Bayern Munich vs. Eintracht Braunschweig: 6 Things We Learned
Bayern Munich beat Eintracht Braunschweig 2-0 at the Eintracht-Stadion on Saturday, marking the visitors' first win in a Bundesliga fixture since they clinched the league title just under a month ago.
Although the relegation-battling Braunschweig fought hard and managed to keep a clean sheet for 75 minutes, Claudio Pizarro and substitute Mario Mandzukic struck late to sink the hosts' hopes of taking a point or more.
The result was Bayern's second consecutive win in all competitions, and it comes just four days before Pep Guardiola's side face off with Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-finals. Click "Begin Slideshow" for a rundown of all the major talking points from Saturday's game.
Lahm Hasn't Forgotten How to Play in Defense
Philipp Lahm has been used in central midfield more often than not this season, a change to which he adapted with apparent ease. The natural right-back has rarely played in the position he occupied in almost every game of his professional career prior to 2013-14. But on Saturday he was deployed in defense, where he was able to operate with seemingly no difficulty.
Lahm's ability to swap positions and maintain a high level of performance is a testament to his intelligence, skill and overall class as a footballer. He more likely than not will be used at the back on Wednesday, squaring off against Cristiano Ronaldo as Bayern take on Real Madrid.
At the World Cup, he may well be used in defense as well. But the fact that he has played in midfield so long should not be seen as a huge hindrance to his performance: Lahm is a gem who seems to always be able to do what is needed of him, especially in big games.
Natural Strikers Come Through Again for Bayern
Pep Guardiola made false nine a household term while at Barcelona, but since moving to Bayern he's lacked a Lionel Messi to play in that role. The trainer has again and again experimented with Thomas Mueller and Mario Goetze in a center-forward position, often benching the previously unquestionable starter, Mario Mandzukic. But as of late, it's the natural strikers who have made the difference for Bayern.
Mandzukic assisted the equalizer against Manchester United in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals just four minutes after his introduction. And in the second leg, it was the Croat who scored just 69 seconds after Patrice Evra's goal had put Bayern's progression in doubt.
On Saturday, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben were ineffective before being substituted with 17 minutes left to play. Two minutes later, natural striker Claudio Pizarro opened the scoring. With four minutes left to play, Mandzukic, who replaced Ribery, found the net.
Bayern had the odd chance to score earlier, but were unable to finish. The most compelling example was when Ribery was played past the offside trap by Goetze, but instead of rounding goalkeeper Daniel Davari and shooting on an empty net, he passed and had the ball intercepted. Sometimes simplicity is the best.
Hojbjerg Has No Immediate Future at Bayern
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg was promoted to the Bayern senior team last summer, a glowing endorsement for the then-17-year-old central midfielder who kept his place as the then-19-year-old holding midfielder Emre Can was sold to Leverkusen.
But for all his promise, this season has seen Hojbjerg stagnate. He's played a part in just six games in all competitions, four of which involved appearing as a substitute for the final minutes. Used on the wing, he was unable to make an impression in a 90-minute appearance in Augsburg two weeks ago.
Used in his natural position on Saturday, he again had difficulty asserting himself: In the first half alone, he completed just 73.5 percent (via the official Bundesliga live ticker) of his passes—a very low figure for his holding midfield position.
It's natural for a player who has only had chances to develop himself in the Regionalliga Bayern to struggle to adapt to life three divisions higher in the Bundesliga. Should he stay at Bayern, Hojbjerg will predictably continue to stagnate as Emre Can did and as so many promising talents at top clubs with deep benches have.
Bayern would be wise to send him on a lengthy loan to a lower 1. Bundesliga or perhaps even a second-division side.
Goetze Thriving in Natural Position
A role player who has been used on both wings, in a somewhat subdued central midfield, attacking midfield and even as a striker, Mario Goetze has drifted in and out of form for much of this season. As of late, he's managed to build some considerably impressive form. And that this form has come with him finally being used regularly in his natural, central attacking midfield role is no coincidence.
Goetze was Bayern's best player in Braunschweig and was rather unfortunate to have only assisted one goal.
He was the only player in Guardiola's squad who was both sharp and combative throughout the match, especially in the final third. The fact that his pass completion percentage was only bettered by Philipp Lahm and Javi Martinez among Bayern's starters speaks volumes of where the advanced midfielder was in terms of form as opposed to his teammates.
The Braunschweig match was only one example of Goetze's recent spike in form. He scored and assisted in a 30-minute appearance against Kaiserslautern in midweek and was one of the few Bayern players to look sharp in the Dortmund loss.
Appraised by Transfermarkt at €55 million, the still-21-year-old Goetze has enormous talent. But he'll only show it if he is played to his strengths. That involves him playing in the hole behind a main striker on a regular basis, not being shuffled from position to position.
Braunschweig Will Be Relegated, but Not for Lack of Effort
From the time of their promotion last spring, Braunschweig were underdogs in the race to retain their Bundesliga status. The financial and personal resources at Torsten Lieberknecht's disposal were extremely limited, and bringing in the likes of Karim Bellarabi and Marco Caligiuri has not been enough to keep the club out of the relegation zone.
Now with three matches left to play and a three-point gap between them and the safety of 15th place, a margin that could increase given that all the teams they could theoretically catch have a game in hand, Braunschweig are teetering on the verge of quickly dropping back to the 2. Bundesliga.
Despite their table position, Braunschweig deserve some credit. They've fought hard all season long and took Bayern to task on Saturday, outrunning their opponents and creating pressure that saw the Bavarians' pass completion percentage hover in the low- to mid-70s for most of the game. They just lacked a bit of luck and a bit of skill in the final third.
Guardiola Is Playing a Dangerous Game
In a streak that spanned the majority of the current and last seasons, Bayern went 53 games without losing in the Bundesliga. It was an incredible streak that extended through a spell of nearly two months in which the Bavarians had nothing to play for in the German league last spring. And that streak ended during a similarly and seemingly meaningless spell this season.
Bayern's streak ended in Augsburg, just days after the club drew 3-3 with Hoffenheim in their first match after winning the Bundesliga title. They lost 3-0 at home to Dortmund the next week. Although they won in Braunschweig on Saturday, it was not without great struggle. Their slick passing was out of sync for the first hour, and they only finally got the opener against the table-bottom side in the final quarter hour.
It seems that Bayern have not been motivated as of late, at least not in the Bundesliga. The question now is whether that lack of motivation will cost them; the answer of course is forthcoming.
Since winning the Bundesliga, Bayern have played in two matches of any consequence: against Manchester United and Kaiserslautern. They won both by multiple goals, although their next test will be exponentially harder than the previous two.
Two tough fixtures with Real Madrid loom on the horizon and should Bayern win their tie, they will meet either Jose Mourinho's Chelsea or Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final. There also is the DFB-Pokal final with Jurgen Klopp's revitalized Dortmund to consider.
If Bayern win the treble for a second consecutive season, no fan will complain about their latent Bundesliga struggles. But if they come up short, the writing will have been on the wall since March.