Frustration, faith, fortitude, and then fireworks.
Thiago Alcântara, an addition manager Pep Guardiola wanted more than anyone in the off-season, whacked a wonder goal in the waning minutes in Stuttgart to aide FC Bayern München's escape with three points. The Rekordmeister unbeaten streak increased to 43 and the chasm at the top of the table now sits 13 points wide.
A match where they put everything on the line, the VfB Stuttgart players looked like they had lost the DFB Pokal again with their hands on their hips and their heads hanging. Die Schwaben had done everything right, warding off FC Bayern attacks left and right and capitalizing on one of the few chances they had, but it still was not enough.
Stuttgart started the scoring in the 29th minute when a quick interchange between Vedad Ibisevic and Mohamed Abdellaoue freed up the Bosnian to net his tenth goal of the season. Guardiola threw all of his chips into the pot in the second half, pulling Toni Kroos and Xherdan Shaqiri for Claudio Pizarro and Mario Mandzukic and riding on his luck with Thiago. Pizarro subsequently scored off of a Thiago free kick from the left flank in the 76th minute and Thiago thundered home the winning strike off a lob from Rafinha in the third minute and final minute of stoppage time.
Here are some thoughts on the match, one of the most exciting contests for the Reds in a long time:
- There's nowhere else to start but Thiago's performance. Working primarily in the play making role, he shot some lasers outside the area and set up several FC Bayern chances. Some of the shots he attempted were a bit radical, but considering one went into the back of the net in crunch time, it is hard to fault him on that. Thiago not only made a stagnant attack look decent on paper, but portrayed Guardiola as a man-managing mastermind for replacing Kroos instead of him.
- Stuttgart began the match with an intent to press, putting more emphasis on the midfield than Mönchengladbach did at the weekend. FC Bayern did not to have great possession to start the match, and the only shots in the first 40 minutes were wide of the mark. The continued midfield presence allowed Stuttgart to put constant pressure on Bayern's defense, and eventually a straw (Abdellaoue and Ibisevic not seen a hair offsides) broke the camel's back to open the scoring.
- While disorganized at times, FC Bayern's defense stopped the two things that Stuttgart excel at: set-pieces and counterattacks. Stuttgart only completed four crosses the entire half and every counterattack came to nothing. The high line mistake was crucial and the marking was not the best, so a C or D grade would be a fair evaluation.
- He may still be in the doghouse, but Mario Mandzukic's physical presence in the penalty area was sorely missed. The passing in the final third was rather poor and Mario Götze stood no chance against the physical presence of Antonio Rüdiger and Daniel Schwaab. The jury is still out on the false 9, and the match today did not make much of a case for a consistent implementation.
- Pizarro can still ball, plain and simple. His substitution in the 59th minute completely changed the dynamic of the attack, adding not only as a rock in attack but a commander as well. After setting up a few chances, he finally got his moment in the spotlight after Thiago's free kick fell to his part of the penalty area. I cannot put it any better than this:
Whoever ends up getting Pizarro is very lucky. Quality player.— Cristian Nyari (@Cnyari) January 29, 2014
The replay of the match is on GolTV USA, Sport TV1 (Portugal) and Neo Prime (Indian Subcontinent) on Wednesday at 11:00 PM EST.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the narrative of Thiago has just begun.
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