Mixed results for Rafinha and Bernat
Ahead of Bayern’s DFB Pokal clash with a revitalized Wolfsburg, Carlo Ancelotti rested both of his regular wingbacks, captain Philipp Lahm and David Alaba. Rafinha and Juan Bernat started in their place, but the results were decidedly mixed. On the right, Rafinha often struggled to deal with Schalke’s Sead Kolasinac, who has been one of the best two-way players in the Bundesliga this year. Schalke seemed to create multiple chances on the right, constantly testing Javi Martinez and Mats Hummels in the center.
Things went somewhat better for Bernat on the left. He made a spectacular last-man tackle on Goretzka preventing Schalke from taking the lead before halftime. He also was a threat up front, recording a good shot on goal in the first half. David Alaba, however, still made his presence felt when he took over for the last fifteen minutes of play, creating several dangerous opportunities that Bayern just couldn’t put away.
Bayern neutralized on the wings
Ahead of Bernat and Rafinha, Douglas Costa and Arjen Robben both struggled to overcome Schalke’s stout defense. Robben had the better outing of the two, insofar as he created the opportunity that enabled Lewandowski to score a beautifully taken shot in the first half and delivered a perfect cross that Lewandowski fired off the woodwork just before halftime. Beyond that, however, Robben was thoroughly frustrated, especially by the defensive performance put in by Schalke’s outstanding Kolasinac, who dogged his steps at every turn.
Opposite Robben, Douglas Costa fared little better against Benedikt Höwedes - and of course Naldo put in a monster performance between them. Costa was able to break through late in the game, notably delivering what would have been the game-winning cross if Lewandowski had not been just a breath late to the ball. Otherwise, though, Costa was also largely frustrated.
Neuer asleep at the wheel
Manuel Neuer was not himself today, and there are no excuses to be made. The first sign of trouble came in the second minute in the game, when Neuer casually dribbled the ball toward Schalke’s onrushing offense and was forced to make a diving kick to clear it from imminent danger. He followed that up with a bafflingly slow reaction to what should have been a catchable free kick by Naldo, letting the ball skip past his fingers and into the net. That error cost Bayern its early lead and indeed two points on the day. Of course, we might be thankful he “gets it out of his system” before a knock-out match, but reality is not always as forgiving.
The agony of Thomas Müller continues
Yet again we see Ancelotti line up the team in the vaunted 4-2-3-1, with Thomas Müller roaming behind Lewandowski, and yet again we see not a glimmer of hope that Müller’s crisis is nearing the end. Frankly, I will be very surprised if Müller plays at all against Wolfsburg on Tuesday. Thiago should be fit, and he has owned Müller’s central position this season. Müller was able to insert himself more into the game in the second half and he was present for a few key situations, but his ability to find space seems to have left him. He was the only forward who played the entire game without getting a single shot off.
Philipp Lahm celebrates 500 games for Bayern!
Let’s end on a positive note: in the 76th minute, Philipp Lahm replaced Rafinha in his five-hundredth game for Bayern Munich, making him no. 9 on the list of players who have played most for the Rekordmeister. He has thus passed another milestone that puts him among the most elite players to ever don a Bayern Munich jersey. He had already surpassed Mehmet Scholl (469 games), and soon will pass Bastian Schweinsteiger (501) in eighth place. How long will Lahm play, though? Speculation over his potential retirement has abated somewhat in recent weeks, with Uli Hoeness saying recently that Lahm could easily play until he is forty years old. A definitive answer about the future of Bayern’s celebrated and decorated captain remains to be given. But we can be grateful for every game.
PS: How about Holger?
Holger Badstuber played for an hour today in his first start for Schalke - his substitution coming perhaps as a precaution in light of his injury history. He was solid against his former teammates, especially Robben, on the right. The only blemish on his game came early in the first half, when he could not quite clear the ball from Robben, allowing the Dutchman to regain possession and pass to Vidal, who then assisted Lewandowski’s goal. The play was somewhat reminiscent of a similar blunder by Hummels earlier this season, but Badstuber’s situation was much more excusable. He could be seen receiving treatment on his right knee on the bench. Let’s all hope he stays healthy and enjoys many more starts.