Workmanlike Bayern climb to second spot with three points in Mainz

While others stumbled and staggered, a resolute FC Bayern München eked out a tight 2:1 victory over an awkward 1. FSV Mainz 05. Things are still not clicking perfectly, but the well-worked win takes the Bavarians to within two points of league leaders Borussia Dortmund.

Back in the early 1990s, a rather bellicose Stefan Effenberg once flippantly suggested that all of the other teams were “too stupid” to win the Bundesliga. Given that the Bayern team back then was fairly ordinary, it was not the best turn of phrase. But looking at how things turned out this weekend, he might have had a point.

Crisis? What crisis?

For the past couple of months, the consensus from some sections of the media is that Bayern are in crisis. Worse still, the club is allegedly suffering some sort of meltdown. Crazy press conferences, players walking out, unwanted cycle rides. You get the idea.

Yet somehow, Die Roten are just two points off top spot.

How did this happen? Simple. This Bayern team is still far from their world-beating best. Their mojo is still hidden under some sofa or behind a plant pot at the Säbener Straße. But they did enough to claim all three points. Meanwhile, all of their closest rivals slipped up.

On Friday, Borussia Mönchengladbach, so convincing at the Allianz Arena three weeks ago, suffered a surprise defeat against lowly SC Freiburg. Leaders Borussia Dortmund finally ran out of luck, conceding a silly injury-time penalty to draw with Hertha BSC. Eintracht Frankfurt’s ascent was halted in Nürnberg, where they needed a late equaliser. RB Leipzig drew a blank against struggling Schalke 04.

The final act was a shambolic Werder Bremen being taken to the cleaners by Bayer Leverkusen.

Effe was clearly wrong when he used the term “stupid”. “Inconsistent” would have been a better word. Either way, it all means that Bayern are within one win of making it back to the top of the pile.

Crisis? What crisis?

More Bavarian bad luck

Bayern coach Niko Kovač made a number of changes to the team that had started in midweek against AEK Athens, but this was more down to circumstance and bad luck than design. Thomas Müller returned for the suspended Arjen Robben, while Leon Goretzka and David Alaba replaced the rested James Rodríguez and Rafinha.

The fourth change came just ten minutes before kickoff. After pulling up in the pre-match warm up, Mats Hummels was replaced by Jérôme Boateng.

Sporting their mint-green Auswärtstrikot with the branding of recently-launched T-Com OTT service MagentaTV, Bayern were quick into their stride – as has been the case in nearly every match this season.

Chances came and went. Same old story. Alaba blasted a half-chance over the bar, and Müller was denied by his namesake Florian in the Mainz goal. Then, a moment that seemed to sum up Bayern’s recent bad luck. A fantastic 27th-minute effort from Joshua Kimmich crashed against the underside of the bar, before falling back on the line and out via the base of the post.

It got worse. Just four minutes later, Thiago had the ball in the net, only for referee Harm Osmers and video official Felix Zwayer to determine that Robert Lewandowski had fouled Pierre Kunde in the buildup. It was hard to see where a foul had actually taken place, and it already felt like it was going to be one of those days again.

A tough workout

Six minutes before the break, the visitors finally made the breakthrough. A lovely long diagonal ball from Alaba was beautifully collected by Kimmich, whose nicely-timed cross was met brilliantly by Goretzka. The ball fizzed into the Mainz net, and all the ‘keeper could do was admire.

Goretzka has found it hard to get a foothold in the Bayern team since his arrival from Schalke, but his goal was sublime. It also meant that this could be rolled out again.

The start of the second half was not great, both for Bayern and goalscorer Goretzka. Three minutes in, Dutch winger Jean-Paul Boëtius sneaked in front of Kimmich to score an out-of-the-blue equaliser for the home side. It was all a little soft, and he reaction of Manuel Neuer said it all.

Soon afterwards, a hobbling Goretzka made his way off the pitch. He may have had a couple of bad matches, but desperately needs a good run in the team. The constant injury issues continue to make this process incredibly difficult.

It was an all too familiar scenario. Bayern had dominated the game, but had little to show for it. There was the usual toxic combination: bad luck, a questionable refereeing decision, injury problems and a soft goal for the opposition against the general run of play.

Thiago secures the points

The positive thing is that the team stuck rigidly to the task. Rather than let their heads drop, Kovač’s men looked to put their foot back on the pedal.

After 62 minutes, they were rewarded. Substitute Sanches challenged hard to dispossess a lazy Jean-Philippe Mateta, and fed Robert Lewandowski down the right. The Pole’s perfectly-placed low cross was turned in by a stretching Thiago to restore Die Roten’s advantage.

There were chances to put some daylight between the two teams, but this is not the free-flowing Bayern we have got used to seeing in recent years. Martínez hit the post, and just moments later a magnificent run from Niklas Süle was not quite matched by a poor finish.

It was tight. It could have been better. But it was enough.

It has been become something of a mantra in recent weeks, but Bayern were good enough to get the job done. When we look at results elsewhere, we just need to keep doing this. The form, and the pretty football, will surely follow.

Dortmund, we have you in our sights. We may be hobbling at the moment, but we are coming for you.

Statistical Summary

1. FSV Mainz 05 – FC Bayern München 1:2 (0:1)
Boëtius 48. / Goretzka 39., Thiago 62.

Mainz: Müller – Brosinski, Bell (c), Niakhaté , Aaron – Kunde (69. Quaison) – Gbamin , Latza (83. Maxim) – Öztunalı, Boëtius – Mateta (69. Ujah)

FC Bayern: Neuer (c) – Kimmich, Süle, Boateng, Alaba – Martínez – Goretzka (55. Renato Sanches), Thiago – Müller (84. Rafinha), Gnabry (57. Ribéry) – Lewandowski

Referee: Harm Osmers (Hannover)
Attendance: 33,305

Yellow Cards: Aaron 43., Öztunalı 61., Ujah 88. / Martínez 86.
Red Cards: – / –

Shots: 6 / 23
Passes: 320 / 607
Completed Passes: 233 / 528
Pass Success: 73% / 87%
Possession: 34% / 66%
Fouls: 13 / 6
Offsides: 1 / 3
Corners: 2 / 7