Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben had played together just once in 2016, but Bayern Munich coach Carlo Ancelotti thought it was about time he reunited the two wingers. The move was all part of a tactical shift away from his 4-3-3 set-up as Bayern sought to get themselves back to the top of the table.
Bayern’s 2-1 win did just that, though RB Leipzig still have the opportunity to add to the 30 points that tie them with the defending champions. Ribery may not have looked in vintage form, but Arjen Robben and Thomas Müller, who was playing behind Robert Lewandowski for the first time this season, were playing in ways reminiscent of Bayern’s treble campaign in 2013.
Robben was key to both goals, assisting the first to Lewandowski to cover up an early blemish from Bayern’s defense and scoring the second after a terrific ball from Müller. Even with the Robbery combination back on the field, Bayern struggled their way to three points away from home.
The struggle started when Bayern conceded possession in the third minute of the game. Yunus Malli picked out Jhon Cordoba as part of the ensuing counter-attack, and the Mainz striker finished fabulously to give Mainz the early lead.
That lead did not last long though, for Bayern had a break of their own that left Mainz up in arms. Philipp Lahm won the ball on a spectacular tackle, and not long after the ball made its way to the feet of an intent Robben. The Dutchman picked out Lewandowski with a through ball and the Polish striker put away the equalizer, his first Bundesliga goal since October.
Though Müller was still coming up empty in front of goal, the way he was combining with his mates in the penalty area in the first half made Mainz’s entire defense look like a second-team squad. He eventually broke free along the goal line early in the game and put in an off-balance, hard-slicing cross that Robben finished at the far post.
With all of the attacking success, the defense still looked unstable. Ancelotti’s side was playing without a third midfielder for the first time this season, and Mainz were able to possess the ball more than they probably should have. Javi Martinez also had a handball at the end of the first half that probably caused every Bayern fan in attendance to hold their breath, but referee Daniel Siebert let the Bayern defender off with a warning and a yellow card.
Ancelotti’s midfield gamble ultimately paid off, even it resulted in a second half slump in attack. Lewandowski made the performance look much better with a pinpoint free kick in second-half stoppage time.
Bayern are not back to their dominant form, something that even the return of Robbery could not fix. But at least they have an away win that they can take back to Munich in their consolation game against Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.
Mainz 05 (1-3) Bayern Munich
M05: Jhon Cordoba (4’)
FCB: Robert Lewandowski (8’, 90+2’), Arjen Robben (21’)
Mainz XI: Lössl – Donati, Balogun, Bell, Hack (Öztunali 62’), Brosinski – Frei (Latza 72’), Ramalho (De Blasis 81’), Malli – Onisiwo, Cordoba
Bayern XI: Neuer – Kimmich (Vidal 77’), Martinez, Hummels, Alaba – Lahm, Thiago – Robben, Müller (Renato Sanches 87’), Ribéry (Douglas 66’) – Lewandowski