Another school for pressing and midfield domination was presented by Bayern Munich to an English club, this time Manchester City. Pep Guardiola might not have used a striker, instead giving Thomas Muller the most forward role, but the absolutely wonderful performance from Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos meant that there was really no need for a true number 9 to get what they set out to accomplish.
You can’t play a classic 4-4-2 like Manchester City enjoy when you have no plan to actually use your strikers in defensive roles. There were moments during the match in which Manchester City looked like they won’t be able to get out of their own box. The first goal and the third had a lot to do with Joe Hart having a terrible season, but also with his teammates simply being outclassed for 75 minutes at every corner of the pitch.
The Pep Guardiola project which needed time to take off properly is back to the level of dominance we saw from Jupp Heynckes’ side last season, demonstrated in that impressive 3-1 win against Arsenal in the knockout stage. Very similar to their beat down of Manchester City, the early pressure that involved Kroos, Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm simply squeezing the life out of Yaya Toure and Fernandinho paved the way for a comfortable match against team who less than two weeks ago beat Manchester United on the very same ground 4-1.
Maybe it had to do with Manuel Pellegrini never being able to beat a Guardiola-coached team, but usually it had to do with the budget differences between the sides. However, giving up on the midfield battle while not telling either Edin Dzeko or Sergio Aguero to disturb Philipp Lahm’s growth into the defensive midfielder role is either being blind or arrogant, and Pellegrini usually makes the impression of being neither.
The pressure from Bayern in the midfield allowed David Alaba to roam forward into more central positions, taking Jesus Navas away from the wing in order to chase him. Only when David Silva and James Milner came on the pitch in the 70th minute did City suddenly look like a team that’s on a level playing field, but those 15 minutes of pressure, including a wonderful Alvaro Negredo goal in the end didn’t really fool anyone to think this was a match between equal teams. Maybe in spending power, but that’s it.
Thomas Muller might not be the world’s greatest strikers, but it’s hard to find players who do everything asked of them and play almost every position like it’s their natural one. Maybe more than anyone else, Muller has seen shifts in his function and positioning by Guardiola, and hasn’t looked like he’s out of his depth in any of the performances except for the season opener against Dormtund. His goal was a bonus to the excellent work Muller always does when it comes to pressing defenders and intelligent off the ball movement.
Bayern Munich have been up & down in the league in terms of brilliance, but the wins keep coming. In Europe, it looks like their quality, cohesion and emerging new system is too much to handle for their group stage opponents.