On a Friday night in Prague, Chelsea will play for their first trophy of the season in the UEFA Super Cup against a familiar foe in Champions League winner Bayern Munich. The Blues will be looking to win in their second try after falling to Atletico Madrid one season ago in Monaco in a humbling match where the Spanish side thoroughly outplayed Roberto Di Matteo’s side.
This time, the team has a different look. With all the return loanees and the return of Jose Mourinho, the Blues will be looking to win this trophy with this new group of players, though some have already tasted silverware in their career.
However, they won’t be the only side looking for retribution. Bayern Munich have not forgotten the defeat at their home in Bavaria in the Champions League final a year ago at the hands of Chelsea, and although this Bayern side has changed a bit, the spine is still there, and they will be looking for a bit of payback for the embarrassment suffered in that final.
Amidst the backdrop of new signings, the Champions League group stage draw, and the chance at silverware, Mourinho also gets to stand on the touchline with a familiar foe in Pep Guardiola. The rivalry between the two has often been heated over the years, though both are quick to point out that they had nothing to do with their current charge’s trophy haul.
Regardless, the tactical battle will be interesting between the two, as the philosophies have not been that different, despite the change of scenery. In fact, I think we’ll all find that the Bayern side we face is a totally different one from the one we faced 15 months ago.
Bayern are a team that are trying to find a new identity.
It’s actually very interesting because the belief was that Guardiola’s arrival at the Allianz Arena would see him not try and fix something that wasn’t broken. Bayern are coming off a historic treble and won the league and Champions League quite convincingly last year.
However, the Bayern machine has taken a different look, as Guardiola tries to establish his ideals on the squad, which has led to some interesting play. In this year’s preseason, Guardiola was quite experimental, even going as far as to play Philipp Lahm as a central midfielder. In addition, he’s withdrawn Bastian Schweinsteiger into a deeper role than normal to accommodate his tried and trusted 4-3-3 from the typical Bayern 4-2-3-1. So far this season, Bayern have played five different midfield combinations in six competitive matches, with even Thomas Muller and Xherdan Shaqiri playing in the center of the park.
The only regular player has been Schweinsteiger, employed as a holding midfielder, with no sign of Javi Martinez in the side. Suffice it to say, this team looks very different than the side we faced, or even the side we saw against Borussia Dortmund in May.
Bayern’s strike force is not as deep as last year, but still must be watched.
Bayern’s main coup last year that I think had a huge impact was the arrival of Mario Mandzukic from Wolfsburg. Despite Mario Gomez netting 40+ goals in the previous season, Gomez contributed little else to the play aside from goals. It was shown in the Champions League final when Gomez failed to score and had no influence on play until the ball fell to his feet.
The difference with Mandzukic became his willingness to close down from the front and pressure the opposition’s center backs, whereas Gomez was never quite as adept at that. In addition, Mandzukic contributed to better link play, and it led to more goals from other positions and other players not known as Mario Gomez.
In the absence of Gomez this season, Bayern enter the season with just two senior strikers, Mandzukic and the former Chelsea player, Claudio Pizarro. While I don’t expect Pizarro to play from the start, he has regained his goal-scoring form at Bayern, though Mandzukic will still be first choice.
How solid will Bayern be defensively?
That’s the big question with this Bayern side. Without the presence of Javi Martinez and the sale of Luiz Gustavo, Bayern don’t have a true holding midfielder. Say what you will about Sergio Busquets, but on form, he was the foundation of everything that Barcelona did in protecting the back four and giving them the flexibility for a back three look when pushing forward.
The problem becomes that Schweinsteiger, for all his quality, is not really a defensive midfielder suited to being the deepest man. He can press. He can win the ball. He can move the ball intelligently. But he’s not one to really protect the back four. With Holger Badstuber still out, Guardiola has been tinkering with combinations at center back, rotating Daniel van Buyten, Dante, and Jerome Boateng. Given their attempt to find an overall identity, I think this could be a very interesting match in terms of Bayern trying to find a way of playing from the back as Guardiola tends to like to do.
I expect Mourinho to play a counterattacking team, but this time with a striker.
I don’t think I was the only one puzzled by Mourinho’s team selection at Old Trafford. The fact that Andre Schurrle started at center forward suggests the lack of faith shown in Fernando Torres, Romelu Lukaku, and Demba Ba in the big matches. It could have also been a veiled attempt at showing Wayne Rooney where would fit in.
Regardless, the intent of counterattacking was clear, and it was a good idea if only a focal point for the attack was present. The fact that Schurrle drifted around a lot and didn’t really provide that reference point didn’t help matters, and the team showed a bit of disjointed play in midfield, especially since United did a good job of flooding the space.
They’ll find a similar scenario against Bayern, though Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben are less likely to close down as much as Danny Welbeck and Antonio Valencia. However, I expect Mourinho to play the same way, particularly as Bayern are not yet as evolved in the passing rhythms that Guardiola wants and Chelsea are completely capable right now of playing a quick counterattacking game. I can’t tell you who will lead the line, but it will be either Torres or Lukaku, I would imagine.
Will Juan Mata play a role?
This is the interesting conundrum of the early season – the absence of Juan Mata from the starting 11 and sometimes even the match altogether. I’ve avoided weighing in on this, primarily because I wanted to see if the unfit rumours were true, but now that we’re in our fourth match, it’s time to look at this tactically.
The one thing that I think happened at Old Trafford, and it’s something that I think will happen in a lot of big games, is if the opposition are capable of putting us on the back foot and counterattacking play is more effective. The one thing that Mata isn’t is quick, and in addition, while he sees the game very well, he also doesn’t thrive on counterattacking play, rather he plays much better when he’s given time to scheme and build the play.
Contrast that with Oscar, who is very good at direct counter attacks with Eden Hazard and Oscar’s ability to use his off the ball movement not just to create his own space but to open up the play overall. Then toss in his ability to track back and win a tackle, and you can see why Mata didn’t play.
I do expect him to play a role, but I also think that there are very few automatic selections in this Chelsea side, especially in the attacking three, since Mourinho has six options to choose from. However, Mata is the one player who is capable of unlocking tight defences, and I think in matches where teams will defend and we’ll have to unlock them, you will see more of Mata.