For the second straight season, Bayern Munich has opened its Bundesliga campaign with a depleted midfield, part of the reason why Xabi Alonso, signed late this week from Real Madrid, was pushed directly into the German champions’ starting XI. But instead of starting in the middle, where Bayern are missing Thiago Alcantara, Javi Martínez, and Bastian Schweinsteiger, Alonso began Saturday’s trip to Schalke in the middle of a back three, sliding into Martínez’s central defense role as Bayern were held to a 1-1 draw in Gelsenkirchen.
Much like last Friday’s season opener against Wolfsburg, Bayern’s edges in possession failed to translate into more chances on target, with a Schalke team that saw only 36 percent of the ball able to match its guests’ four shots on goal. But whereas a late miss last week by Junior Malanda allowed Bayern to take full points in Munich, Benedikt Höwedes’s controversial Saturday equalizer cost FCB its first points of the season.
“The first 20 or 25 minutes were our best in the last six months,” Bayern head coach Pep Guardiola said post-match, referring to the span that produced a 10th minute opener for Robert Lewandowski. “After that, we lost control.”
Lewandowski’s first Bayern goal came after he and Thomas Müller had already tested Schalke’s Ralf Fährmann. By the middle of the half, however, Schalke were creating chances on the counter, with the likes of Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Julian Draxler, and Kaan Ayhan stressing Guardiola’s 3-5-2 starting formation.
The talking point of that set up was Alonso – a holder by trade who was started between center backs Jerome Boateng and Holger Badstuder. Despite a strong overall performance, Alonso played a part in Schalke’s only goal, with an attempted clearance off Höwedes’s hand serving as the day’s equalizer after being unintentionally redirected into Manuel Neuer’s goal.
“Xabi was very good today,” Guardiola said. “He did everything I asked him to do. He was a leader.”
That leadership helped produce an improved performance on last Friday, even if the result was worse. On the road against a strong opponent, Bayern still had the better of play, even if there’s a persisting fear Guardiola’s leaves opponents too close.
Today, however, the proximity happened with Frank Ribery and Arjen Robben out of the 18. Though Sebastian Rode played well, the midfield is still depleted. On the road at one of the more talented teams in the Bundesliga, Bayern still exerted their characteristic control, giving fans reason to think results will improve as stars return.
“We ran hard. Tt was a good test for our legs,” Guardiola noted, his team’s preseason preparation having been hampered by this summer’s World Cup. “We have two weeks without a game. I hope most of our injured players can return.”