Pep's Fire Sales Come Back to Haunt Bayern Munich, Not for the First Time
Bayern Munich reclaimed first place in the Bundesliga table Tuesday, but the Bavarians were nonetheless left disappointed with their match against Freiburg, which ended in a 1-1 draw.
Pep Guardiola's side met stiff resistance from the hosts, who dug in after conceding an early opener and earned their point with four minutes left to play.
Freiburg are no pushovers, but once going ahead, Bayern should have shut up shop.
Instead, they allowed the hosts to find their way back into the game and more: after Nicolas Hofler's equalizer, Freiburg looked the more dangerous side; if there was any question to how deserving they were of their point, that was put to rest in the latter stages of the match.
There were a number of factors that resulted in Bayern dropping points, but perhaps the most significant influence came long before the match: in the club's transfer activity.
As time ran down, what Bayern needed to seal their victory was a reliable holding midfielder. But there was no such player available on the bench, and when Bastian Schweinsteiger was forced off with an ankle injury, he was replaced by Franck Ribery.
Last season, Bayern would have had several options available on the bench—even with Javi Martinez not quite match-fit, as he was for Tuesday's match. Luiz Gustavo, Anatoliy Tymoshchuk and Emre Can all would have been available to Jupp Heynckes' side.
But since Heynckes left, Tymoshchuk's contract was allowed to expire without talk of an extension, Gustavo was sold to Wolfsburg and Can was offloaded to Leverkusen.
Perhaps Tymoshchuk and Can were on their way out in any case, due to lack of playing time, but Gustavo's sale was only made possible by Guardiola.
"Mario Gotze is a super, super player, but I need Thiago," the trainer said in July. The Bayern board acquiesced to his request and signed the 22-year-old from Barcelona.
Guardiola's lineup for Bayern's first competitive match under his tenure, the DFB Superpokal against Dortmund, was revolutionary: a 4-1-4-1 formation with Thiago the sole holding midfielder.
The result was disastrous. Never a true anchor, the young Spaniard was bullied around the park by the physically-imposing Ilkay Gundogan and Sven Bender, and BVB were 4-2 winners.
Guardiola even slapped Thiago during the match, presumably for making him look less like a revolutionary and more of a heretic.
Even if a preseason match, the Superpokal was a warning that went ignored. Bayern sold Gustavo and Can, reducing their depth to just two true holding midfielders: Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez.
And whether the trainer ever intended for Martinez—whose attributes are not at all dissimilar from any of the several midfielders Guardiola used as centre-backs during his tenure at Barcelona—to play in midfield is anyone's guess.
Now, for the second time in a month, Bayern have been punished for showing complete disregard for the holding midfield role—incidentally, the area that made Heynckes' team so immensely strong in their treble-winning 2012-13 campaign.
With Schweinsteiger withdrawn, Guardiola had no holding midfielders available and was forced to push his team for another goal rather than tending to the relatively-simple matter of closing out the match by containing the Freiburg attack.
With the transfer window set to close imminently, it appears that Bayern will make no more squad changes. But come January, they may sorely need some changes.
Guardiola's plans have potential, but there is simply no excuse: A club with aspirations to win several trophies must have more than two holding midfielders in its squad.
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