Saturday wasn't the best display from FC Bayern, but the team figured out how to get things done. The 2-0 victory over Mainz at the Coface Arena is the Bavarians 18th league victory in a row and keeps the lead over Borussia Dortmund at 23 points. Pep Guardiola's late subs made all the difference in the contest.
The match started pretty physical with the teams playing ping pong with the ball, but Bayern went right into the attack. Arjen Robben's volley attempt in the fifth minute was saved by Loris Karius' knee, and it was only the beginning of a very good performance by the young German in the Mainz goal.
The hosts pressured Bayern all over the field. The final statistics would vouch for this as Mainz's players covered more ground than FCB. The high pressure caused a few turnovers and launched Mainz on the break. Nicolai Müller seemed to be involved in everything. Jerome Boateng was able to clear Müller's cross on one counter, and the winger brought out a save by Manuel Neuer after beating David Alaba.
Bayern controlled the next spell of play, penetrating deep into the Mainz half but unable to find the final ball. Robben's touch evaded him once he entered the Mainz penalty area on a couple of different occasions. One time in particular, Robben and Thomas Müller played a nice one-two with Müller placing the ball perfectly in front of Robben with a nice backheel, but the Dutchman was unable to control it.
Mainz's strategy was clear throughout the first half. They targeted Bayern's centerback pairing of Javi Martinez and Boateng with long balls over the top in an attempt to beat them for speed. With Bayern playing a high defensive line, Shinji Okazaki and Maxim Choupo-Moting were caught offside on multiple attempts as the half drew to a close with neither side really creating many great scoring opportunities.
While most Bayern supporters were hoping that Pep Guardiola's halftime talk included some "play with a sense of urgency" talk, it looked like it was Thomas Tuchel that actually told his players that. Choupo-Moting smacked the crossbar with a post shortly after the restart. The Bayern defense would allow only one more clear cut opportunity in the entire match.
Bayern began to exert control on the contest, and while Mainz continued to put on an impressive defensive performance, you just felt like a Bayern goal was coming. Robben cut in on his left foot and saw Karius make another nice save to keep the ball out. Bayern supporters though they were going to take the lead in the 68th minute. Franck Ribery ripped a shot toward goal, and Karius kicked his left leg out and go his foot to it to deny the Bavarians from taking the lead.
While Ribery and Robben looked like they finally put their rather average first hour behind them. Their individual speed constantly caused the Mainz defense problems. With the tired legs in the Mainz defense, Bayern used this speed to their advantage and allowed Robbery to run at them.
Finally, after all Guardiola brought on all three substitutes, Die Fußballgott struck in the 83rd minute. Xherdan Shaqiri's left footed cross from the right wing found the head of a streaking Bastian Schweinsteiger. The ball found the back of the net, and Bayern Munich finally took the 1-0 lead. Since coming back from injury, Schweinsteiger has done a little bit of everything and continues to impress and looks like he's carving out a "permanent" starting spot in Guardiola's lineup.
The goal sapped all of the life out of the Mainz players and supporters, and it seemed far more likely that Bayern would grab a second and maybe even a third. There's a reason that Bayern's opponents seem more tired at the end of matches, and it's not only due to superior fitness. Bayern had 78% possession on the day.
In the dying minutes of the match, Bayern added a second. Ribery's speed allowed him to outrun Karius to a ball over the top. After turning to face the goal, Ribery played the ball over a wide open Mario Götze, and he wasn't missing from point blank range in front of an open net. The final whistle blew, and Bayern left Mainz with a 2-0 victory.
Unfortunately, Borussia Dortmund and Schalke won today, so it was impossible for FCB to clinch the Bundesliga title today. However, as long as Bayern win on Tuesday at the Olympiastadion in Berlin in the match against Hertha BSC, FC Bayern will officially be crowned as Bundesliga champions.
Who was your man of the match? For me, it's Bastian Schweinsteiger. His performance today was awesome, and his goal kept the streak alive.