Bayern Munich and Guardiola caught cold at Schalke
Bayern’s 1-1 draw at Schalke this weekend comes after a narrow 2-1 win on the opening matchday of the season
Bayern Munich fans paid tribute to their 1974 European Cup winning team before their 1-1 draw at Schalke on Saturday.
That, illustrated in the shape of a fine choreography bearing the faces of some of the club's greatest players, is the yardstick for Guardiola to acquire legendary status at the five-time European Cup winners. Guardiola's team, however, is still in the germinal stage: they've looked polished in patches, glittering in glimpses, but rather unconvincing.
Despite racing out of the traps in Gelsenkirchen - taking the lead in the 10th minute through Robert Lewandowski - Bayern settled into an apathetic rhythm for the remaining 75 minutes, while, Schalke threw themselves aggressively and battle-hardened into challenges.
If history has told us one thing, staying at the top is the hardest. Bayern Munich are the super-club in German football; every one of the 18 clubs welcomes the German champions uniquely and increases the level of performance. It's the mentality required to play for a club, like Bayern.
Winning the championship by 19 points means this season might be a no-win situation for Guardiola. How do you reinvent the wheel? Well, the big prize wasn’t won – the Champions League. The manner of Bayern’s exit at the hands of Real Madrid will have hurt Guardiola, and he’ll be determined to rewrite last season’s slump.
It’s still unclear how he plans to make that happen, though. Bayern’s 1-1 draw at Schalke this weekend comes after a narrow 2-1 win on the opening matchday of the season.
At the apex of the attack, Robert Lewandowski ran just the 10km at Schalke, a week after tallying up nine kilometres against Wolfsburg. Key to a high, contained pressing strategy is having the mobility from the front to put defences under pressure.
There didn't appear to be a desire to recover possession high with Mario Gotze, for instance, barely covering eight kilometres.
Overall distance, perhaps, isn't the best measurement here: Lewandowski, in other respects, completed 22 sprints, while his Schalke counterpart Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting made 28 sprints and both Julian Draxler and Sidney Sam in close proximity offered 36 and 38, respectively.
If we go one further and compare with Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang made 32 sprints, while supplemented by more than 125 sprints from Dortmund's attacking weaponary: mainly, two wide-men and two wing-backs.
Even in Dortmund's 2-0 defeat to Bayer Leverkusen last weekend, Aubameyang and Ciro Immobile, collectively, managed more than 75 sprints. Basic sprint statistics may look irrelevant, but, in context, that is one of the key mechanisms to pressing intensively.
Guardiola, Neuer and Muller appreciated that, as much. "It's simply not possible for us to play like we did in the first 25 minutes for the whole 90. Only 25 is not enough," insisted the World Cup-winning keeper.
"The first 20-or-25 minutes were excellent. But then we lose the ball far too quickly. We still need time," Pep noted.
Guardiola has flipped and juggled his preferred formation this summer; the 3-4-3 project, eventually making way for a variation of 4-2-2-2. Some of players, like David Alaba, for example, have played in two different midfield roles, central-defence and left-back. That can't be good for team cohesion.
There's also a lop-sidedness in Bayern's formation. In the 20 minutes of strong, attacking play, Bayern were largely focused on the right-hand side where Philipp Lahm took advanced positions, Shaqiri hogged the touchline, while Muller roamed around the pitch, but tended to stick an inside-right position.
Yet on the left, only Alaba's lung-bursting runs beyond the attack changed the dynamics to Bayern's attack. Gotze's lack of ground covered, coupled with few sprints from deep left Guardiola unable to rely on left-sided option.
When Schalke began to overload on the right in the second half, Guardiola shrewdly hooked Gotze at half-time for the energetic Juan Bernat. They grew more into the game, but the exposure to pace and power on the attack made Schalke the dominant of the pair.
However, players looking uncomfortable in new positions and in new formations is endemic of Bayern's start to the season.
Two points dropped is no signal for an obituary to the season by any stretch, but the bedding in process, and the fluctuating demands, in pressing and shape, are taking a little longer than expected.