Mainz vs. Bayern Munich: 6 Things We Learned
Although no titles were collected today, it was sighs of relief and eventual smiles all round for Bayern Munich and their travelling fans as the German champions made hard work of a trip to Mainz with a late 2-0 win on Saturday.
It was always going to be a tricky affair against a Thomas Tuchel side that has grown to be admired and eventually feared amongst much of the Bundesliga, yet few expected the home side to offer so much against the Bavarian giants.
The first half is one that will live long in the memory of many Mainz fans as they went toe-to-toe with Bayern and even looked the better of the two sides. With chances from Nicolai Muller and the ever-dangerous Eric Maxim Chupo-Moting questioning Pep Guardiola's right to all three points.
In fact the breakthrough didn't look like it was coming at all as Tuchel's side dug in for a heavy barrage of attacks in the second half with relative ease, before substitute Xherdan Shaqiri picked out Bastian Schweinsteiger with a wonderful cross, allowing the German midfielder to head home and open the scoring with no more than eight minute to spare.
Four minutes later it was Mario Gotze's turn, as Franck Ribery skilfully pulled a pass back to the young prodigy in the centre of the Mainz goal to which the forward casually knocked it home. Bayern had their two goals, eventually, and all three points amidst a heartbroken Mainz side who thought they'd done enough.
Here's what we took from today's game.
Mainz Start with a Bang
Although the first clear-cut chance of the game came from Arjen Robben in the fourth minute through a deflection in the box that the Dutchman managed to hit right at Loris Karius in goal, it was in fact Mainz who looked the more dangerous of the two sides in the opening 10 minutes of the game.
Nicolai Muller had an excellent chance to opening the scoring when he muscled past David Alaba and pocked a left-footed shot right at Manuel Neuer from just yards out, but not before Eric Choupo-Moting found himself behind the Bavarian back-line on a number of occasions. A great start that Thomas Tuchel would have been over the moon about.
Bayern Made to Wait Another Week for Bundesliga Title
Although ultimately today's result could have won the Bundesliga title for Bayern on this very day in March, it was results throughout the title race that in turn meant that the Bavarian giants would have to wait another week for their first trophy of the season.
Schalke expectedly overturned Eintracht Braunschweig to keep the "pressure" on the league leaders, while Dortmund managed to squeeze past Hannover 96 with three goals and retain second place for the time being.
Bayern now travel to Hertha Berlin next week where a solitary win over the capital side could seal this Bundesliga season's fate for good, with an incredible eight games to spare. A new record in the German top division.
Guardiola Opts for Shaky Defence
Through either necessity or a simple exercise in curiosity, Guardiola chose to shake things up at the back in today's game with club captain Philipp Lahm back in his old role of right back whilst Javi Martinez came in to the side at centre back.
Although we're used to seeing both players in Bayern's Champions League campaign this season, we rarely see the duo beside each other in the Bundesliga.
Perhaps this is because the defence simply didn't look solid or at all confident throughout the game with Tuchel's side putting a clear emphasis on launching long balls over the top of Martinez and his centre back partner Jerome Boateng in the hope of catching them out with the pace of Shinji Okazaki.
Bayern ultimately kept a clean sheet and claimed all three points in an important victory, but Guardiola will undoubtedly be far from happy with how his back-line looked today.
Mainz Offer Best Test of Bayern All Season
Mainz have long been regarded as something of a dark horses and potential bogey side to most of the Bundesliga's top sides, through their ability to simply get in among their opponents and really make them feel uncomfortable at the Coface Arena. Today was no different against Bayern.
It was Tuchel's astute move to a 4-4-2 diamond formation that offered the most nuisance to Bayern as Mainz doubled up on the wings and effectively marked both Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery out of the game. Both had their chances but where far from their best today.
Similarly, the physical approach taken by Mainz's two centre backs, Nikolce Noveski and Stefan Bell, to Mario Mandzukic and Thomas Muller proved to put both off for large parts of the game. With the young German forward eventually being substituted through his inability to effect play.
Bayern Leave It Late to Claim All Three Points
As many considered the thought of Bayern actually dropping points against a lower side in the Bundesliga this season, it was none other than vice-captain Bastian Schweinsteiger who showed up with the late header in the 82nd minute of Saturday's match to turn the game in his side's favour.
It was Bayern's 17th goal in the final 15 minutes of a game in the Bundesliga this season, before Gotze made it 18 just moments later, as the current German champions claimed all three points against a very tricky opponent.
According to WhoScored.com that now puts the German midfielder on five goals and three assists for Bayern this season. As his side continued their march at the top of the table for the coming Bundesliga title.
Guardiola's Subs Once Again Steal the Show
In a game that seemed destined to end in a 0-0 draw, through the heroic efforts of Tuchel's brave Mainz side, it was once again Guardiola and his magical ability to turn a game with the slightest change in tactics that ultimately won all three points for Bayern.
As we saw against Wolfsburg a few weeks ago, Thiago Alcantara was introduced at the right time to alter the game's outcome with drastic results. While against Bayer Leverkusen last week, Guardiola too brought on Ribery and Shaqiri to see the game out.
Today Xherdan Shaqiri's introduction at the expense of a quiet Arjen Robben proved to be the catalyst that opened the scoring, as his cross in the 82nd minute found Schweinsteiger to nod home for the first goal. While Ribery's cut back to a Mario Gotze who'd only just came on for Muller twenty minutes before hand was enough to score the second and seal the win.
This team may be full of superstars but it is the manner in which Guardiola uses them which really wins games and ultimately championships.