By Bill Gardner,
Bundesliga season opened today with a stellar match at Allianz Arena in Munich, as Steve McClaren became the first English manager in Bundesliga history leading his Wolfsburg to Munich to face perennial power Bayern Munich.
With the announcement of the team sheet one unexpected omission stood out for me. Wolfsburg’s big summer signing, German International Arne Friedrich was not in the team or on the subs bench, unable to go Friedrich was left out with a minor injury. Bayern also were missing two key players with both Olic and Arjen Robben injured, though Bayern had suitable replacements in Kroos and Klose.
From the onset the Bayern’s chemistry was evident as the reigning Bundesliga champions mounted threatening attack after attack and clearly dominated the ball. McClaren as expected appeared to have planned for Wolfsburg to go out and weather the early Bayern storm as they say back absorbing the pressure.
Of course the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and in the 9th minute World Cup Golden Boot winner Thomas Muller (photo) announced his intention to disrupt McClaren’s debut. Muller’s move began with his combining on a give and go with Kroos as he sped through the top of the area from right to left, Kroos return pass was there and Muller touched it over the last defender though it seemed to hang suspended in the air for an eternity with Muller rapidly running out of space. Just when it seemed no shot was possible, the angle too sharp and the ball still out in front of him, Muller pulled out what can be described as the best goal I have seen this year in any match.
What looked to be impossible was not, not for Muller. With a sublime first touch Muller had lifted the ball over the defender and as he was striding to latch onto it, he took a peak at goal, and then back to the ball. The keeper was in position the defender on his shoulder he had no room to shoot, none. Yet the 2010 FIFA Golden Boot winner somehow took it in stride and on the volley, with his “weaker” left foot from an obscene angle he scored the opening goal of the season. A goal which the Spanish language broadcasters would label a GOALASOOOOOOOO!!! In a moment of sheer genius Muller had struck home slamming it low into the far corner, an unstoppable goal. The sellout crowd at Allianz erupted in celebration as Muller was mobbed by his shocked teammate’s smiles all around, for Bayern at least.
On the replay we see that he took three touches on the move without the ball ever touching the ground, of course it’s somewhere on you tube and you have to see it to believe it.
McClaren’s plan to let Bayern attack early had been undone by the 20 year old striker in a moment of class and skill. For the next 20 minutes Bayern would create chance after chance yet the final ball would consistently miss the mark. The Bayern attack was diverse with Van Buyten sending some excellent long diagonal balls to Ribery on the left flank, complemented by some outstanding attacking runs through the middle of Wolfsburg’s defense. Bayern were attacking the position Friedrich should have been in. As the half closed in was total domination for Bayern as Wolfsburg looked overmatched yet somehow they managed not concede a killer second.
As the second half opened only one team was on the pitch, Bayern. They stood alone for nearly 5 minutes waiting for Wolfsburg to finally appear, and once they did McClaren was not with them. After another 2-3 minutes he appeared from the tunnel to a jeering crowd, a bit of gamesmanship on his part I suspect. With a wave to the crowd and a smile McClaren finally reached the technical area and the second half began.
Whatever he said at the half had worked, a different Wolfsburg team had emerged and within the first 4 minutes they had created three clear chances. Now on the front foot Wolfsburg’s 20 goal man, Bosnian International Dzeko looked ever present and extremely dangerous as he tested Butt time and time again from long range. The pressure finally got to Butt, and with his poor clearance he sent Wolfsburg in on himself. His tremendous save narrowly preserved Bayern’s now tenuous lead. But the momentum was with the Wolves. Off the ensuing corner it was Dzeko who rose above the crowd in the box and from 10 meters he sent a perfect rocketing header into the top corner. With the goal Bayern looked nervy and undone by their inability to finish their first half chances. McClaren jumped for joy in his Wolfsburg track suit looking very sporty and very motivated.
From the 55th to the 65th minutes Wolfsburg looked poised to impose their will on Bayern with a series of physical challenges which resulted in three yellow cards two for Wolfsburg and one for Bayern. Barzagli’s yellow card in the 65th minute seemed to reawaken Bayern and the match was on, end to end with both sides went striving for a go ahead goal. Open football in Europe? Of course it’s the Bundesliga!!!
Dzeko would force two more saves from Butt and Wolfsburg looked very good indeed. Louis van Gaal responded with Pranjic and Gomez on for Bayern in place of Kroos and Klose. The Bundesliga champions began to reassert themselves with rapid ball movement and a series of Ribery runs, McClaren seemed to pull Wolfsburg back to assure the away point for his side with 10 minutes remaining.
Mandzukic came off for Wolfsburg in the 85th minute and his absence combined with the missing Friedrich would spell disaster for Wolfsburg in stoppage time. As the fourth official held up the stoppage time board it read 2 minutes, and the huge Bayern crowd seemed to take in a collective breath.
It turned out to be a breath of fresh air, and it worked as in a flash Bayern were off on the counter attack streaming down the left was Ribery as he looked up and sent a 50 meter diagonal ball to the back post, just in time to find Sebastian Schweinsteiger, who appeared from out of nowhere sliding onto it and tapping it home as he slid over the end line.
Bayern had found two moments of magic, one early and one very late from two magic players Muller and Bastian Schweinsteiger, and in doing so they snatched all three points from a deserving McClaren and his dejected Wolfsburg side. As the Bayern players celebrated with and sellout crowd McClaren unleashed a furious salvo at each of his defenders as they left the pitch defeated. The Bundesliga is back for another round and not a moment too soon.