulled off two superb saves to keep his side in the game.
Yet despite the opportunity to see the draw out and halt a three-game losing streak being on a plate for Freiburg, Dutt made a fascinatingly bold switch in the 78th minute. He took off one of his midfielders, Johannes Flum, and replaced him with a striker, Stefan Reisinger. Playing a 4-1-3-2, Freiburg again began to press and stand higher, three players chasing the ball-holding centre-backs, Schuster keeping tabs on the dropping, bobbing striker, and the other centre-midfielders trapping the ball-wanting play-starter, Anatoliy Tymoshchuk (on for the disappointing Kroos). Bayern were also in a 4-1-3-2, with Schweinsteiger effectively operating in a freer role behind the strikers, moving into the space left by the high-pressing Freiburg midfielders.
Regardless of the rediscovered Freiburg boldness, Bayern at last looked like they were willing to throw the kitchen sink at their hosts, even resorting to keeping van Buyten higher up the pitch. But cynical long ball tactics weren’t needed thanks to a moment of sheer genius by Ribéry against a tiring home side (it was only Reisinger really doing much in the way of pressing now). Taking the ball on the left wing, the Frenchman showed a quick burst of acceleration to find space infield, before curling a low right-footer beyond Baumann into the bottom right-hand corner for 1-2!
Moments of such quality deserve to win games, but had Freiburg taken their chances, there’s no doubt they would have easily won this game. Instead, they tired and dropped back with the score stuck at 1-1, allowing Bayern to show occasional flashes of their too infrequently deployed brilliance. Although van Gaal’s substitutions were well chosen (giving his side greater final-third presence with Klose, and more bite in the midfield with Tymoshchuk), they should have been made far earlier. As for Dutt, credit to him for trying to take all three points, but encouraging his side to maintain a high-tempo pressing game from first whistle to last, and reducing the level of protection his defence had as the game wore on (with more Bayern players were stationed upfield) looks naive in the cold light of defeat.