Bayern given much-needed reminder of its defensive shortcomings
When Bayern Munich was thrashed by Real Madrid in the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League last season, head coach Josep Guardiola was quick to admit that he got his tactics wrong against the eventual winners.
However, rather than learn from what went wrong in his side's shock defeat, the Spaniard has continued to field an incredibly high defensive line that leaves Bayern vulnerable against counter-attacks. The reigning German champions generally got away with it in the first half of the season as they proved to be far superior to their rivals, resulting in an 11-point lead over second-placed Wolfsburg halfway through the season, yet Guardiola has since been given a timely reminder of his side's shortcomings at the back.
Bayern was first destroyed by Wolfsburg on Friday, with Kevin De Bruyne and Bas Dost each netting twice to defeat the Bundesliga leaders 4-1, before Guardiola's naÃ¯ve approach once more cost the club against Schalke on Tuesday. After a sublime start for the Bavarians, a familiar problem reared its head again and one moment completely turned the game on its head.
David Alaba lost an aerial challenge after a long ball from the Schalke goalkeeper, with Sidney Sam taking full advantage of the space behind the Austria international as he charged into the area. Jerome Boateng saw no other option but to hack down the attacker, resulting in a straight red card and a penalty for the hosts.
Manuel Neuer managed to keep out Maxim Choupo-Moting's poor attempt, but the damage was done as Bayern had lost the momentum and eventually had to settle for a 1-1 draw against a poor Schalke. Guardiola's high defensive line not only cost Bayern in general, but also particularly hurt Germany international Mario Goetze on an individual level.
The creative forward has been struggling to find his best form in recent months after an impressive start to the 2014-15 campaign and has not scored or assisted a goal in Bayern's last seven league games. He returned to the starting XI against Schalke after being benched for the loss against Wolfsburg, but it was once proved not to be for the former Borussia Dortmund man.
Goetze blasted a good chance high and wide early on after a fine Xabi Alonso corner, only to again fail to deliver shortly after following an intelligent pass from Bastian Schweinsteiger, with an inaccurate header for Thomas Mueller while he was clean through. With Bayern reduced to 10 men, Guardiola then opted to take off Goetze rather than Mitchell Weiser as the 22-year-old's slump continued.
After his heroics at the World Cup in Brazil and his superb start to the season for Bayern, Goetze appeared to be fulfilling his enormous potential at last after a difficult first year at the Allianz Arena. His recent form, however, suggests that the attacking midfielder still has a long way to go if he is to reach the same heights as peers such as Barcelona forward Neymar and Real Madrid star James Rodriguez, let alone match superstars like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and teammate Arjen Robben.
Unsurprisingly, the latter nearly bailed out Guardiola and Goetze as he gifted Bayern the lead halfway through the second half with his 11th Bundesliga goal of the season. Benedikt Howedes eventually prevented a Bayern win with a goal of his own after a Schalke corner, yet there is no doubt about it that the Netherlands international remains the Bavarians' undisputed star man in attack.
For now, Goetze can only dream of having a similar impact.
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