After a trying national team break, with the tragic terrorist attacks in Paris overshadowing the world of football, FC Bayern Munich was determined to bring back a degree of normalcy, by concentrating on the game against (sort of) title contenders Schalke to help forget the happenings over the last two weeks. In a tense but exciting match, Bayern managed to outlast the Royal Blues, winning the Bundesliga Game of the Week by a score of 3-1.
Bayern possess, Schalke counter
Stop me if you've heard this one before: Bayern dominated possession, while their opponents packed their own half, looking for counter attacks. This game would be no different, even though it looked like it might turn out differently. A ninth minute goal by David Alaba, heavily aided by a deflection off Leon Goretzka, which caused the ball to fly in a big loop over Schalke keeper Ralf Fährmann. opened the scoring for the Bundesliga leaders. This has usually been the key for Bayern to open up defensive-minded opponents, thereby creating more space for the likes of Arjen Robben, Douglas Costa, Thomas Müller and Robert Lewandowski, but it only took eight minutes for everything to go back to "normal".
Schalke counter attack, Bayern defensive miscues result in equalizer
Robert Lewandowski missed a chance to increase the lead, with a looping, curving shot that beat the keeper, but ended up going slightly wide.
With the attack running through new sensation Leroy Sane, as most of the Schalke offense did, the Blues were able to even the score when Robben and Martinez had a miscommunication on who should collect the loose ball, allowing Sane to pass through to Max Meyer, who would dribble to the top of the box, and unleash a shot on Manuel Neuer's goal. Though the shot was decent, heading to the far corner of the goal, Neuer appeared to misplay the one-hopper (maybe the heavy rain played a part in that as well), completely missing the ball and allowing it to end up in the back of the net. Based on how long the Bayern keeper stayed on the ground afterwards, it looked like he knew he should have had that one.
The rest of the half would be more of the same, Bayern with stifling possession, and Schalke lurking for their chances off of turnovers. Shots were clearly in Bayern's favor, but the score stayed tied at 1-1 as the teams went to the locker rooms at the half.
Pep mixes it up
To start the second half, Pep Guardiola decided to shift some of his offensive players around, putting Müller on the left wing, while Costa would sometimes join Robben on the right, or would drift into the middle. As usual, Alaba could be found all over the field, going forward up the left wing, or slotting into the middle, in addition to defending on the left. Lahm would also push up on his side, which would leave Medhi Benatia and Martinez to clean up in the back, with a little help from Xabi Alonso.
Part time striker Martinez breaks the deadlock
After some promising attacks fizzled out, including a cross onto Benatia's head, which would go well over the goal, and a pretty through pass from Müller to Robben, whose shot would be blocked at the last second, the deciding goal would be marked by Martinez, a defender who likes to moonlight as a forward occasionally (see UEFA Super Cup 2013). A pinpoint cross into the box from Arjen Robben would find the Spaniard left alone by his defenders, as he calmly headed the ball at the goal line, and past Ralf Fährmann, in the 69th minute.
Schalke pressing, space opens up for Bayern
Schalke coach Andre Breitenreiter would react, and bring some of his offensive reinforcements off the bench, replacing a mediocre Klaas-Jan Huntelaar with Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, and taking out one of his five defenders, Roman Neustädter for forward Franco di Santo, but it would not change the outcome. Schalke would push forward, and Bayern would counter attack, reversing the game plan up to that point.
Bayern has multiple chances to put the game away
With the open space, Bayern would create some scoring opportunities. A good chance would come on a cross from Lewandowski, which Robben would attempt to head on goal in the 76th minute, only managing to knock it over the net. It appeared to be intended for Arturo Vidal, who was in a better position behind Robben, and probably would have salted the game away. The other would be a perfectly-weighted through pass from Vidal to a streaking Lewandowski, who would beat the keeper with his shot, but only managed to hit the right upright.
Instead, the league leaders would have to wait until added time, before Thomas Müller would finally dispel all doubt, taking a lob pass from Joshua Kimmich (subbed in for Robben), taking a touch, and then burying it low inside the right post, slotting it under Fährmann's hand.
Schalke 04 1 - 3 Bayern Munich
FCB: Alaba (9), Martinez (69), Müller (90+2)
Schalke: Meyer (17)
Schalke XI: Fährmann - Riether, Höwedes, Matip, Aogo - Neustädter (Di Santo, 75), Hojbjerg - Sané, Meyer (Reese, 87), Goretzka - Huntelaar (Choupo-Moting, 70)
FCB XI: Neuer - Lahm, Martinez, Benatia (Boateng, 70), Alaba (Rafinha, 83) - Alonso, Vidal - Robben (Kimmich, 88) Müller, Costa - Lewandowski
- It's unclear whether it was a tactical instruction from Pep, or the center backs took it upon themselves, but both Benatia and Martinez could be found sneaking into the Schalke box from time to time in the second half, to try to get onto the end of some crosses. In the end, Martinez surprised Schalke's defense, heading in the game winning goal.
- In his first start since matchday 2, Medhi Benatia played an impressive game, even without the defensive rock known as Jerome Boateng. He mastered his area under tricky and wet conditions, and even a hospital ball from his teammate, with pressure from Huntelaar, was handled with calm. Although he's not Boateng when it comes to hitting long balls to the forwards, he initiated some attacks with clever head and shoulder fakes, dribbling through the Schalke midfield.
- Poor Manuel Neuer. He still bleeds royal blue, having grown up as a Schalke supporter, and having played for the team for so long, but the home fans were unrelenting, whistling every time he touched the ball. Was that one of the reasons he misplayed the Schalke goal? Probably not, but the fans might think they influenced him.
- Ready for this? Bayern set another record! Are you shocked? With today's win, Bayern has set a new mark of 37 points after 13 games, beating the previous record of 35. All this was in front of the 300th consecutive sellout crowd (counting both home and away matches), which, of course, is also a record. Oh, and the lead is now eight points, after Dortmund dropped a game against HSV on Friday.