Arturo Vidal has made Xabi Alonso the back-up midfielder we originally expected.
When Bayern surprised us all by signing Xabi Alonso last season, almost everyone expected the aging legend from Real to be the perfect backup to Javi Martinez and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Things turned out differently: injuries and Alonso's own stellar form made him all but indispensable. His status as the undisputed orchestrator of Bayern's midfield now seems over. Arturo Vidal's presence in the midfield today was immense. Besides his dominance in the center, he provided the only highlight of Bayern's performance in the first half: a fantastic shot off the volley that required an equally brilliant save from Mainz's keeper Karius. Vidal's passing was a constant threat to Mainz, finally paying off with an assist that enabled Arjen Robben to score the equalizer. Yet all was not rosy for Vidal. Although he made two gutsy tackles, he also was outdribbled by Baumgartlinger, who provided Cordoba the assist in Mainz's second goal. The responsibility for that goal, however, hardly rests on him alone.
Even a real center-back cannot solve all Bayern's defensive problems
For the first time in months, Medhi Benatia started for Bayern Munich, playing in the center-back position alongside David Alaba. With Philipp Lahm resting, the wings were taken by Rafinha and Juan Bernat. Joshua Kimmich, who has performed exceptionally at center-back in the absence of all Bayern's true center-backs, sat the game out. The result? Decidedly mixed. Bernat put in an energetic performance, but little went his way. Although he remarkably won four aerial contests despite his size, it was one duel that he lost to Clemens that immediately led to Mainz's first goal. While Bernat and Benatia both covered Malli in the center, Malli astutely let the ball roll to Samperio, whom Rafinha had left wide open. Mainz's forwards similarly outplayed Bayern's defense to win their second goal: this time, Brosinski blew by both Douglas Costa and Bernat on the right; Baumgartlinger then beat Vidal and provided Benatia's man, Cordoba, with the assist. Mainz had just five shots, but they made the most of what they got.
Signs of life on set pieces, but still nothing to show
Bayern's baffling inability to do anything useful with the multitude of corners the team wins continued today, but there were some signs of life. One of the positive contributions Benatia made to this match was his presence in the air. Two of Bayern's 16 shots were headers by Benatia in set-pieces, one off a corner and one off a free kick. Neither were on target, but we can at least appreciate the effort.
An embarrassment of offensive riches (part 1)
Pep Guardiola put on a variety show in the final third today, but none of the combinations he tried worked in the way expected, and only one of them worked at all. The game began with Ribery on the left and Coman on the right, with the central positions held respectively by Thiago and Robben. While Ribery provided a constant threat throughout the game, Thiago failed to break through. Coman and Robben showed considerably more chemistry together, but neither of them could break down Mainz's stubborn defense. Coman, it should be noted, played an extremely aggressive game and single-handedly won five of Bayern's 11 corners!
After halftime, Pep shook things up: Thomas Müller came on for Coman, pushing Robben to the far right wing. Müller immediately had a dangerous opportunity, but then all but vanished from the game. After ten unproductive minutes, Costa came in for Thiago, but took up Coman's former position on the far right, pushing Robben back into the middle alongside Franck Ribery. This surprising formation resulted in Bayern's equalizer when Robben managed to shoot from improbable distance into the far corner. After further futility, however, Pep attempted another surprise, sending Costa to the far left with Ribery and Robben in the middle. Robben eventually drifted to his usual place on the right, creating several chances, but nothing came of them.
An embarrassment of offensive riches (part 2)
For all Pep's experimentation on the wings, none of the combinations brought Lewandowski or Müller into the game. Lewandowski logged an embarrassing 36 touches - only Coman had fewer, but he was subbed out after 50 minutes! Lewandowksi attempted two headers, but that was the closest he came to threatening Mainz. Thomas Müller was somewhat more involved, despite coming on in the second half: he managed 29 touches, but even he could do little to help Bayern. Mainz managed to suffocate Bayern's goal-scoring duo by effectively stifling the wings and conceding almost no room for either of them to move. From Bayern's perspective, it was a frustrating, gritty performance, but Mainz deserve full credit for shutting down a dizzying variety of attacking combinations today.