Harding’s Hark - The Inside Story: Robben Rules the Roost as Bayern Bully Schalke
The spectacular nature of Bayern Munich’s opening 20 minutes saw them completely dismantle visitors Schalke 04 by five goals to one in the Allianz Arena. Jonathan Harding reports.
There will undoubtedly be grumblings of discontent in a number of Bavarian bars about the poor conversion rate and the fact that Bayern Munich have now conceded double-figures (10) for the league season. Such is the nature of being a Bayern fan these days. It’s the little things. To do so though, would not only be a discredit to Schalke goalkeeper Ralf Fährmann, but would also ignore just how remarkable the opening half-hour of football that was on show in the Allianz Arena truly was. David Alaba’s opener from a deflected free kick may have had the similar taste of fortune, but the fluid dominance that followed left Schalke helpless. Their midweek 6-1 defeat to Real Madrid aside, Schalke have not lost domestically in 2014. That soon ended as Arjen Robben chipped over the out-rushing Ralf Fährmann for two, Alaba crossed for Mandzukic to head in a third and then Robben drilled home his second to make it four inside the opening 30 minutes. Game over.
Although Schalke’s psychological frailty played a part, nothing should be taken away from the vicious way in which this insatiable Bayern side went after them. With no Lahm (rested), Schweinsteiger operated the single pivot and commanded like the Fussballgot he is hailed as. One of the most notable differences between the two is Schweinsteiger’s passing range, the full range of which was on show against a bemused Schalke. The visitors put three holding players in midfield to break up Bayern and although they stayed close to one another, they sat too deep and foolishly failed to press the likes of Thiago, Schweinsteiger and Götze when they surged forward.
It’s hard to look past this Bayern side over the next few years in the Bundesliga. Their quality has now extended into an even deeper psychological play than last year. The fact that Toni Kroos amassed 60 touches and made 52 passes by the 26th minute is evidence of how much this Bayern will take if you give them but a moment. The truth of the matter is though, this side will take it from you whether you like it or not. Their weekend demolition of Bundesliga opposition might have many questioning the competitive nature of the league, but it must have the rest of Europe slightly concerned. Simply put, if the Bundesliga is a test match (cricket), Bayern have rattled through the opposition and are sitting pretty at 250 for no loss at tea of the opening day.
This is football though, and having already landed their stunning blow and followed it up with a couple of painful nibbles, Bayern did little but circle their limp, yet still breathing, opponents in the second half. Fährmann appeared to be Schalke’s only respiring organ, denying Mandzukic brilliantly on four separate occasions in the second half to keep the visitor’s total deficit below their midweek embarrassment. Rafinha’s unfortunate own goal will have spoiled the finer fan’s pallet, but Arjen Robben’s fourth Bundesliga hat-trick soon returned the sweet taste. The Dutchman confirmed he is indeed in the best form of his life when he superbly converted a penalty that saw Papadopoulos harshly sent off for a foul on Mandzukic.
In the end, Toni Kroos finished with 153 touches (133 passes) – a personal best for one of Europe’s most under appreciated midfielders. Bayern enjoyed 76% possession and a 93% pass accuracy. And all of this came against a regular top-four side. There’s no doubt Bayern have opened up a chasm between themselves and the rest of the Bundesliga, but surely the gap is widening in Europe as well?