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‘It was hard work’

Guardiola and Götze’s crucial contributions

The score after 90 minutes looked clear enough: Bayern beat Mainz 4-1, a “comfortable” victory according to Arjen Robben, a “deserved” three points said Philipp Lahm, “and our second-best result in the Bundesliga,” as Thomas Müller noted. However, the eventual outcome looked unlikely at half-time, when Bayern were behind for the first time this season. That fact prompted Pep Guardiola to take a couple of crucial decisions.

“We made a few changes at half-time, not just with substitutions, but also to our zonal system – and it all paid off,” revealed Lahm. Guardiola altered his formation from 4-1-4-1 to 4-2-3-1 - and suddenly his men had far more space for their passing game against the visitors’ disciplined defence.

Thomas Tuchel’s team successfully frustrated their illustrious opponents throughout the first 45 minutes. “All credit to Mainz. they made life very, very difficult for us in the first half,” acknowledged Lahm, although the FCB captain also felt the home side lacked concentration at times. “It often happens after international breaks and we need to get it under control as quickly as possible.”

Guardiola seeks answers

Not for the first time at the Allianz Arena this season, the treble winners needed the whole of the first period to build up a head of steam. Guardiola had warned of exactly that in the build-up to the game, which he felt confirmed his point of view. “We need to find out why this is,” said the head coach, unwilling to lump all the blame on international breaks. “I want to see improvement very soon,” Guardiola insisted. “I don’t want the fans to think it’s only worth turning up to the stadium for the second half.”

On Saturday, Bayern did not need long after the half-time interval to turn the match on its head. It was due to the revised formation, two critical changes in position (Robben moved out left and Lahm reverted to right back), and last but not least to the introduction of Mario Götze. The 21-year-old, almost back to full fitness after a lengthy injury lay-off, provided top quality assists for Robben’s 50th minute equaliser, and Mario Mandzukic’ 69th minute strike to make the score 3-1. He was also involved in the game’s best move in the 52nd minute, a slick passing interchange finished off by Müller.

Götze the key figure

“I’m really pleased for him,” declared Guardiola, “we need someone between the lines capable of playing an intelligent final ball.” Müller joined in the chorus of praise: “After Mario came on, we were more inventive. He opened up gaps in attack and laid on goals. He might have been the key figure.“ Müller himself brought up the final score with his second goal, a penalty eight minutes from time.

“But it was hard work,” summarised Robben, although Bayern ultimately recorded a seventh victory of the campaign and ensured they stay top of the standings. “Fortunately, a game lasts 90 minutes,” reflected Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. FCB are back in action again on Wednesday, when Czech champions Viktoria Plzen visit the Allianz Arena. “They won’t be coming here just to hand us the victory,” warned Robben, “we’ll have to be up for it from the start.”