Bayern Munich supporters will face countless tiresome recollections this campaign when, inevitably, Carlo Ancelotti’s side is compared to the one managed by Pep Guardiola last season.
Statistically however, the Italian manager’s reign could not have begun in any better fashion. Four wins from four, 15 goals scored, zero conceded. This looks like a Bayern side who, although could be slightly short in terms of numbers, will suffer minimal damage from the managerial transition.
Yet this did not always look the case last night. The Bavarians were rattled by an energetic Schalke side that forced the visitors into numerous, uncharacteristic errors in passing and in judgement. Particularly in the first half, the host’s coordination, for the first time this season, left Bayern rattled. Leon Goretzka, Tottenham loanee Nabil Bentaleb and new signing Benjamin Stambouli were industrious and assertive as an unofficial trio, hounding the inexperienced Renato Sanches into several mistakes.
In comparison, Xabi Alonso, Thiago and Sanches all appeared slightly isolated from each other and not able to form a cohesive midfield synthesis. If anyone was asked the ages of Alonso and Sanches last night, many would have estimated close to the figure.
The Spaniard was physically incapable of halting the fervent Schalke midfield, whilst the Portuguese was no longer the driving force behind a European Championship winning nation of the summer, but rather a 19-year-old who had met his match on his Bundesliga debut, even though a raucous Veltins Arena is a rather intimidating atmosphere in which to make your bow in a new league.
Ancelotti’s formation did fashion some bright moments, particularly in the wide areas, with Franck Ribéry and Thomas Müller fathoming opportunities, one of which from the latter should have been converted by Robert Lewandowski.
Recognising the need for urgency in midfield, Alonso was replaced by Arturo Vidal, and the difference with his, and Douglas Costa’s introduction was sizeable, although it did not halt the end-to-end nature of the second half.
Klass-Jan Huntelaar’s long-range drive almost put Bayern behind, save the expert fingertips of Manuel Neuer, before Lewandowski scrambled a much closer range chance over the bar following David Alaba’s cross.
However, with Robert Lewandowski’s cool finish from Javi Martínez’s pass, Bayern fans perhaps saw the precise configuration of Ancelotti’s Bayern. The Bundesliga champions were far from their fluent best, and although enjoying possession, it was not as ruthless as under Guardiola.
Nonetheless, they found a way to win, a direct route to victory, via one pass along the floor from their central defender to their striker. Compound that with a counter-attacking goal from substitute Joshua Kimmich, his first competitive Bayern goal, a few days after his first international goal, represents the identity that will reverberate around the globe.
It may not always be the aesthetically pleasing performances that were commonplace under Guardiola, but the champions have added an extra dimension of determination and grit, and will make them, more than ever, a more difficult team to contain.