Stuttgart - On the face of it, FC Bayern München had a decent afternoon’s work on Saturday: a 2-0 away victory against traditional south German rivals VfB Stuttgart that maintained their eight-point lead at the top of the table.
'Going in the right direction'
That is not to say, however, that everyone in the Bavarians’ camp was entirely satisfied, even if it was their first competitive win in 2015 following a 4-1 defeat to VfL Wolfsburg and a 1-1 draw with FC Schalke 04.
“We weren’t that good in the first half,” said goalscorer of the opening period in which Pep Guardiola’s charges struggled to break down an ultra-defensive home side, who were quick and aggressive in the tackles and gave their visitors little time on the ball. It wasn’t until shortly before the break that the Dutchman broke the deadlock with a thumping left-foot strike from just inside the penalty area.
“I’m happy I scored but am happier for the team because it was high time we won,” said the 31-year-old. “After the break we kept the ball moving well and we got the second goal. That was decisive.” Indeed, ’s 50th minute Goal of the Month contender, a rasping 30-metre free-kick into the top corner, effectively sealed what acknowledged was a much-needed victory: “We’re delighted things are going in the right direction again.”
Guardiola: 'We have to improve'
Guardiola was rather more dissatisfied in his post-match appraisal, however. “It was a difficult game for us because it’s not easy when a team plays like Stuttgart did,” said the Catalan tactician. “The quality Arjen and David have made the difference [...] We’re not perfect, I know that, but we clearly still have to improve and get back to our former level.”
He is nevertheless confident that the Bundesliga leaders will get back into their groove: “I have faith in my team. They ran and fought a lot today and they deserve credit for that.” Yet running and fighting are not the characteristics typically associated with Bayern, and Guardiola is eager for them to return to type - an opposition-suffocating possession-based game - by refining the focus of the coming week’s training: “Pass, pass, pass, as quickly as possible.”
Bayern already do that better than most. Against Stuttgart they had 69 per cent possession, 880 touches of the ball (compared to Stuttgart’s 398) and completed 88 per cent of all their passes. It should not be forgotten that Bayern also failed to hit the heights at the beginning of the season, drawing two of their first four games before going on to win 12 of their next 13 league fixtures.
All of which gives the distinct impression that rather than being a side struggling to find their form, the Bundesliga leaders are, like a heavyweight locomotive slowly building up speed from a standing start, merely warming up the engine and pushing through the gears before they reach top speed. Hamburger SV, Bayern's next opponents on Saturday, will be hoping it takes them a little while longer before they get there.