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What We Learned from Bayern's 9-2 Thrashing of Hamburg

Clark WhitneyFeatured ColumnistOctober 7, 2016

What We Learned from Bayern's 9-2 Thrashing of Hamburg

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    Bayern Munich edged closer to claiming the Bundesliga trophy on Saturday as they hammered Hamburg by a 9-2 margin.

    The league leaders did everything they could to win the Bundesliga title this weekend, but because Dortmund beat Stuttgart, Die Roten will have to wait at least another week to seal the trophy.

    Claudio Pizarro led the way for the hosts, scoring four goals. Arjen Robben added a brace, and each of Xherdan Shaqiri, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Franck Ribery found the net. HSV benefited from goals by Jeffrey Bruma and Heiko Westermann, but they were of little consolation.

    Jupp Heynckes employed a rotation in his lineup for Saturday's match, and as a result, many fringe players were able to make appeals for more playing time. The match was also a great warmup ahead of the Bavarians' Champions League showdown with Juventus on Tuesday. Click "Begin Slideshow" for analysis of the major talking points from Saturday's match.

Claudio Pizarro Is a Good Option Against Juventus

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    Perhaps the biggest dilemma Jupp Heynckes faces ahead of Tuesday's Champions League quarterfinals fixture with Juventus is who will play at centre-forward.

    For all his good form in the Bundesliga, Mario Mandzukic has scored just once in the Champions League. Mario Gomez, meanwhile, has been second choice all season: The Germany international has started just seven games and hasn't played a minute for Bayern since March 16.

    With Gomez unfit for Saturday's match and Mandzukic given a rest, Claudio Pizarro started in attack for Bayern. The veteran rolled back the years and showed his range of qualities in the first 45 minutes, scoring with a volley following a corner, then back-heeling the ball to assist Arjen Robben. Pizarro then capped off a comprehensively brilliant first half with an opportunistic goal, firing in after a shot rebounded off the post.

    The second half was much like the first for Pizarro, who scored two more and set up another, ending the game with a Playstation-esque four goals and two assists. Who could possibly ask for more?

    He may rarely play, but Pizarro must be considered an option for Heynckes in his attack—and not just as a substitute for the last 10 minutes. Pizarro had a hat-trick against Lille earlier this season, and in the Hamburg match showed some real versatility: Neither Gomez nor Mandzukic would have set up Robben the way Pizarro did.

    At his age and against strong opposition in Juventus, Pizarro cannot be expected to score. Then again, with Bayern using only one centre-forward against three Juve centre-backs, neither Mandzukic nor Gomez can necessarily either. Perhaps instead of using a physically imposing striker, Heynckes ought to select a more versatile player who can bring his teammates into the game as well as Pizarro can.

Shaqiri Makes an Appeal to Become Ribery's Long-Term Successor

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    When Xherdan Shaqiri joined Bayern last summer, he was brought in to serve initially as a backup on the wing. There was certainly room for a greater role in the near future, however, with Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben both approaching 30 years of age.

    Shaqiri has had some setbacks this season. Ribery has been fit for nearly every match, and although Arjen Robben lost his starting role in the offseason, Thomas Muller has been irreplaceable on the right wing.

    The Switzerland international has accordingly been given few opportunities to show his class, and many of his chances have come in a central role, out of his natural position on the wing.

    With Ribery ailing from a knock on Saturday, Shaqiri filled in brilliantly for the Frenchman. He scored a brilliant opener from distance, and struck the woodwork before Claudio Pizarro scored Bayern's fifth. It was a very convincing performance from a player who, at 21 years of age, still has room to grow.

    Ribery turns 30 in April, and he will need someone to share the burden and eventually replace him in the Bayern starting lineup. Several names have been linked with the Bavarian giants since Pep Guardiola was announced as their next head coach, but perhaps the appropriate replacement is already in the Bayern squad. 

Even with Van Der Vaart, Hamburg Are Nowhere Near International Class

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    The arrival of Rafael van der Vaart last summer was somewhat of a victory for morale at Hamburg. The northern German club had suffered through some very difficult seasons, and last year narrowly avoided relegation with a 15th-placed finish. Signing such a star player with over 100 caps for the Netherlands from a formidable Tottenham side was a major coup, as HSV looked to return to international competition in 2013-14.

    And yet, despite Van der Vaart's signing, Hamburg are still a woeful club.

    It's not that there isn't talent at HSV. In addition to Van der Vaart, there are several strong players in Son Heung-Min, Artjoms Rudnevs and Rene Adler, among others. The problem is, Hamburg have no ethos. There is no self-belief and the players seem to have little regard for the shirt.

    To concede nine goals even to a team like Bayern is absolutely disgraceful; it's the kind of record that might be becoming of a club destined for relegation.

    Hamburg were barely Bundesliga-quality on Saturday; they're fortunate they have taken enough points to avoid having to worry at all about relegation. Still, HSV seem destined for mid-table anonymity, behind the likes of even Mainz, Frankfurt and Freiburg. And they most certainly deserve no more than that.

Arjen Robben Has Learned to Share

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    Bayern's 2-0 loss to Arsenal before the international break could have signaled the end of Arjen Robben's career at the Allianz Arena, but the Dutchman was given another chance on Saturday and turned over a new leaf.

    The 29-year-old was selfish even by his own standards against Arsenal, shooting, or at least trying to shoot, at every opportunity. His productivity, in the end, was unacceptable: No goals scored, and (obviously) none assisted despite being given great services and having many opportunities to play his teammates into goal-scoring opportunities.

    On Saturday, Robben played his best game in recent memory. Before his substitution on 64 minutes, he scored two very well-taken goals. But two other figures stand out. The first is that he "only" took five shots, when in the context of the game he could have taken twice as many.

    The second is that he assisted Claudio Pizarro from a position where he most likely would have shot prior to Saturday's match—for the first time in recent memory, Robben chose to run to the end line and cross with his right foot rather than cutting inside and shooting with his left.

    Robben was far less selfish than his usual self on Saturday, and Bayern benefited greatly. He let his teammates show their quality and brought them into the game, rather than drawing all the attention and focus of attack to himself. If he can continue in the same form, he has a future at the Allianz Arena. If not, he most certainly should be sold.

Bayern's Defending from Corner Kicks Remains Their Achilles' Heel

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    Last May, Bayern were three minutes away from winning the Champions League final when Didier Drogba rose to head one of Chelsea's few corners into the net, forcing extra time. The English side went on to win in penalties, claiming the trophy in improbable fashion.

    It typically is wise practice for one to learn from one's mistakes, but Bayern apparently have not. The two glaring marks on Saturday's win against Hamburg were a pair of goals conceded from corner kicks. And those were not the only two.

    In their last three games, Bayern have conceded four goals from corners; in their last eight, the number allowed from such plays is five.

    It is strange that a team that had its dreams crushed a year ago by simple defending of a corner could slip into such a slump as Bayern have as of late, and stranger still given that coach Jupp Heynckes made strength in set pieces an integral part of his success at Leverkusen prior to his move to the Allianz Arena.

    In the context of a 9-2 win, a couple goals conceded from corners may not be a disaster. But Juventus now know exactly where they can hurt Bayern and will surely aim for Die Roten's weak spot. It would be silly and unnecessary if the German giants were eliminated from the Champions League for the same reason for a second consecutive season.

    Follow Clark Whitney on Twitter

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