Bayern Munich made hard work of it, but goals from Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller were enough to earn the 2-1 win over Schalke. Lewandowski put Bayern 1-0 up in the 6th minute and Franco Di Santo’s 29th-minute equalizer was cancelled out by Muller’s strike ten minutes before the halftime break.
Too much space in midfield without Javi Martinez
Javi Martinez wasn’t introduced into the match until the 81st minute, and his absence up until then was quite noticeable. For the better part of the 80 minutes when Martinez was not involved, Schalke seemed to have way too much freedom working through Bayern’s midfield. Leon Goretzka, Max Meyer, and Breel Embolo in particular were constantly finding open spaces in Bayern’s midfield, especially when Schalke would look to spring quick counter attacks.
Domenico Tedesco clearly had his side set up to press Bayern high and look to run at them as soon as they’d win possession in their defensive third when Bayern had numbers committed forward. This is exactly how Schalke scored their goal in the 29th minute; they made an interception in their own penalty box and Goretzka proceeded to make a box-to-box run untouched before Embolo sent in the cross to Di Santo.
Jupp Heynckes prefers to have Martinez in the lineup as the holding midfielder to provide stability just in front of the back line, and that’s exactly what was missing vs. Schalke. No discredit to Arutro Vidal, either, who had another strong performance despite being overwhelmed in the midfield at times.
James and Muller; auxiliary jacks of all trades
The diverse value that both James and Muller bring to Bayern’s play simply cannot be understated, and they both made contributions all over the pitch against Schalke. They both worked equally as hard on both sides of the ball and were constantly adopting different positions to try and either get on the ball, or open up spaces for their teammates to run in to.
Offensively, the way in which they were moving so freely made it hard for Schalke to keep track of them in their defensive third. With Arturo Vidal acting as the midfield anchor, James was allowed to roam the spaces in behind Muller and Lewandowski, providing threatening service into the box. His trademark passing and distribution was pinpoint once again, too; he boasted a pass completion rate of 91% - Niklas Sule was the only Bayern player to post a higher percentage, but he was only on the pitch for about 20 minutes.
A goal was a justifiable reward for Muller, who was once again routinely effective in the attacking third. It was his shot the led to Lewandowski’s opener, and his run was timed to perfection to get on the end of Arjen Robben’s through ball and slot home from a rather tight angle at Ralf Fährmann’s near post. The theme for Muller’s play continues, if he’s not scoring, he’s setting his teammates up, ad if he’s not setting his teammates up, he’s still creating spaces for them to take advantage of - ALWAYS effective!
Muller’s goal was a thing of beauty:
#SvenTheWall doesn’t fall asleep!
Sven Ulreich wasn’t called into action on too many occasions during the match, but he stood firm and decisive when he was, making vital saves that ultimately helped Bayern earn the three points. Right off the bat, Ulreich did incredibly well to get down and parry away Embolo’s low struck effort in the 2nd minute; he did exceptionally well to punch away Embolo’s strike out of the path of the onrushing Guido Burgstaller, who was waiting for a rebound tap in. He denied Embolo again (71st minute) in similar fashion when the match became increasingly open in the closing stages of the second half - he did well to hold on to this effort and not give any chance of a rebound.
Even Joachim Low chimed in on Ulreich after the final whistle had blown:
Germany head coach Joachim Löw on Sven Ulreich: "He has been playing very well in recent months. He is very solid in 1-on-1s and has improved as a player at Bayern. He's in our thoughts for the World Cup."— FC Bayern English (@FCBayernEN) February 10, 2018
Do you think he'll be on the plane to Russia? ✈️ #MiaSanMia pic.twitter.com/RxiJ323aMI