Harding’s Hark: The Inside Story - Perfect Pep?
A comprehensive and clinical display from FC Bayern Munich saw them beat Schalke 04 by a 4-0 scoreline. Goals came from the returning Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mario Mandzukic, Franck Ribery and Claudio Pizarro. Jonathan Harding discusses the progress under Pep.
Bastian Schweinsteiger’s return was far from surprising but to see him in the starting eleven with Philipp Lahm and Rafinha left many confused as to how Bayern would set up. The only two options seemed 4-1-4-1 with Lahm holding and Schweinsteiger as part of the midfield four, or 4-2-3-1 with both Lahm and Schweinsteiger holding.
In the early stages, it seemed clear that Lahm – as he did against CSKA Moscow on Tuesday night in the Champions League – was holding on his own as he sat much deeper than Schweinsteiger. In fact, the returning midfielder hovered between attack and defence, offering a loose connection between the two sections of play. Toni Kroos seemed to cover him, offering more options in attack when he was deeper and more cover in defence when he pushed forward.
The other question of course is what happens when Martinez and Thiago return to fitness? Lahm has played exactly the way Guardiola has wanted him to and proved he is just as versatile as his world-class quality suggests.
Both David Alaba and Rafinha were very close to their centre backs and as much as this may have shut down Schalke more often, it also left Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery having to come back and double up. This is however, nothing new for the converted wingers.
Composure in front of goal improved, aided by the abject and absent marking on crosses from Schalke – just look at Franck Ribery’s pedestrian-like goal.
After 52 minutes, Bayern had close to 90% pass accuracy. The question of how long this side needs to adjust under Guardiola is quickly being answered. For the first time under Guardiola, apart from maybe against CSKA Moscow on Tuesday night, Bayern were both effective and penetrative with their possession. Admittedly, Schalke afforded Bayern the space and time to do so but to see them exploit it was refreshing. It was the first time that Bayern have really reduced the opposition to statues and although this has been coming from Schalke, it has perhaps also been coming from Bayern.
Herein lies the point. Schalke’s poor display aside, Bayern have looked better and better under Guardiola. It has taken longer than desired and by no means are all the creases ironed out, but maybe it is time for the criticism to stop. He is obviously trying to change the style and the light of a treble-winning season clouds the concept of progression or complication. The stakes of modern football are that winning is no longer enough. Winning aesthetically has become the expectation and so far this season, that hasn’t been the case for Guardiola’s. At least, before this week started.