Schalke 1-2 Bayern Munich – visitors triumph despite early dismissal
The most notable characteristic of the game was its sheer physicality – two reds, six yellows and many, many strong challenges. In truth, neither side played great football and the game essentially came down to which side could make the most of the limited chances that came their way.
Bayern went with their familiar shape, a cross between a 4-4-2 and a 4-2-3-1, with high wingers and Muller dropping off the front. Schalke lined up in a 4-3-3ish shape, with three fluid fowards and three fairly deep midfielders, including Joel Matip deep in midfield with the specific task of marking Thomas Muller. When Schalke had the ball, however, the hard-working Muller himself was told to mark Matip, so those two players spent the first-half running up and down the pitch as if they were in a three-legged race.
Both midfields sat relatively deep and looked to play the ball to the flanks – in fact, both sides’ best moments came from their left-wingers. Franck Ribery was his usual self, with Schalke choosing not to double up on him on the wing, but instead instructed Benedikt Howedes to come high up the pitch to try to confront Ribery before he could turn and run at speed. Jefferson Farfan’s pace on the left was Shalke’s main threat.
Bayern’s passing was generally poor – in particular the distribution from their defenders, which was too often long and aimless. Nevertheless, they went 2-0 up with two goals in two minutes from Ribery and Muller. Neither goal was a classic – Ribery’s was a good finish after the ball came to him after a corner, Muller’s a tap-in after the Schalke defence gave away possession five seconds after kick-off. But Bayern were two up, and were content to sit on their lead, even when Kuranyi headed in Rafinha’s cross soon after.
Just before half-time, however, Altintop was dismissed for two silly yellow cards, and Bayern’s mission became much harder. They rejigged by sending Muller out to the right, and playing a standard 4-4-1 shape with Muller slightly advanced – similar to how Liverpool lined up against Benfica after Babel’s sending-off. Felix Magathe immediately changed his side (despite there being just three minutes until half-time), removing Muller’s man-marker Matip, and playing the more forward-thinking ex-Bayern midfielder Alexander Baumjohann, who impressed with his movement further forward, as Schalke went 4-2-3-1ish.
On the hour mark they put on their new Chinese signing Hao Junmin, an energetic midfielder, to replace the slightly more reserved Peer Kluge, and their midfielder had a really attacking slant to it – in fact, Ivan Rakitic started the game as the most offensive midfielder, but was the deepest midfielder by the end of the game.
Louis van Gaal looked to protect the lead, and signalled his intention by removing Ribery for the more defensive-minded Danijel Pranjic, who sat in front of his left-back throughout the second half, and then brought on Mario Gomez for the busy Ivica Olic. This was a good move, as Gomez held the ball up well and helped relieve the pressure on Bayern.
Despite having a man advantage, Schalke never really threatened in the second half, struggling to string together passes in the final third, and failing to get their full-backs forward consistently enough to really stretch Bayern.
Bayern, meanwhile, played classic ten men football – two banks of four, a big man upfront making a nuisance of himself, and extreme timewasting – they took the ball to the corner and tried to keep it there on 79 minutes. Although they should be given credit for getting their defenders forward when in possession – Lahm characteristically got up and own the flank, and Demichelis stepped forward into the midfield as he did against Manchester United.
Bayern now lead Schalke by a single point, with Bayer Leverkusen fading fast, and now six points behind. It looks like a two-horse race, and Bayern are surely now strong favourites given the momentum they’ll gain from this crucial victory.Schalke 1-2 Bayern Munich – visitors triumph despite early dismissal