Gomez Starts and Badstuber Will Be Missed: What We Learned from Bayern 2-0 FCA
Bayern Munich rebounded from last week's draw with Dortmund with a 2-0 win in Augsburg on Saturday. The result left the Bundesliga leaders 11 points ahead of Leverkusen and 14 clear of BVB in the Bundesliga table with just one match left to go before the winter break.
In many ways, the match was more of the same for Bayern, who continue to steamroll just about every club they face on the domestic front.
But, the match marked the German record champions' first full Bundesliga game since Holger Badstuber's season-ending knee injury, and Mario Gomez notably maintained his fine resurgence of form since returning from ankle surgery.
Accordingly, there were some compelling talking points from Saturday's match. Read on for a full analysis.
Enough of This Rotation Nonsense: Gomez Needs to Start Every Game
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Mario Mandzukic proved himself a worthy replacement for Mario Gomez in the early stages of the campaign, but it's time to face the facts: The ex-Wolfsburg striker is a class below the Germany international.
The last time Mandzukic scored was mid-November, seven matches ago. Since making his return from an ankle injury, Gomez has played 216 minutes. In his very limited playing time, he has scored three goals and given two assists.
Gomez came off the bench with 29 minutes left to play on Saturday and took just seconds to score. This was not the first instance in which the ex-Stuttgart striker replaced an ineffective Mandzukic and produced moments later.
In the Champions League against Valencia, he assisted Thomas Müller's equalizer within three minutes of coming on. Days later, he scored against Hannover with his first touch.
Gomez is not a complete package, and he has his faults. With that having been said, he has one asset that Mandzukic will never have: An incredible, lethal instinct for goal.
At the end of the day, that's what any coach wants in a striker.
Bayern Are Going to Miss Holger Badstuber
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When Holger Badstuber sustained a cruciate ligament tear a week ago, it was a huge loss for Bayern. The German record champions may have a ready-made replacement in Jerome Boateng, but the 24-year-old has done little to inspire confidence.
In midweek, Boateng was sent off for a rash, high challenge on BATE striker Vitali Rodionov. There were suggestions that coach Jupp Heynckes might replace Boateng with Daniel van Buyten for the Augsburg match, but the trainer kept faith with the ex-Hamburg defender.
Facing just one striker in Sascha Mölders, Bayern were expected to have very little trouble at the back. Boateng invited danger, however. Just five minutes into the game, the German international's rather loose pass from the back was blocked, allowing FCA to break. Only some very good defending by Dante, plus a little luck in Mölders losing track of the ball's location, saw Bayern avoid conceding.
Shortly into the second half, Mölders ran Boateng inside out near the edge of the box, and again the defender needed help to spare his blushes. Bayern didn't concede on Saturday, but Augsburg have a dreadful attack and should never have had as many clear-cut chances as they carved out.
The trouble with Boateng is that he lacks even the most basic sense of judgment and is either arrogant of or oblivious to his physical superiority. He is fast, tall and powerful, and theoretically, no striker should be able to get too far away from him.
And yet, Boateng regularly finds himself in the wake of smaller, slower and/or weaker players. Consider how easily Didier Drogba, in his old age, won headers against Boateng and drifted into free space during the Champions League final.
As for Boateng's judgment, Heynckes was spot-on when he commented on the tackle against Vitali Rodionov, asserting "There is absolutely no need to go into that tackle with a 25-meter run-up."
Indeed, certainly not with your team ahead and the ball in midfield.
These next few months are critical for Boateng's future as a Bayern player. He can expect to have his chances, but if the Bavarians are to have any success in tournament play, they will need much more from him, or for Badstuber to make his return, whichever comes first.
Bundesliga Referees Are Becoming Soft
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Historically, Bundesliga refereeing culture has been notoriously laissez-faire. Cards, especially red, are not easily awarded, and penalties are few and far between.
On Saturday, three penalties were awarded that in the past might not have been given. The first was in Augsburg, where Gibril Sankoh's arm collided with a pass in the penalty box, resulting in a spot-kick.
The contact was undeniable, but whether it merited a free chance on goal from 11 meters can be debated. Dr. Jochen Drees pointed to the spot, and shortly thereafter, Bayern were well on their way to three points.
In Dortmund, there were two dubious calls. The first came on 35 minutes as Marcel Schmelzer cleared Bas Dost's effort off the line. Wolfgang Stark awarded a penalty and issued a straight red card despite the BVB defender's adamant protests.
Replays would later show the ball never made contact with Schmelzer's hand, and in the second half, Stark awarded what looked suspiciously like a "make-up" penalty to Robert Lewandowski. The referee did at least show restraint in not sending off Simon Kjaer for what was little more than a nudge.
As if that wasn't enough, at the Mercedes-Benz Arena, Felix Zwayer awarded a penalty and two straight red cards as Stuttgart beat Schalke 3-1.
Once upon a time, an entire matchday might pass without a red card given. Now, seeing two in a single game isn't uncommon. Times, they are certainly changing.