Holders FC Bayern München had a comfortable passage to the second round, beating Carl Zeiss-Jena 5-0 in the first competitive match under Carlo Ancelotti.
The German champions were home and dry by the interval with Robert Lewandowski claiming a first-half hat-trick to score his first three goals of the domestic season since returning from the European Championship. Arturo Vidal made it three in two this term, before Mats Hummels headed his first goal for the Munich club.
Ancelotti’s effect not immediate – just yet
It’s perhaps how the 57-year-old would have intended: there’s not a huge amount of information to discern from Bayern’s preparations for the new campaign. The tour of the United States was to serve a purpose in the club’s internationalisation plans, while those who competed at the European Championship had less than a week of pre-season training before the Super Cup win in Dortmund.
Bayern’s attacking play certainly lacks the piercing incision of that under Guardiola last season, while switching between defence and attack is still rough around the edges. That is to be expected in the aftermath of a major international tournament – the fact the Bundesliga’s start date was delayed so late was to give teams time to hit optimal conditioning for the new season.
But injuries have plagued Ancelotti’s ranks ahead of his first competitive fixture of the season – the win at Dortmund last week is still seen as ‘unofficial’. Jerome Boateng, Arjen Robben, Xabi Alonso and Thiago joined absentees Renato Sanches and Douglas Costa. Mats Hummels, who played at the Westfalenstadion last week, was the only established player on an unrecognisable substitutes bench.
The international break – as confirmed in Ancelotti’s press conference – will be used primarily as an opportunity for regeneration and recovery. Costa and Sanches are on track to be ready for Bayern’s second league game of the season, a testing trip to Gelsenkirchen to meet Markus Weinzierl’s Schalke.
When Ancelotti’s starting XI takes to the field at the Veltins Arena in September, we’ll get a clearer picture of where the German champions are going.
A focus on defensive structure?
Ancelotti was quizzed by the media on Thursday about his football philosophy. The former Real Madrid, AC Milan and Chelsea coach emphasized the need to do the defensive side of the game well. “I want to have the ball for 90 minutes, but this is impossible. When you don’t, you need to be organised and defend well,” he said.
“It’s of the same importance when you don’t have the ball. You have to do something good. Other teams might be better prepared than you. You need to be able to work even when things aren’t like how you want. Like at Dortmund – we wanted to have the ball for 90, but didn’t.” Facing a mid-table side in the fourth-tier of German football offers little insight into how strong Bayern’s defence is shaping up.
Although Bayern were never pressured by Jena, the phase of play, emanating from defence, was fascinating. David Alaba and Javi Martinez held fort as the two conventional central defenders, with Joshua Kimmich and Rafinha transitioning between attack and defence on the right-side. Rafinha often held the most advanced position, while Kimmich slid into one of the defensive pivot positions when Bayern needed to build from the back.
Without possession, it was ostensibly a back-four, with Philipp Lahm on hand to cover, if needed. Bayern’s counter-pressing in midfield with Kimmich and Lahm was so efficient, that it took until midway through the first half before we saw a settled back-four in position. This positional flexibility was born out of Guardiola’s time at the club; now we’re seeing a streamlined version.
Lewandowski has rediscovered his edge
Robert Lewandowski has discovered his scoring touch – and that should terrify defenders across the Bundesliga. Last season’s top goalscorer in the German top flight, the Polish international had an underwhelming European Championship by his own exceptional standards, scoring once and failing to make a huge impression.
He looked exhausted, drained by the demands of last season when Bayern Munich came agonizingly close to the Champions League final. It’s easy to shrug off fatigue when you are winning, but defeat to Atletico Madrid in the semi-final was like taking a pin to a balloon. Many of Bayern’s international stars had nothing left in the tank.
After an extended break, Lewandowski has returned and bagged a hat-trick in the German Cup win at Jena. He was more workmanlike against Borussia Dortmund, his polished first touch and awareness crucial to bringing the likes of Vidal and Thomas Müller into play. But in the first 45 minutes, Lewandowski’s brilliant scoring prowess was on show with the Bayern striker scoring a range of goals.
A tap-in, a one-touch finish and an arrowed finish from distance, Lewandowski, on form, is incisive from anywhere in the last-third. Like last season, the Poland international will arguably be the team’s most important player; he has match-winning capabilities and without Guardiola might need to bail the Bavarians out, if the going gets tough.