Harding’s Hark - The Inside Story: Götze Forces Comeback in the Sun
Enough time, more than 100 days to be exact, has passed since Pep Guardiola’s appointment and Bayern are beginning to settle down. Manchester City were dismantled in the Champions League. Leverkusen were lucky last time out in the Bundesliga. It was Mainz next up and our Sports Editor Jonathan Harding was there.
On paper, Bayern look formidable. The reality is more frightful and even without Franck Ribery (ankle tear) and David Alaba (replaced by Contento) for the game against Mainz, Bayern were expected to put in another dominant display.
In the first half, Arjen Robben and Thomas Mueller did their usual trick of swapping wings but they were subdued. More swapping followed in the second but better service, more running and a variety of options in the box made their threat more effective. Mandzukic was double-marked throughout the first half and so crossing to him was hopeful at best. Bayern were left simply to shoot from range.
Toni Kroos has perhaps the biggest amount of expectation to bear. For Germany he is asked to sit and hold, but for Bayern he is part of the attacking core. In the first half against Mainz, he looked to be struggling from this flux, perhaps for the first real time this season. In the second 45 minutes, he returned to the defensive midfield role moving Philipp Lahm to right back, and looked far more comfortable and confident.
With Bayern needing a resonating performance from someone other than Franck Ribery, Mario Götze delivered. A fantastic assist for Robben caused the equaliser, he was involved in the second and played another great pass for the third (Mandzukic), as his vibrancy and skill alone raised the collective’s performance.
Excuses not valid
Up against a midfield three (Baumgartlinger, Geis, Zimling), Bayern were frustrated and lacking in concentration as Thomas Tuchel’s well-documented tactics worked perfectly. After the break, the home side were more aggressive and took a clearly startled Mainz side by surprise.
Standing behind the international break as a reason for the disruption may have some weight but not with the quality in this Bayern side. Their flatness in the opening 45 minutes was largely down to lazy decision-making. As much as an absence from club training may have aided that, their quality is more than good enough to compensate for it.
Lahm was back in midfield and made the transition with consummate ease, winning headers, breaking up the opposition attacks and redistributing the ball. However, the moment Dante was forced off with injury, the team were instantly affected. Lahm’s temporary deployment in the centre of defence didn’t work, but back in his familiar right-back spot in the second half he was sensational and perhaps could have even scored.
Expectation still needs perspective
The weight of being both Bayern and a side managed by Guardiola is so great that even 10 minutes of questionable football upsets the fans - the end of the first half brought whistles of disbelief. Winning is an expectation for Bayern, but perspective must remain. Even Guardiola’s men will play badly at some point, but as today proved, it doesn’t necessarily have to result in a defeat.