After its opening weekend, there was sense of disappointment at what the Bundesliga had eventually served up after a summer of anticipation. Bayern Munich, whose status as untouchable was being called into question, orchestrated a thumping win over Werder Bremen. Schalke, on the other hand, who were being touted as potential top four contenders managed to stutter to a one-nil loss to Eintracht Frankfurt. When the two met in tonight’s evening fixture, then, it looked as though there was really only one realistic outcome. Yet although Bayern ran out eventual 2-0 winners, the reality was quite different to the result that the scoreline suggested.
The first half began unremarkably enough: Bayern posting the sorts of possession scores that might be expected of them with Schalke sitting deep in a bid to contain them. Yet once the opening exchanges had been traded, the game took on an unexpected form. Schalke’s high pressing game clearly unsettled the German champions and forced a number of mistakes from their three-man midfield, not least debutant Renato Sanches. As a result, in spite of their attempts at patient build up play, Bayern looked most dangerous on the counter attack as the front line of Robert Lewandowski, Franck Ribery and Thomas Müller broke at pace. It was one such build up that led to Bayern’s best chance of the half: Müller whipping in a low cross to Lewandowski who, perhaps surprisingly given his recent glut of goals, bundled the ball wide of Ralph Fährmann’s post.
Yet it was Schalke who generally seemed to have the upper hand in the first half. Their three advanced midfielders—Leon Goretzka, Yevhen Konoplyanka and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting—made the most of an uncharacteristic sloppiness in the Bayern midfield and caused their defence no end of problems. In the 19th minute, Leon Goretzka saw a weak header blocked on the line by David Alaba. A more telling effort was missed by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar a few minutes later after jinking run from Abdul Rahman Baba was laid off to Koplyanka who forced Manuel Neuer into palming the ball out right at the feet of the Dutchman. Huntelaar could do little other than prod the ball straight back at Neuer and what was a promising chance was squandered. At the half time whistle, with the score at nil-nil, Schalke would have been disappointed not to have seen any advantage from what was a strong half from them.
In the second half, though, told a different story with Bayern turning on the pressure against the Royal Blues. The addition of Arturo Vidal, Douglas Costa and Joshua Kimmich certainly played a part in this reversal. With Vidal tightening up the Bayern midfield, Schalke were prevented from having quite so much dominance in that area as they had enjoyed in the first half. That said, Bayern were fortunate not to have conceded at the outset, as Huntelaar boomed a shot against the bar which had Neuer beaten. After this point, it was business as usual for Bayern. Except for the fact that their usual business was proving to be a little more difficult to come by than in previous weeks—Alaba threaded a low ball across the six-yard box which once again Lewandowski contrived inexplicably to miss as the ball spooned over the bar.
Yet the collector’s item of a third Robert Lewandowski miss in a row was not to materialise. When he did finally score, it was classic example of why Lewandowski is one of the greatest out and out strikers in Europe at the moment: Javi Martinez’s pass sneaked in between two Schalke defenders but just behind the Pole who eased it into his feet before composing himself for a lofted finish over the advancing Fährmann. From here, Schalke looked beaten. The icing on the cake was applied by Joshua Kimmich who was the beneficiary of a lay off from Lewandowski on the counterattack. Kimmich finished smartly into the bottom corner and the game was over.
Whilst it is a night that Schalke may want to forget after their capitulation in the final ten minutes, the rest of the Bundesliga will have looked on with interest. For the Bayern Munich who looked imperious against Bremen two weeks ago were brought back to earth with a bump by a plucky Schalke team who may look back in regret at the chances that they didn’t capitalise upon in the first half.