I have watched every single competitive match Bayern has played this season. In most matches, until Bayern scores a goal, one word keeps rolling around in my mind.
Their performance in Valencia was nothing short of the word. Bayern controls matches regularly. They hit about 400 to 500 passes in almost every match. They keep passing around the box.
However, their play around the box is sometimes just too frenetic. Yesterday, they lacked sharpness in the final third.
One might credit Valencia’s defensive structure for this.
However, Valencia was defending with nine men instead of the ten from the 33rd minute. Antonio Barragan had been sent off for an atrocious tackle on David Alaba, which could have left the Austrian in much worse shape.
And yet, it never seemed like Bayern was playing with an extra man.
It is best to start at the beginning, meaning the selection, when discussing the sequence of events. Jupp Heynckes put out what I felt was his best available line-up.
Holger Badstuber came back into the side and Daniel Van Buyten was left out. Franck Ribery was also brought in as Xherdan Shaqiri was relegated to the bench.
Bayern started well enough but as I previously mentioned, seemed hassled and hurried. They tested the Valencia back-line without really testing Vicente Guaita. Guaita pulled off one wonderful save to deny Dante in the first half. Otherwise, he wasn’t really called upon to pull anything off.
At the other end, Valencia began to fashion some chances. At one point in the game, Roberto Soldado would have surely assisted a goal had Manuel Neuer not pulled off a 25 million euro save. Soldado held off Badstuber and Alaba and set up his teammate to score from point blank range. However, Neuer made an awesome save to ensure the game stayed at 0-0.
Soldado had a chance to score himself but didn’t as Neuer made himself as large as possible to confuse the Spaniard. At the other end, Thomas Müller messed up from point blank range and Bayern continued to waste corners and free-kicks. Even throws were useless. Eventually, Bayern was forced to pay for their wastefulness of possession and problems at the back.
Sofian Feghouli, who scored against BATE, made his way through the entire Bayern defence and hit a shot which took a heavy deflection off Dante and ended up in the back of the net. Dante himself was slightly lucky not to be sent off as he committed at least two yellow-card offences in the match.
At that point, Bayern’s situation was becoming almost laughable. They were playing with an extra man and had completed about 200 more passes than their opponents but were behind. One good cross from Philipp Lahm later (with a pass from substitute Mario Gomez in the centre of the box to Müller), Bayern was level in the game.
Thomas Müller had scored yet another vital Champions League goal. Müller hadn’t been as active in the game as he could be but he was Bayern’s best bet for a goal at that point.
The positives Jupp Heynckes can take out from this one are that his side managed to come from behind and Mario Gomez was able to get some time out on the field.
Heynckes can also be happy about his substitutions. All three had an impact. Xherdan Shaqiri freed up more space for his team-mates while Mario Mandzukic almost scored twice.
Gomez, of course, earned the assist for Müller’s goal. As far as the negatives are concerned, Heynckes will be lost as to where to start. For the second time in the same week, Heynckes’ side failed to beat ten men.
Many of you might think this scenario has taken place before. Chelsea (who are in danger of elimination) used Valencia’s tactics to beat Barcelona on aggregate last season.
However, at the end of the day, Bayern, with the quality they have, should have consigned Valencia to bed early in the second half.
There were at-least three occasions when Bastian Schweinsteiger’s decision making was absolutely shocking. He played a wonderful lobbed pass to set up Toni Kroos at one stage which made me feel that he would have plenty of influence. However, Basti passed to a Valencia player once when it would have been easier to find a Bayern team-mate.
He underplayed what would have been an easy pass by his standards to Ribery which would have seen Ribery through on goal. He passed to a player who was surrounded by three white shirts on one instant when David Alaba was waiting, with nobody around him, on the opposite flank. On that occasion though, Bastian perhaps didn’t see him.
Bayern also tired out faster than their opponents. Playing their possession game in the past three seasons, Bayern didn’t tire out. Pressing is difficult. Bayern’s play in the past few seasons in the Champions League has been marked by incredible patience.
They usually don’t mind waiting for gaps to appear. This season, the pressing has slightly changed their way of playing. Patience is seemingly missing at times.
A point nonetheless sees them qualify for the round of 16 where much tougher challenges await. I don’t think the end result would have been any different if both sides had finished with eleven players. As long as Bayern equals Valencia’s result on Match-day Six, they will finish top of the group.
One thing is for sure though: Bayern has not really shown the promise they showed in last season’s Champions League—except for the Lille demolition, of course.
One can only hope they are saving their best in this competition for the latter stages