Very few are actually pleased with what Pep Guardiola is doing at the moment with Bayern Munich, but so far, the streak of winning and remaining undefeated lives on, as Mario Mandzukic, with so many questions about his new role in a possible ‘no-striker’ formation proved his value with the goal and being the offensive pivot for a team still trying to sort its way through a new identity.
The new system, a 4-1-4-1, didn’t have room for Arjen Robben, who came off the bench for Thomas Muller in the 74th minutes. Mario Gotze? The €37 million man is still waiting to make his debut, but except for a warm-up phase that went on for around 20 minutes, he never really got close to playing.
Neglecting to use Javi Martinez (possibly because he was too tired from the international break) put Bastian Schweinsteiger alone in the defensive midfield, producing one of his weaker matches for the last couple of seasons. Martinez is designated to be a centre back, probably instead of Boateng, while becoming a defensive midfielder when Bayern have possession, but for now many are looking confused with some new alignments on the pitch.
The goal that came from Mandzukic, the only one in a 1-0 win over Frankfurt (making it 27 consecutive matches without a loss for Bayern in the Bundesliga), started from Xherdan Shaqiri, getting a starting spot in the lineup, playing next to Toni Kroos as an attacking midfield duo (which doesn’t seem to fit Shaqiri or Kroos very well), leaving it to Thomas Muller who ended up chipping the ball into the box for Mandzukic to finish.
The rest? A lot of possession, but not enough substance. Franck Ribery seems to be a little bit less involved than he was last season, possibly playing a bit wider than usual, or at least more than he would like to, keeping him away from vital possession and touches in areas that usually bring out the best of him, and Bayern Munich.
Guardiola is intent that his mini-revolution, which is mostly about changing the tactical look of Bayern, is fulfilled and isn’t neglected despite all the criticism. A perfect Bayern Munich team from last season isn’t returning, at least not in form and look. Guardiola believes in a different approach, which is a little less hectic and aggressive, compared to what we saw from the matured and complete Bayern from last season.
How does this end? For now, even though they’re going through some growing pains, the wins are coming. Having 70% possession on the road is something Guardiola loves to see, even if these numbers mean nothing. In the basis of the Barcelona-system, possession means your opponent can’t hurt you. Even if Bayern don’t look very comfortable wearing these new clothes of a more laid back, less direct style, it’s hard to argue with two wins in the opening two matches, even if he doesn’t have his best players yet at his disposal.
Playing bad? It doesn’t matter. Having a striker that actually plays like one is something teams going through a rough patch can always rely on. Luckily, Mandzukic is still here, still playing, and obviously still good enough to score.