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Harding’s Hark – The Inside Story: Patient Pep Gets Results but not Glamour 

A 2-0 win at home against Hannover 96 was enough to win another three points in the Bundesliga but once again, there were plenty of signs that Bayern are still adjusting to life under Pep. Munich Now Sports Editor Jonathan Harding investigates.

Bastian Schweinsteiger failed a late fitness test and started on the bench, forcing Philipp Lahm into defensive midfield again. The defender is the best in the world in his natural position (right back) and so it was nothing more than frustrating to see him played elsewhere (again). Bearing injuries in mind, Jan Kirchhoff is a capable holding midfielder and perhaps deserves a chance to show that, certainly for more than four minutes.

Dante must be struggling with the lack of first-team football (only got 23 minutes vs. Hannover 96) after last year’s sensational rise in form. Aside from his rotation, Pep Guardiola clearly prefers a ball-playing centre back and at the moment he feels Daniel van Buyten is the better option. Dante showed some real signs of improvement in that respect last season though, and rotation or not, remains the better defender.

One thing about Lahm in defensive midfield was that Toni Kroos had the licence to run forward more often. He, however got lost in the congestion. That frustrated him and the booking he (and others) picked up was a further sign of that irritation.

Despite offering a line of five constantly moving players inside their opponent’s half, Bayern looked lethargic (as they notably have for most of the season). It was so far from the fluidity of Heynckes and the 5-0 result in last year’s fixture. The number of hopeful passes, as opposed to accurate and intelligent ones, was alarmingly high in comparison to last year. Bayern may be passing more but how effective is it? The crowd’s reaction didn’t help either as their frustration became all the more evident with each poor decision.

When they did get it right, it looked sensational, as was evident from the celebration after the first goal. Photo: DPA

Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben combined nicely but often Mario Mandzukic, normally strong positionally, was never in the right spot to finish off the move. If he was, he arrived too late or played the dummy too early. All of these things are further signs of continued adjustment from Bayern under Guardiola.

Mandzukic did score and the goal was reminiscent of something we saw under Heynckes last year: A flick of the feet, fluid movement and quick passing that was finished off before the opposition could even react. A colleague of mine also made the valid point that the move was Barcelona-esque. The lack of such moves suggest the side is still learning how to best translate Guardiola’s methods.

The midfield was once again fluid and constantly changing. Ribery was everywhere, Müller was often on the right with Robben, Alaba pushed right up. Rafinha did the same on the other flank but to far less effect (compared to Alaba).

Hannover 96 benefited from Bayern’s lack of rhythm and were unlucky not to take the lead. This kind of performance spurred Hannover on before two moments of quality won the game for the home side. However, if Bayern continue to require more time to get into the game, there will no doubt be a number of different sides that will come to the Allianz with far less fear than they did last year.

For all their possession Bayern just aren’t posing the same attacking malice that they had in abundance last year under Heynckes. It’s not costing them points at the moment but the worry is whether it will cost them trophies come the end of the season.

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