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Sports

Bayern labor, but get past Roman fortifications

Bayern got a win on Wednesday night, but were frustrated for long stretches by Roma. To match their previous campaign, which saw them reach the final in Madrid, coach Louis van Gaal will have to get more out of his team.

Ivica Olic and AS Roma's Juan Silveira dos Santos challenge for the ball

Bayern faced stiff opposition in their opening Group E match

As expected, Bayern began the game at a high tempo, roared on by a partisan home crowd. While the Germans enjoyed the majority of possession and spent most of the first half hour in the Roma half, there were very few clear cut chances and even the half chances were of little danger to Julio Sergio in the Roma goal. The Bundesliga side's control of the game and their lack of a cutting edge appeared to be a continuance of a theme running through their league games to date.

Bayern look a few weeks away from hitting the kind of consistency and creativity which blew teams away along the way to last season's Champions League final, not to mention a domestic league and cup double. It was the same story last season when it took Bayern until November before they hit top gear but back then coach Louis van Gaal could claim that his tactics and new players had yet to click. He won't have that luxury this season.

Perhaps this season it will take Bayern as long to get going as it takes injured Dutch winner Arjen Robben to recover and get back to top form. The fact that Franck Ribery was also missing put extra pressure on the youngsters brought in to act as attacking support.

Bayern's Thomas Mueller, center, celebrates scoring his side's first goal

Thomas Mueller proved to be the match-winner once again

New key man

Thomas Mueller has been given a more prominent role in Robben's absence and after his heroics in South Africa, it's no shock for the 21-year old to be handed a good part of the reins of Bayern's offense. With Toni Kroos beside him in the central role of the support trio behind lone striker Ivica Olic in Bayern's 4-2-3-1 formation, van Gaal has put a lot of offensive stock on his young lions while his superstars are on the sidelines.

However, it took Mueller 20 minutes to get under Roma's skin. Picking the ball up just inside the Roma half, the Bayern youngster stepped on the gas and wove his way through the defense into the penalty area before cutting a dangerous low cross across goal which eluded the on-rushing Olic. It was a turn of speed and skill reminiscent of the missing Robben at his best.

If Bayern were missing Robben's electrifying pace and trickery on the right, Ribery's influence on the left was also sorely missed. Van Gaal's strategy to deal with the loss of his influential Frenchman by playing an overlapping tactic sometimes led to Bayern being exposed at the back.

Hamit Altintop often dropped deep to act as a link between midfield and attack, and Diego Contento was expected to overlap on the left and play high up the pitch, delivering crosses in the Ribery role. But with Roma employing both Matteo Brighi and David Pizarro in Contento's channel, the Bayern left back was sometimes caught out and Bayern were out-numbered on the counter attack. Bayern looked more stable when Altintop stayed forward and wide on the left, allowing Contento to cover the few Roma breaks in his designated defensive position.

With the Italians defending in numbers, Altintop had few options other than to pass it across the pitch – a tactic forced upon Mueller and Philipp Lahm when attempting to attack from the opposite wing. Bayern's inability to breakthrough Roma's defensive wall and the lack of interest shown by the Italian strikers to challenge Joerg Butt soon forced the game into frustrating stalemate, which played more into the hands of the visitors than the home side.

Munich's players celebrate

In the end, Bayern's fitness levels won out

Second half adjustments

After watching their attempts at threading the ball through the impenetrable Roma defense come to nothing in the first half, Bayern resorted to long range shots in the second. It proved an inspired albeit forced decision; both Mueller and Kroos went agonizingly close and suddenly the Germans seemed to believe a breakthrough was possible again. Mueller then had the best chance of the match, finding himself on the end of a deflected pass in the area in the area, but his shot on the turn was brilliantly saved by Sergio.

Van Gaal then decided to bring on Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez for Olic and Altintop, a decision which may have brought results earlier in the game had he chosen to play the Germany strikers from the start. With fifteen minutes to go, Klose showed what Bayern had been lacking for most of the game – a player ready to run at Roma with the ball and eager to strike when through on goal. Unfortunately, his shot fizzed wide. It was the first run at goal punctuated by a shot since Mueller's in the 20th minute.

Bayern's Philipp Lahm and Roma's Francesco Totti challenge for the ball

Roma are Bayern's strongest opponents in the group

In the end, it wasn't a surging run or a missile from distance which gave Bayern the lead but a piece of individual brilliance from Thomas Mueller. His instinctive shot off the outside of his right boot which curled wide of Sergio's despairing dive and in off the post on 78 minutes was a worthy game-winner. And it was a typical piece of Miroslav Klose opportunism two minutes later which sealed the victory and gave Bayern's performance a certain amount of gloss. A deserved win, given the amount of possession and persistence, but one which showed more of the side's deficiencies than strengths.

Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Matt Hermann

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