1. Volatile Vidal
Arturo Vidal has drawn considerable attention and won deserved praise for his gritty, sometimes game-defining performances since the winter break. He has truly come into his own as a key member of the team, filling the massive hole left by the departure of Bastian Schweinsteiger. Today reminds us that there is a dark side to Vidal's style: when aggressive tackles play out as aggressive fouls, Vidal's ferocity on the pitch can turn against himself and his team. Today, after swiftly receiving a yellow card and committing yet another foul potentially worthy of yellow, Xabi Alonso could be seen pointing to his head, as if to tell Vidal, "keep your head in the game." Pep Guardiola, however, was taking no chances and subbed Vidal off for Thomas Müller in the 26th minute. Vidal went to sulk on the sidelines, avoiding Guardiola and the bench. Today Vidal played recklessly and allowed his emotions to get the best of him. He may have been upset to depart the game so early, but he can only blame himself.
2. Mario Götze misses another chance to shine
The highlight of Mario Götze's game came early, in the second minute, as Joshua Kimmich brilliantly passed the ball to him clear through Stuttgart's entire squad. Götze's run on goal regrettably came to nothing. Götze continually tried to insert himself into the game and onto the score sheet, but his efforts proved vain and were sometimes costly. His lack of playing time seemed to show when, in a strange miscue with Rafinha, he passed the ball into empty space in Stuttgart's penalty area. Götze's window of opportunity closed further when Thomas Müller came in for Vidal, forcing Götze to play behind Müller on the right, just above Rafinha. While he occasionally showed some chemistry with his teammates, Götze ultimately managed no more than a handful of feeble shots. He was taken off for Thiago in the 69th minute. Götze's performance today will do nothing to quash rumors of a potential transfer at the end of the season. He still seems like an afterthought in an offense filled with greater talent. The fact that Bayern have not already extended his contract (expires in 2017) perhaps says it all.
3. Bayern's flexible defense in open play
Bayern's defense today featured a back three of David Alaba, Javi Martinez, and Joshua Kimmich, with Juan Bernat and Rafinha ready to fall back on the wings and Xabi Alonso drifting back in the center as necessary. While the defense was not perfect, Bayern's defenders were generally able to cover for one another and prevent Stuttgart from causing damage. Kimmich and Alaba both had a hand in key tackles and clearances that kept Stuttgart from scoring, and Javi Martinez put in a solid game. Alaba fully realized the potential of Guardiola's flexible tactics today, being on hand to receive a header from Bernat deep in Stuttgart's territory to score his first goal of the season. Later in the game, Timo Werner and Artem Kravets made things uncomfortable for Bayern and Juan Bernat in particular on the left (after Alaba had shifted to center), but in each case Alaba or Alonso managed to avert the threat.
4. Vulnerable on set pieces
Bayern threatened to beat itself today, as many of Stuttgart's opportunities today were given to them in the form of free kicks and corners. I have complained in the past about Bayern Munich's exasperating inability to capitalize on set pieces; today, Bayern looked distinctly vulnerable on the other end: defending them. Stuttgart almost took an early lead today when a foolish foul committed by Rafinha gave Stuttgart a dangerous free kick. Daniel Didavi may have been thwarted by Manuel Neuer's astonishing reflexes, but it would have been a different story had he actually struck the ball squarely. Didavi would finally score off yet another unnecessary free kick, when Robert Lewandowski kindly passed the ball right back to him after he had misplayed it and fallen down. Still lying on the ground, Didavi somehow lobbed the ball right over Neuer into the far corner. It was a great effort by Didavi, but had Bayern played more intelligently as a team, he would not have had any such chances.
5. Why have one Xabi Alonso when you can have two?
While the old maestro put in an excellent performance today, significantly more of Bayern's possession flowed through Joshua Kimmich at center-back. Kimmich logged a team-high 125 touches (Alonso: 111) and 115 passes with an astonishing 93% accuracy (Alonso: 90% on 99 passes). Those figures come in spite of the fact that Kimmich was replaced by Douglas Costa in the 75th minute. While they were paired together, Alonso and Kimmich seemed to work like the interchangeable parts of a machine, with Alonso dropping back into the defensive line and Kimmich moving forward to direct play in the midfield. Once Bayern's defenders recover from their injury woes, Joshua Kimmich seems poised to assume the mantle from an aging Alonso, whose contract will expire in 2017.
PS: Ribery showed off some diabolical dribbling skill today.
PPS: That Douglas Costa guy sure is pretty good, amirite?