Bayern Munich vs. Werder Bremen: 6 Things We Learned
Bayern Munich twice overcame a deficit to Werder Bremen on Saturday, overcoming early struggles as they earned a 5-2 victory in their Bundesliga clash at the Allianz Arena.
The match saw Pep Guardiola shuffle his lineup and tactics, although Bayern went behind due to Theodor Gebre Selassie's opener on 10 minutes. Franck Ribery equalized before Aaron Hunt restored Bremen's lead, but Bayern came out stronger in the second half.
Claudio Pizarro scored a quickfire brace to give Bayern the lead before Bastian Schweinsteiger and Arjen Robben struck to give the hosts a 5-2 victory.
Although not entirely convincing at times, Bayern will take plenty of confidence from the result as they prepare for Tuesday's Champions League semifinal second-leg clash with Real Madrid. Click "Begin Slideshow" for analysis of all the action.
Guardiola Recognizes His Mistakes
Pep Guardiola's starting lineup may have included some clear omissions of usual starters, but his selection and their formation suggested he truly had recognized the mistakes he's made.
In his pre-match press conference on Friday, the trainer told reporters that he needed to find a balance between his ideals and the more attack-minded footballing culture in Germany, as reported by Miles Chambers on Goal.com.
Actions, of course, speak louder than words, and some may have had their doubts given that Guardiola before his first day on the job last June pledged in a press conference to adapt to his players rather than forcing them to adapt to his philosophy, according to an article by Stefan Coerts on Goal.com. In reality, his approach was just the opposite.
But Guardiola on Saturday reverted to the 4-2-3-1 formation that his predecessor, Jupp Heynckes, made so successful last season. Javi Martinez and Bastian Schweinsteiger formed their once-brilliant double pivot and Philipp Lahm, though benched from the start, played in his natural right-back position when introduced as a substitute. Critically, Thomas Muller was re-introduced to the first XI.
Aside from selection and player positions, Bayern made some tactical changes while retaining other aspects of his footballing philosophy. These will be discussed in depth in later slides.
Change in Attacking Tactics Suits Bayern Well
From the very beginning, Bayern used a different approach to playing in possession than they had in Madrid. The difference was not just the result of changes in players used and a slight formation augmentation, but a difference in their method of attacking.
Rather than playing many passes sideways and aiming to retain possession above all other considerations, Bayern were more aggressive. They played sharp, quick, vertical passes more often than ever in recent memory, their equalizer at 1-1 being a prime example.
Javi Martinez won the ball and immediately played forward to Claudio Pizarro, who assisted Franck Ribery's goal. Bremen didn't have enough time to react in defense, and Ribery was able to finish without needing to pull off the spectacular.
High Defensive Line Still a Problem for Bayern
Guardiola's starting lineup was reminiscent of the Heynckes era at Bayern, but one tactical element that remained from the Spaniard's approach was a very high and disorganized defensive line. And Bremen used this weakness to their advantage.
The visitors opened the scoring on the counter, while the Bayern defense was scattered around the pitch. Jerome Boateng was well out of position, causing David Alaba to drift into a central-defensive area along with Dante. As Franco di Santo approached the pair, he played the ball into the path of unmarked full-back Gebre Selassie. Two touches later, Bremen were ahead.
Bayern conceded again later in the first half in a very long and drawn-out counter. Di Santo fielded a high and hopeful ball, then looped another high and long pass in the general vicinity of Aaron Hunt, who was free of any marker. Boateng closed a large gap between himself and Hunt, but the midfielder calmly slowed his run to make space and finished coolly from close range.
When Bayern have conceded as of late, too often the goals have resembled simple, training-ground exercises. That will remain the same as long as they play with such a high offside trap.
Ribery Gets His Confidence Boost
Although a hero at Bayern for several years, Franck Ribery's form has waned in recent weeks, and the Frenchman has been found lacking when he's been needed most. His performance in Madrid was one to forget, but only one of several confidence-shaking disappointments.
Ribery was back at his best against Bremen, though, and scored an equalizer after 20 minutes. The 31-year-old's goal seemed to breathe new confidence in him, and he went on to have a convincing game otherwise; his cool and clever back-pass to David Alaba to set up Bayern's third was pure class.
Ribery played with renewed vigor, with one notable sprint and tackle to break up a counter earning him applause from teammate Dante. And he led quick, counterattacking movements unlike his recent performances. Ahead of the Real match, the Ballon d'Or candidate will take much-needed confidence from his performance.
Muller and Martinez Must Start
Thomas Muller and Javi Martinez must start for Bayern, period. And both must be used in midfield.
Describing their roles in the Bayern team is complicated, and justifying their inclusion over other ostensibly world-class stars can be challenging. But the fact that both were regular starters during Bayern's treble-winning campaign last year is a glowing endorsement.
Even often a substitute, Muller this season has directly contributed to more goals than any other Bayern player. And without Martinez in midfield, the Bavarians have looked susceptible on the counterattack.
Muller cannot dribble in circles around opponents like Ribery, nor can he score long-ranged curlers like Robben. But he is so versatile, so quietly dangerous and so instinctive that he finds ways to make an impact in one way or another. The way he nodded Ribery's corner on for Pizarro to score is typical of Bayern's brilliant space-finder. But it's only one of the many ways he can change a game.
As for Martinez, it may be true that Bayern conceded twice on the counter on Saturday, but the Spaniard shored up the midfield in several ways. He broke up a number of other counterattacking chances from Bremen, and his ball-winning ability and quickness to play the ball forward resulted in a number of chances, including Ribery's equalizer and nearly a goal of his own.
Bayern may still struggle on the counter with Martinez playing; that is more a result of playing with such a high offside trap. Whether or not Guardiola augments his defensive tactics, Martinez's presence will always be a positive.
Defense Remains Bremen's Biggest Problem
The Werder Bremen sides that Thomas Schaaf coached during his 14 years in charge of the club were known for being very forward-minded and not so great at the back. But since his departure in 2013, Bremen have become rather ineffective up front and worse in defense.
Bremen are just behind Hamburg and Hoffenheim in terms of goals conceded—one and two off the two sides' respective tallies at the time of this article's publication.
Bayern have world-class attackers and must be respected, especially given Saturday's more direct approach. At the same time, Bremen's complete capitulation after going 2-1 ahead might have been avoided by a better team. The visitors cannot be satisfied with having conceded four consecutive goals, especially as their defensive struggles on Saturday were no anomaly.