A shaky Bundesliga debut for Renato Sanches
With Arturo Vidal still jet-lagged from his trip to Chile for the international break, Renato Sanches was tapped to start alongside Xabi Alonso and Thiago in the key box-to-box role. Sanches’s debut showed some flashes of his true talent – the Sanches we watched at the Euros – but today his performance left much to be desired. With the ball, Sanches struggled repeatedly against the likes of Leon Goretzka and Benjamin Stambouli, whose pressing game repeatedly forced him into several easily intercepted passes. On defense, Sanches found himself on the outside looking in as Schalke’s one-touch passing and aggressive counterattacks too often seemed to blow by him. We should not be too hard on Sanches: with experience, this impressive 19-year-old will realize his immense potential.
Fixing the midfield: Ancelotti nails it
After an hour Ancelotti finally made a move to shore up Bayern’s struggling midfield. Vidal came on, not for Sanches, but for Xabi Alonso. Alonso had played in the deep-lying defensive midfielder role, but was MIA for almost the entire game. While Sanches ran back and forth attempting to get involved, Alonso seemed simply out of place. At the hour mark, he had logged only 50 touches, hardly up to his own standards. With Alonso out and Vidal in, the midfield took on a more aggressive character – and before we knew it, both Sanches and Vidal received yellow cards. As Sanches still struggled, however, Ancelotti made yet another move, replacing him with Joshua Kimmich. That addition at last gave the midfield both strength and stability, putting Bayern back in control of the game and setting the stage for Bayern’s two late goals, one of them by Kimmich himself.
Should Joshua Kimmich be starting?
All three of Ancelotti’s second-half substitutions were excellent, but Joshua Kimmich proved to be the most decisive. Kimmich anchored Bayern’s midfield with such poise and skill that Bayern’s offense almost immediately began to come alive. Vidal could play with his characteristic aggression, freeing up Bayern’s forwards, while Kimmich coolly frustrated Schalke’s own efforts to build an attack in the midfield. Bayern pressed Schalke’s defense relentlessly and soon broke through with two outstanding attacks. Kimmich participated in the second of those attacks to score his first career Bundesliga goal! Kimmich may actually be one of the best players on this amazing team: his game has almost no weaknesses whatsoever. We have seen him tackle and win aerial challenges as a central defender, race up and down the wings as a right-back (and succeeding Philipp Lahm to become now an integral member of Germany’s national team), and now calmly yet forcefully dominating as a midfielder – and even scoring. As Alonso’s time at Bayern draws to a close, Kimmich seems poised to take his place in the starting XI.
Hummels not quite killing it
While he did not commit any egregious errors that led to goals, Mats Hummels looked vulnerable on Bayern’s back line today alongside Javi Martinez. While Javi had a great game on both offense (an assist!) and defense, Hummels at times seemed to react too slowly and too casually. In particular, he received a yellow card for taking out Naldo early in the match – a foul he openly acknowledged. Minutes later, he arrived late on the scene to intercept an attack by Goretzka. If luck had gone Schalke’s way, they might have scored an early goal. It didn’t help Hummels that Schalke pressed hardest in the first half, while Bayern’s midfield struggled to prevent attacks, but he still bears responsibility for the flurry of shots Schalke launched Bayern’s way. When Jerome Boateng returns from injury, is it a foregone conclusion that Mats Hummels is our starting center-back, or could Javi usurp his place (we’ll leave Holger Badstuber out of the mix, for now)? Injuries may resolve the dilemma by itself, but Ancelotti may face some difficult squad decisions ahead.
No goals conceded in four competitive matches
Bayern have played four competitive matches to start the season, and have yet to concede a single goal in them: DFL Supercup against Borussia Dortmund, DFB Pokal against Carl Zeiss Jena, and the Bundesliga against Werder Bremen and Schalke. Of course, soccer is a game that comes down to inches, and Manuel Neuer normally decides these things. Against Schalke, Neuer made a diving save to tip a Klaas-Jan Huntelaar blast off of the crossbar and keep Schalke out when they were pressuring Bayern’s goal in the second half. The Bavarians began to tilt the balance back in their favor shortly after Neuer’s heroics.