From the day the announcement was made, I had never questioned Bayern’s decision to hire the worlds most sought-after manager until Jupp Heynckes’ machine trounced the very same Barcelona side built by his would-be successor. My fear that Guardiola would weaken Bayern’s tenacity with a more elegant, attacking but unstable approach came to fruition this past Saturday in the first competitive match of the German season, the German Supercup.
As Marco Reus tapped in the fourth goal from close range during the DFL Supercup, one couldn’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu from the 2011-12 Pokal final where Shinji Kagawa and company repeatedly tore through the Bavarian midfield in waves of counter attacks as Bayern crashed to a 5-2 defeat that night. This night was different, as Bayern played a new system with plenty of intricate passing sequences and ball hogging, but the score line was an eerily similar result to previous encounters between the teams. On the back of a glorious, all-conquering treble winning 2012-13 season, it was a strange sight to see Bayern suffer such a loss, and it came as a surprise. Many may blow off the result as the Bavarians getting the hang of the new system implemented by their new rock star manager, but certain doubts remain.
Bayern had to start the game without Ribery, Gotze, Neuer and Martinez who all had to sit out due to minor injuries. Schweinsteiger, who was not fully fit, did not start the game and was subbed in late on. Thiago and Kroos attempted to pull the strings in midfield behind attackers Shaqiri, Muller, Robben and Mandzukic. The experiment seemed to backfire badly as Bayern looked porous despite all their pressing and possession. Thiago played defensive midfield in the new 4-1-4-1 formation and was overrun by Dortmund’s energetic duo of Sven Bender and Gundogan in midfield. The Bavarians struggled to contain the swift movement of the buzzing black and yellow shirts. The goals came as they were caught out on the break, although two of the goals were a result of a comical error by the stand-in keeper Starke and a deflected own goal by Van Buyten.
Guardiola’s 4-1-4-1 seemed to lack any sort of cohesion defensively in the center of the park as too many players pushed forward and were caught out on the break. The formation seemed to be laden with problems. Thomas Muller, who usually thrives behind the striker or out on the wing, was largely ineffective in a more conservative role. Robben seemed to be pegged back and was constricted despite his two goal contribution. Bayern played a possessive game that was impressive at times but the dangerous wing play of last season was markedly reduced, although one might argue that this was due to Ribery’s absence on the left. The game was similar to Bayern’s unimpressive 2-0 win in the friendly over a second-string Barcelona side where Bayern were caught repeatedly on the break but were unpunished. Such problems were absent from the side under Jupp Heynckes; a side that was built on strong foundations of combining defensive solidity with possession, fluidity, and lethal attacking movements.