Bayern Munich Cruise to Victory in Mainz, but Does Heynckes Know His Best XI?

Clark WhitneyFeatured ColumnistFebruary 2, 2013

VALENCIA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 20:  Head coach Jupp Heynckes of Bayern Muenchen looks on before the start the UEFA Champions League group F match between Valencia CF and FC Bayern Muenchen at Estadio Mestalla on November 20, 2012 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Right now, visitors of the official Bayern Munich website can be greeted with a very modest headline. For the report of Saturday's win away to Mainz, the title reads: "Patient and effective Munich motor on." It is a surprisingly honest title, given that the 3-0 scoreline suggests a match dominated in its entirety by the Bavarians.

Looks can be deceiving, however. In fact, for the first 40 minutes, Mainz had their guests struggling to get anywhere near the final third, often instead punting the ball harmlessly forward. But then Thomas Mueller made it 1-0.

After Mueller's opener, a strike that came from nearly nothing, Bayern were comfortable. Five minutes later it was halftime, and five minutes into the second half, Mario Mandzukic doubled their advantage. The Croatia international completed his brace on 57 minutes, by which time the once bellowing audience at the Coface Arena had reduced their volume to the level of a Gregorian chant. The final half-hour was hardly relevant, an afterthought given that the result had already been decided.

The Bayern that played on Saturday was not the Bayern that fans have grown to love in the third Jupp Heynckes era. It was one devoid of imagination that could not cope with the frantic pressing tactics that Thomas Tuchel's Mainz applied. But Heynckes may not have used his best available lineup in Mainz.

At the moment, Heynckes' first-choice XI is clear. In fact, he's used the same starting lineup in every game since the winter break. Mario Mandzukic remains the first-choice striker ahead of Mario Gomez, and Daniel van Buyten has replaced Jerome Boateng. There is no room for fit-again Arjen Robben in attacking midfield, with Franck Ribery, Toni Kroos and Thomas Mueller occupying the three advanced positions. And Luiz Gustavo, once a Champions League hero, only got his first run-out of the calendar year on Saturday, coming off the bench for the final eight minutes.

Last week, Heynckes explained his reason for keeping established stars like Gomez and Robben on the bench. Essentially, he subscribes to the conventional wisdom to never change a winning team:

"The team has to come together as a unit, and we have to keep winning. I refuse to take risks in the circumstances."

Thus far, Heynckes' selections have been justified. Perhaps Bayern would have scored earlier or won 5-0 on Saturday with different personnel, but a changed XI could have also changed the result.

In any case, that debate is of little value now. A win is a win, and a convincing victory such as Saturday's result cannot be questioned. It took a while to break down the Mainz defense, but once the visitors scored, they made it look easy. For good reason, perhaps, because with seven goals conceded in the Bundesliga this season, Bayern are on pace to allow just 12 by season's end.

Even with a few slip-ups, Bayern can win the Bundesliga quite comfortably. The only danger Heynckes faces is not having his best possible Bayern available for the critical knockout matches that are on the horizon.

Bayern visit London to face Arsenal in the Champions League on Feb. 19, and they may need more firepower than Mandzukic can provide. The Croatian striker has neither scored nor assisted a single goal in the Champions League thus far, and Heynckes has on occasion preferred Claudio Pizarro and Mario Gomez for European fixtures. Even Toni Kroos' form in Europe has been somewhat short of stellar: In six group-stage games, he only played a part in two goals, a modest tally given his role as central playmaker.

Bayern also face Dortmund in the DFB-Pokal later this month in a one-off that, despite the Bavarians' fine form, could go either way. The Bundesliga leaders are winless with five losses in their last six games against the twice-reigning German champions, who play a high-speed brand of football not unlike that of Tuchel's Mainz—but with vastly superior players.

While Bayern may be enjoying perhaps their best-ever form in the Bundesliga, the German record champions are not exactly on the best form they've enjoyed under Heynckes. They're a great team that can get even better.

But the issue persists: What must they must do to reach the level that they can out-play top teams, as they did against Real Madrid and Manchester City last season?

Whether it's a matter of focus, desire, form or class, Heynckes must take action, and soon. Last week, he pledged to resume rotation: "The players know me, and they know I’ll start rotating again when we’re back to the Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday pattern," he said.

The question now is, will Heynckes know his best XI ahead of the telling games, and will his best players be in form when the time comes?


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