Bayern Munich suffered the first blow to their Bundesliga title charge on Saturday night, when proverbial big-game bottlers, Schalke, fought back and earned a well-deserved draw in a heated exchange in deepest Gelsenkirchen.
The Royal Blues have of course got a rather pathetic record against their Bavarian rivals of late, stacking up an aggregate loss of 19-1 over the course of the previous six league games between the two sides before Saturday's showdown. Yet this weekend, Jens Keller's team managed to finally turn the tide.
Of course for many Bayern fans, such a result will be so much more than just a slight pinch in their hopes for another Bundesliga title. For many are well aware that their side haven't quite been themselves since Pep Guardiola changed everything about the team this summer.
The most drastic difference between Bayern on Saturday and the team that won the past two league campaigns, is the formation. Guardiola has traded in the conventional 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 for something more akin to a 3-5-2, and it's yet to really work any wonders for the club.
Schalke's goal—a tap in from Benedikt Howedes, in the 62nd minute, that may well have gone in via the defenders arm following Xabi Alonso's punted clearance straight at him—was the fifth goal that the German champions have conceded in their opening four games of the season.
This may not seem so bad, especially when Bayern are still winning most of their games, but when we compare it to last season's figures it begins to look like a problem. In last season's Bundesliga, Bayern conceded just 23 goals from 34 matches, giving them a goals conceded ratio per game of 0.67. Yet this season's current ratio is around twice that, currently standing at 1.25 goals conceded each game.
And it's not just the amount of goals they're shipping that's causing havoc for the club.
Guardiola's insistence on playing three centre-halves in each game has pushed a squad formerly known for its healthy strength in depth to the limits, with players like David Alaba and Philipp Lahm both having to fill in as central defenders throughout certain games, just to keep the shape.
Following Javi Martinez's injury after the Dortmund game, Bayern were then forced to fork out a small fortune on new signing Mehdi Benatia from AS Roma—despite having three perfectly healthy central defenders in Jerome Boateng, Dante and Holger Badstuber. New signing Alonso from Real Madrid also had to come straight into the team.
Whichever way you spin it, Bayern's defensive line is in an almighty mess at the moment because of this new formation.
What we also saw against Schalke was a Bavarian side that really struggled to create chances in the opponent's final third and dominate games quite like they used to.
We must take into account that Bayern are still without key players such as Bastian Schweinsteiger, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben, yet it seemed at times as though the formation and system itself was stopping other stars such as Robert Lewandowski and Mario Gotze from doing their job.
One of the reasons that the Royal Blues were able to get back into Saturday's game with such ease was because the intensity and quality that was on show from Bayern throughout the opening 15 minutes quickly stopped.
Bayern had their goal, through a wonderful one-two between the aforementioned Polish forward and Sebastian Rode on the edge of the Schalke box, but where they would quickly close off a game last season, they instead lingered and floated around the pitch like a team of individuals, unaware of their purpose.
Like a cat playing with its dinner, Guardiola's side seem to lack the killer instinct to finish off matches that lie in the balance.
Borussia Dortmund ultimately proved too strong in the Supercup, Wolfsburg almost managed to steal a point on the opening weekend of the league season and Schalke too took their chance when it presented itself. Decent teams are now bothering the champions in a manner that seemed impossible last season.
With the Champions League undoubtedly on Guardiola's mind, he'll wonder how well this new formation would fair against bigger, better teams such as Premier League champions Manchester City and Roma in the group stages.
"If I don't win, then probably another coach comes here next year," was the self-appointed warning Guardiola threw down at the start of the season, while speaking to radio station Sport1 and later translated by Soccer Laduma.
Perhaps a little dramatic from the Catalan coach, but a statement that could come to hold some truth to it if Bayern don't either settle into this formation quickly or revert back to one that won them so much success. A draw to Schalke is just a bump in the road, but many trickier tests await this side in the not so distant future.
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