Bayern Need Mario Gomez: What We Learned from the Humiliation in Minsk
Bayern Munich had a sharp reality check on Tuesday as their nine-game winning streak came to an end in dramatic fashion. The German record champions looked entirely out of sorts as they slumped to a 3-1 loss to BATE Borisov in Minsk.
The result left BATE atop the standings in Champions League Group F, with a perfect six points from two games. Bayern, meanwhile, are now third, behind Valencia on goal difference. The Bavarians hold their destiny in their own hands, and can still win their group. However, they have their work cut out for them. The result of Tuesday's match will be sobering to Jupp Heynckes' side, but many lessons can be taken from the loss...
Javi Martinez Is No Substitute for Bastian Schweinsteiger
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Jupp Heynckes opted to start the €40 million man, Javi Martinez, alongside Luiz Gustavo in defensive midfield on Tuesday.
It was a mistake the trainer would rue.
The pair had no trouble managing the flow of play, but neither contributed anything to the attack. Gustavo and Martinez are far too similar in the buildup, exclusively playing safe passes, but never trying an ambitious ball.
Martinez attempted 43 passes on Tuesday, completing all of them. But none of those passes was at all ambitious, and the pair in effect were reminiscent of the Martin Demichelis/Mark van Bommel combination that served when Bayern lacked the personnel to play attractive football.
Bayern would have greatly benefited from the presence of a more versatile player like Schweinsteiger, whose playmaking ambition and ability to dribble by far exceed those of his lavishly-priced colleague. As with Shaqiri, Heynckes took far too long to bring on his vice-captain.
Mandzukic Is Only Human. Bayern Need Mario Gomez
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Mario Mandzukic's scintillating run of goal-scoring form has prompted many to question whether he should retain his starting role ahead of Mario Gomez once the latter returns to fitness. Tuesday's result was a reminder that the Croatian striker does indeed have his limitations.
Gomez scored 79 goals in the previous two seasons, 20 of which came in the Champions League. Love him or hate him, there is no denying that he's a goal machine always able to find space. Sometimes he misses, but more often he scores.
Mandzukic, as strong a physical presence as he is, has less of a pedigree and is not on the same level as his injured teammate in terms of positioning and finishing. He's a very useful player as a substitute or a second target man. But as a starter? He's not the man for the job.
Toni Kroos Is Not a #10
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The debate has long raged as to what Toni Kroos' natural position truly is. When he was young, he played in the hole behind the striker, as a No. 10. While on loan at Leverkusen, Heynckes deployed him on the wing. After his return to Bayern, Louis van Gaal was convinced that Kroos could play like Schweinsteiger, as a holding midfielder, a No. 6.
The reality is that Kroos is none of the above. He's a classic No. 8, a box-to-box central midfielder. The 22-year-old lacks the strength and defensive qualities of a No. 6, and the pace, agility and finishing skills of a No. 10. He scores goals, but those are typically the longer shots more characteristic of a deeper player. And while he does drop deep to defend, he's not the kind of player any coach wants to use to shut down an opposing playmaker.
On Tuesday, Kroos was used in the playmaking role to minimal effect over the first hour. There was no space through which he could thread a pass to Mandzukic, and no window to shoot on goal. As a creator of goals, he was stymied. When Xherdan Shaqiri was introduced, Kroos dropped back into a more appropriate role—advanced, but orchestrating the build-up rather than delivering the final ball.
Shaqiri Can Be Bayern's Saving Grace... If He's Given a Chance
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With BATE packing the penalty area and occupying nearly every inch of space in and around the box, the only way for Bayern to make a breakthrough was with a combination of dribbling and quick, short passing.
Franck Ribery did his best to create chances, but the Frenchman needed a partner to make runs and with whom to exchange passes. Kroos was not fast enough, while Thomas Mueller lacked the extra bit of technical precision to create a goal. Shaqiri, on the other hand, proved to be just the right complement for Ribery, and the two caused a world of trouble for the BATE defence.
Shaqiri's pinpoint through-ball to Ribery set up a late goal for Bayern, but it was not enough to turn the result. Had he been given 45 minutes instead of just half an hour, perhaps the German giants could have taken a point or more.
Crosses Won't Work Against a Parked Bus
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Bayern sent cross after cross into the penalty area, but precious few led to any danger. Over the course of the match, the Bavarians attempted 17 deliveries from the left and 16 from the right.
It was rather foolish, in retrospect, given the odds were so heavily stacked against the Germans grabbing a goal from an aerial delivery. BATE packed the box with defenders, while Bayern only had one man—Mandzukic, and later Claudio Pizarro—as a target. It was simply too great an ask, especially with Marko Simic and Igor Filipenko in such fine form at the back.
The pitch may have been atrocious, but the visitors looked most dangerous when Ribery and Shaqiri dribbled in the centre. Perhaps with a different attacking focus, Bayern might have escaped with a point or more.
BATE Will Advance from Group F
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After hammering Lille in France and shocking Bayern at home, BATE are first in Group F, and are more than half way to automatically qualifying for the Round of 16. Although drawn from Pot Four, the Belarusian champions can no longer be considered whipping boys of the group.
To the contrary, they've set the pace.
Looking ahead, BATE have home games against Lille and Valencia. Given their performance thus far, it's hard to imagine the French taking even one point from the return leg. The Spaniards, meanwhile, will have their work cut out if BATE at all resemble the side that trounced Bayern.