Bayern Munich beat Schalke 2-0 to return to the top of the Bundesliga table. Manuel Neuer, booed throughout on his return to the Veltins-Arena, kept a clean sheet for the seventh game in a row, although Bayern were lucky that Klaas-Jan Huntelaar didn’t bring his shooting boots as the Dutchman and one or two other of his colleagues had enough chances to kill Bayern off in the first half. However, those moments weren’t capitalised on, and with the hosts tiring in the second half, a Franck Ribéry-inspired Bayern eventually cruised to victory despite the absence of both Arjen Robben and Mario Gómez.
Bayern bossed possession from the off, spreading it about among the fluid foremost six players, as well as the centre-backs and full-backs. The hosts were playing something of a 4-3-3, with the narrowness of the midfield designed to help keep the string-pulling likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos quiet. It was a foul-laden opening ten minutes, with Kyriakos Papadopoulos & co. hacking and hounding to stop Bayern getting more comfortable than they already were.
Although Bayern – looking to expose Schalke’s lack of midfield width through a series of long-diagonals to and attacks down the channels – were in control, they had nothing to show for it bar Gómez’s stand-in Nils Petersen going close and a couple of corners. This was mainly because despite finding it easy to enter the final-third by opening Schalke up and exposing them in this way, their movement and passing near Ralf Fährmann’s box wasn’t great.
As for the hosts, they were struggling to string passes together – even though Raúl often dropped deep to make things happen. Occasionally, they used the fiery nature of the game to good effect, drawing fouls on innocuous looking breaks to test the heavily booed Manuel Neuer’s nerves from floated free-kicks.
But, from one set-piece in the 20th minute, Ribéry collected the loose ball from just outside his own box, showed great pace to run it towards the final-third, and having made the defenders left behind during the hosts’ set-piece narrow as much as he could get them to, the Frenchman played in Petersen with his right foot’s little toe to let the former Energie Cottbus man go through the right-hand side of the box on goal. Fährmann looked to have smothered Petersen’s initial effort, but the striker made no mistake from the rebound, making it 1-0 to Bayern via a deflection despite there being two men on the line!
Schalke didn’t hide after falling behind, prising their banks further apart and higher up the pitch as they sought to restore parity. In the 25th minute, Jefferson Farfán drew Holger Badstuber out onto the chalk, before using his low centre of gravity, agility and acceleration to skip inside past the Bayern defender. The Peruvian attacker laid the ball on to the D-lurking Lewis Holtby, who also used his lack of height and acceleration to good advantage, shooting narrowly wide on the spin.
As we approached the half-hour mark, Luiz Gustavo had to go off the pitch to receive treatment. Bayern decided to play keep-ball between the chalk-standing full-backs and ten-feet-before-halfway centre-backs, as a result. Therefore, Schalke, looking to take advantage of having the extra man, pressed their guests furiously, and eventually forced a turnover. However, the chance set up for Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was weak and wide, despite forcing Neuer into a dive.
Ten or 11 men on the pitch, Bayern’s constant determination to lunge into Schalke’s teasing hold-up play gave the home side’s players exactly what they wanted – free-kicks. Luckily for Jupp Heynckes, though, his side seemed to be improving as the game went on when it came to setting themselves up for and clearing set-pieces. However, in the 32nd minute, no one was keeping an eye on Huntelaar in the D, and Jérôme Boateng’s clearing header landed straight at his feet. As was now becoming customary, the Dutch striker volleyed wide.
Ultimately, Bayern had lost their grip on the game by becoming sloppy and complacent in possession. The red-shirted players looked uncomfortable against the heavy pressing blue-shirted ones, and were struggling to relocate their lost rhythm. Badstuber was having a tough time against Farfán, who’d persistently lurk in a central position before floating out wide when he wanted the ball, dragging the young German international with him. Schweinsteiger was also finding space down the same channel, bursting down there on a number of occasions because Schalke were hounding Phillipp Lahm and Ribéry in packs whenever they got the ball.
As we approached half time, the visitors were beginning to sit off their hosts more permanently, and nearly paid for doing so in the 42nd minute when a ball played to the centrally bobbing Holtby was a decoy: this was because the former Mainz man was actually only taking it to release Christian Fuchs on the overlap. The cross, however, was claimed by Neuer. He and his outfield colleagues – who’d seen Anatoliy Tymoshchuk join their ranks with Gustavo unable to continue – did take their lead in at their interval, but could count themselves lucky that Schalke had been so profligate in front of goal.
Bayern Munich nearly added to their lead within a minute of the second half starting, when Ribéry’s diagonal run from the chalk to the D saw four Schalke players go to him, allowing the disguised though pass to the midfielder’s left to locate an all-alone Petersen. However, the striker wasted his chance to make it 2-0. The opening five minutes of the half saw both sides’ centre-backs looking to assess the situation ahead of them with the ball at their feet, trying to bring either the playmakers or piano carriers into play in the best pockets of space available. However, Toni Kroos and Petersen pressed high – if not too fast – for the visitors, while the foremost three Schalke players kept Badstuber and Boateng hassled. Resultantly, we saw a lot more hard work than passing football.
In the 50th minute, Ribéry and Schweinsteiger laid a chance on a plate for Petersen, but the striker fluffed his lines with the goal gaping at his mercy. The former was at the heart of everything good at the start of the second half, and such was Schalke’s determination to stop him, several players tracked the Frenchman infield in the 53rd minute, leaving Lahm free to cause havoc. That he did, cutting infield after receiving the ball on the flank, before sending a diagonal, floor-based shot-cum-cross into the box. Despite making a good connection with the ball, Thomas Müller’s slide-shot shaved the post on its way wide with Fährmann stranded.
Despite creating such chances, there were one or two signs that Bayern were getting a bit too casual when it came to making the killer pass on the break or getting back into their banks in the defensive phase of play. Ralf Rangnick looked to capitalise on this in the 57th minute, replacing Peer Kluge with a more offensive-minded midfielder, Julian Draxler. The difficulties of bringing the attacking trident into play persisted, however, although Joël Matip managed to pick out Holtby’s sprint to the D in the 61st minute, where the midfielder drew a panicky hack. However, the home side wasted the free kick by trying to play it short, and despite Bayern reaching the box eventually on the subsequent counter, they’d brought every one of their players back to defend the set-piece, meaning they struggled to get the numbers required to inflict the damage nice and early when the space was there.
Five minutes later, Rangnick replaced Huntelaar with young Finnish forward Teemu Pukki in a like for like change. What the team really needed, though, was some magic in the midfield. As was illustrated by Kroos in the 68th minute, when he juggled, nutmegged and sprant his way into the final-third past a number of blue-shirted players after starting from his own half. Un fortunately, the through-ball to Ribéry was read and cleared by Fährmann. It wasn’t just mesmerising dribbles that set Bayern’s attacks apart from Schalke’s – their players always seemed to have an option alongside them, and everyone seemed to be on the same technically-accomplished wavelength as each other.
Heynckes made his second substitution in the 70th minute, replacing Petersen with David Alaba. The Austrian went onto the right wing, with Müller now called upon to lead the line. As we approached the final quarter-hour, Bayern seemed to have restored their control of the game, with Schalke looking mentally and physically fatigued in both attack and defence. They paid the price for this in the 76th minute, when Bayern held onto the ball for a long spell under no pressure to speak of. Ribéry was eventually fed to cut in on the right in the final-third, and after his weak square wasn’t cleared by the tired legs and brain of Papadopoulos, Müller pounced like a poacher to make it 2-0!
The Greek midfielder tried to make amends two minutes later, but his sliced long-ranger only served to waste a spell of Schalke possession. However, if it hadn’t been Papadopoulos who’d shot from range, chances are someone else would have. Unlike their fresh opponents, Schalke looked beaten. Pukki had touched the ball once, maybe twice, Farfán, Raúl and Draxler were anonymous, while the full-backs weren’t being deployed in an attacking sense at all. In fact, when Uchida did make a rare foray forward in the 80th minute, he encapsulated the tiredness of the team by putting in an awful ball.
Rangnick had changed the system to a 4-1-4-1 for the final 15 minutes (with Draxler on the left, and Holtby and Raúl as advanced centre-midfielders), but it did nothing for his side. At times during this period, the game began to resemble a keep-ball training ground exercise on the easy setting for Bayern. Determined not to see his players humiliated any further, Rangnick replaced Holtby with Ciprian Marica – presumably hoping that with more bodies nominally positioned in the Bayern half, the visitors would stand off a bit more. But they didn’t really have to, as the game petered to a close with Bayern on top. The 2009/10 champions now host Bayer Leverkusen next weekend in the best possible form.