Munich - It was a case of patience paying off for FC Bayern München as they stretched their unbeaten streak to 30 league games after overcoming a stubborn Hannover 96 side on home soil.
Stats tell a story
Mario Mandzukic and Franck Ribery were the goalscorers in this ultimately routine win for the home side. Yet their performance, which revealed some initial difficulty penetrating a Hannover defence that conceded eleven goals in two games against Bayern last season, added further weight to the belief that this Bayern side are a work in progress under new coach Pep Guardiola.
Ostensibly, however, this was a good day all round for FC Bayern. Man of the moment Ribery, fresh from scoring a brace for France in Belarus last week and being crowned 2012/13 UEFA Best Player in Europe a fortnight ago, scored yet again, and the absence of key midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger was successfully negotiated. Perhaps most memorable though, was the unique record achieved by goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.
The scoreline ensured that he became the youngest keeper ever to keep 100 clean sheets in the Bundesliga. “I wasn't actually counting," said Germany’s no. 1 after the game modestly. Instead, he preferred to focus on the team's collective effort. “We got a little bit lucky in the first half with their shot that hit the post but we improved our game in the second half: We did things quicker and that made the difference.”
Patience the key
Neuer’s record didn’t seem in too much doubt against a Hannover side that mustered only two shots on target in the 90 minutes, both from Ivorian striker Didier Ya Konan. Less certain, however, was a fourth win for Bayern from five games, particularly after a first half that had yielded no goals, two yellow cards - to Ribery and Toni Kroos - and a plenty of frustration for the supporters.
Philipp Lahm, who filled in the defensive midfielder in a 4-1-4-1 formation, admitted fatigue after the international break may have been one cause for the home side’s lack of penetration in the opening half. “We had a lot of guys away with their national teams. Its not just two or three players, it’s probably the whole squad, apart from two or three. It’s not easy coming back after that but thankfully we were able to up our game in the second half, “ said the Bayern and Germany skipper.
Pep’s mark becoming clearer
Perhaps the most satisfying facet of the result, however, was that Guardiola’s mark on the team is becoming more evident with each encounter, not only in terms of his tactical changes but in the football Bayern produced. The first goal, scored by Mandzukic, was a classic case in point.
Arjen Robben’s skill took him away from two defenders, allowing him to pick out a clever overlapping run from Kroos, whose first-time centre was stroked home coolly by Mandzukic. It was a goal that epitomised the Guardiola way, as Bayern simply passed their way to goal, and even the shot from Mandzukic was a calmly-hit, passed finish into the corner.
Not yet the finished article
Nevertheless, the rest of the Bundesliga will have observed this game, as well as the Reds’ two other home games against 1. FC Nürnberg and Borussia Mönchengladbach, and realised that this Bayern team isn’t quite the invincible outfit it was last season. Without Schweinsteiger, Bayern seemed to lack invention in midfield, and communication wasn’t at its machine-like best, evidence that the players are still adjusting to the new system.
In the whole of 2012/13, only three teams, Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Borussia Dortmund and Gladbach, took points from the Allianz, all of them in the first half of the season. For the second half of the season, therefore, it was expected and assumed that a fixture against Bayern away meant defeat. This season might well see a repeat of such a record, but the rest of the division will certainly make the journey to Bavaria with far more belief that they can cause an upset.
Bernie Reeves at the Allianz Arena