Schalke 0-2 Bayern: Kroos controls the game
Bayern dominated possession throughout the match, and eventually found a route to goal.
Huub Stevens made just one change from the side that defeated Olympiakos in midweek, bringing in Julian Draxler in place of Tranquilo Barnetta.
Jupp Heynckes’ Bayern side had played a day later than Schalke (beating Valencia 2-1) so he freshened up the side with three changes – Mario Mandzukic was back in for Claudio Pizarro, while Thomas Muller and Luis Gustavo replaced Franck Ribery and Javi Martinez.
Bayern always seemed on top, but the game was lacking in excitement and tempo, so there were few goalscoring chances until the away side took command early in the second half.
The key feature at the start of the game was a small tactical shift from Stevens. In the last couple of Bundesliga games he’s played a 4-2-3-1, and did the same for the Champions League match in midweek. Here, however, Schalke were much more like a 4-1-4-1 system, albeit with the same central midfielders. This meant that rather than Roman Neustadter and Jermaine Jones acting as a duo, with Lewis Holtby the designated playmaker, Neustadter was the sole holding player with Holtby tucked into midfield alongside Jones.
This was a stifling move – it meant Bayern found it difficult to work the ball forward, but it gave Schalke fewer attacking possibilities. The midfield zone was well-matched – Neustadter on Toni Kroos, and Jones and Holtby picking up Gustavo and Bastian Schweinsteiger. In the early stages Bayern were too static in the centre of midfield, and Schalke coped easily.
The problem for Schalke was that Klaas-Jan Huntelaar received very little support from midfield. Holtby was probably twenty yards deeper than in the 4-2-3-1, and there was no reverse movement from the two wide players – Draxler was pushed back by Philipp Lahm’s advanced, while Jefferson Farfan got forward well but rarely combined with the Dutchman. There were some promising moments when Farfan moved inside, allowing Benedikt Howedes forward on the overlap, taking advantage of Arjen Robben’s lack of defensive work – but outright chances were rare.
With the midfield zone static, it was interesting that three of the centre-backs brought the ball out of defence at one point, seeking to make things happen themselves. Jerome Boateng did this in the first couple of minutes, then both Joel Matip and Kyriakos Papadopoulos did the same later in the first half – both the Schalke centre-backs are also comfortable in midfield, so are naturals when advancing higher up the pitch.
Bayern improved as the first half went on, primarily because they started being cleverer with their movement in midfield. Schweinsteiger and Gustavo made more of an effort to alternative their position, drop back and forth to receive the ball in space – Schweinsteiger was naturally much better at this, completing 79 passes, the most in the game and 26 more than Gustavo.
But the key to the game was Kroos, who was being picked up by Neustadter. Schalke’s problem was that Neustadter had to cover a large amount of space in front of the back four, and he was in that typical, tricky position in this formation – on one hand he wanted to mark his opponent out of the game, on the other he was afraid of being drawn too wide, and allowing Bayern space in front of the defence. Schalke’s 4-1-4-1 wasn’t at all compact – there was often 20 metres between the two lines of four – so if Neustadter was drawn out of position, the home side were very vulnerable in that zone.
Kroos (and Muller)
Kroos is a highly intelligent player, of course, and kept on varying his position. Sometimes he’d drop into the midfield to pick up the ball under no pressure, which encouraged movement from one of the other Bayern midfielders into a more advanced position.
More dangerous was his lateral movement into the channels, away from Neustadter, overloading Schalke on the flanks. The most presentable Bayern chance of the first half came when Kroos drifted into a left-of-centre position unchecked, then crossed to the far post for Mandzukic, who headed over.
After half-time Bayern stepped it up, and again increased movement resulted in more goalscoring chances. Now, they realised that Neustadter was struggling in his position, and it was common to see Thomas Muller drift into that zone, with Lahm providing the width.
Still, Kroos was the catalyst for everything. Him dropping to the left pulled both Farfan and Howedes towards the ball, allowing Holger Badstuber space for a cross – this time Muller headed just wide. From Bayern’s next attack, Kroos opened the scoring – again getting the ball in space on the left, exchanging passes with Muller (who had taken up a central position, beyond Neustadter and in front of the centre-backs) before finishing smartly into the far corner.
It was the perfect goal to illustrate what Bayern were doing – using Kroos to float laterally and pick up the ball in space, then use Muller as the ’second number ten’, coming inside from the right. Muller got the second goal with a clever solo effort three minutes later, and those two were deserving of the glory. There is some fine analysis of the two goals at the Rekordmeister site here.
Schalke struggled to get back into the game – Huntelaar could be seen encouraging his teammates to move higher up the pitch and press, but they’d become too accustomed to sitting back in the 4-1-4-1, and were tired because of Bayern’s possession dominance and movement.
Stevens brought on Barnetta and Ibrahim Afellay for Draxler and Holtby, reverting to the 4-2-3-1 with Afellay central behind Huntelaar, but Schalke were unable to win the ball.
Heynckes furthered Bayern’s ball retention ability by bringing on another passer – Martinez replaced Mandzukic – and the three points were never in doubt.
Schalke tried to stifle Bayern in the centre of midfield, but this was at the cost of their own attacking threat. They were too defensive and yet their shape gave Bayern space between the lines, which was only fully exploited once Muller drifted infield.
Kroos was the key man – his awareness of space and timing of passes was highly impressive, and it was fitting that he broke the deadlock.