Bayern Munich extended their unbeaten record to 28 consecutive matches in the Bundesliga, beating Nurnberg 2-0 at the Allianz Arena. Goals from Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben saw the recent treble winners claim all three points in the Bavarian derby, leaving them with a perfect nine points from three matches in the 2013-14 Bundesliga campaign.
The match saw Mario Gotze make his competitive debut for Bayern, while Thiago Alcantara started his first Bundesliga match. Although the final score was decisively in the hosts' favor, it was not a cakewalk against an FCN side that held strong for 69 minutes. Where were, accordingly, positives and negatives for both sides to take from the match. Click "Begin Slideshow" for a look at the key talking points.
It's been years since "total football" and the sweeper position have been relevant in tactical discussions. The former was used occasionally to describe, inaccurately, Pep Guardiola's system at Barcelona. But now, Guardiola has brought both back into consideration.
To describe any set formation for Guardiola's Bayern would be a gross simplification, and to assign players to specific roles would be—with few exceptions—inaccurate. The general consensus is that Bayern line up in a 4-1-4-1 formation. But the only outfielders who were truly fixed in any specific role in the Nurnberg match were striker Mario Mandzukic, center-back Dante and sweeper—yes, sweeper—Bastian Schweinsteiger.
The quartet of Franck Ribery, Thiago, Mario Gotze and Arjen Robben played fluidly, regularly swapping positions with one another and occasionally with Mandzukic. The full-backs, especially Philipp Lahm, were constantly upfield and often tucked into positions more central than wide. Even centre-back Jerome Boateng moved wide to cover for Lahm.
With the full-backs out of their traditional positions, Schweinsteiger played in a role reminiscent of Lothar Matthaus in his later years: starting almost level with the centre-backs and building play from a very deep position.
For a very long time, it seemed that the sweeper position and total football, in its purest sense, had no place in the modern game. But Guardiola is showing that perhaps that is not true after all.
Bayern could have scored many more goals, but it's hard to deny they have had some trouble putting matches to rest. Frankfurt always had a chance to steal a point, and Nurnberg held off the Bavarians until the 69th minute, when Ribery finally broke the deadlock—oddly enough, with his head.
Last season, Bayern played far more defensively but nonetheless averaged 2.88 goals per game. They scored almost effortlessly because everyone knew his role. Ribery was the creator, Kroos the architect, and Muller and Mandzukic shared the majority of the goals. Bastian Schweinsteiger transitioned the play from defense to attack, and Javi Martinez broke up the opponents' attack.
Against Nurnberg, it seemed a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. In Ribery, Gotze and Thiago, Bayern had three playmakers on the pitch at the start of the match. And although the Frenchman played confidently, Gotze and Thiago looked utterly confused at times, wandering in search of any purpose. It's no coincidence that Bayern began to look much more dangerous following the introduction of Muller for Thiago.
There is potential for Guardiola's system, should Bayern's many illustrious talents finally reach an understanding. Until then, though, their mutual confusion will make it much easier for opponents. Before they can be unpredictable to opponents, Bayern's star attackers must become predictable to one another.
In spite of Bayern's resounding advantage in terms of possession and territory, Nurnberg almost entered the halftime break a goal ahead. A quarter-hour into the match, Daniel Ginczek fired a blast that Manuel Neuer was barely able to redirect onto the underside of the crossbar. A centimeter lower, and the visitors would have taken the lead.
Ginczek had precious little service, but the new signing was nonetheless very dangerous with what chances he had. As such, he's a perfect fit in a Nurnberg side that plays to counter and has little to offer in attacking midfield. The Franconians have just two points from three matches and are certainly candidates for relegation. But Ginczek, who previously scored and gave an assist, has started his Bundesliga season very well following his having finished runner-up for top scorer in the 2. Bundesliga last season. He could make the difference in FCN avoiding the drop.
Given Pep Guardiola's history of using midfielders as centre-backs, perhaps the last Bayern player one may have expected to benefit from the trainer's arrival was Jerome Boateng. But the ex-Barcelona coach, who used Yaya Toure, Sergio Busquets and Javier Mascherano in defense during his time at Camp Nou, has used Boateng for every minute of Bayern's five competitive matches thus far this season.
It was largely expected that Guardiola would use Javi Martinez and Dante as his two centre-backs, but the ex-Bilbao man has played in just 16 minutes this season. And although he was legitimately jet-lagged following Spain's trip to South America a week ago, there really was no excuse for his omission from the Bayern lineup to face Nurnberg.
Martinez will surely have more opportunities sooner or later. But with Boateng and Dante having helped keep four consecutive clean sheets for Bayern, perhaps Martinez will have to settle for time relieving Bastian Schweinsteiger in midfield—not replacing Boateng in defense.