For Bayern, the title race was already over. For Stuttgart, all that was left to play for was fifth place. From Jupp Heynckes’ half strength squad to Hans-Jorg Butt’s cameo to those neon orange shirts, there was always going to be a certain element of surrealism to this game. Stuttgart seemed slightly more awake throughout, aided somewhat by a superior incentive to return to Schwabia victorious, while Jupp Heynckes’ men wore their boredom on their immaculate coral striped sleeves. So different, yet wholly the same.
In a break from tradition, Stuttgart kicked off under the shady upholstery of the Allianz Arena’s uppermost echelons. In the third minute, Mario Gomez awoke with the fury and vigour of a sleeping dragon dispossessed of his special chalice, hurriedly blasting the ball in the general direction of Sven Ulreich’s net. Regrettably, the wyrm of Riedlingen (and he can worm into my mumble mumble mumble) had yet to fully unfold his wings, and his swooping effort stumbled awkwardly over the bar like a man bold enough to play the Kai Dittmann drinking game. Within a minute, Stuttgart’s noted Silvia Meichel lookalike Martin Harnik squandered an identical chance at the other end of the pitch.
The Schwabians would try again. In the 10th minute, William “the old Christian Eriksen” Kvist delivered reserve goalkeeper Hans-Jörg Butt a drive as long as the full version of Autobahn and as low as the East Pomeranian dialect, duly caught by the man from Oldenburg. We would have to wait a worthwhile ten minutes for the next chance to manifest in the apparition of Ivica Olic, who broke down the left wing with a voracious hunger for goal (Holger, left to his own devices, had devoured all the sandwiches), utilizing a rich and hitherto undiscovered seam of the sort of rapid pace only found in wikipedia cryptozoology hoaxes to advance on Sven Ulreich’s goal, telegraphing a lemon cake of a pass into the centre of the box, cooly devoured by the Schwabian goalkeeper. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.
The match simmered down for the following ten minutes, masterfully deploying the “pass the ball around and lose it in the 3rd quarter of the pitch” philosophy endemic to both sides the past season. In the 30th minute, Mario Gomez pulled a half chance wide of the net from the edge of the area. The Riedlingen Oedipus would compensate his miss within a matter of three minutes (nothing good can last longer than three minutes), after Thomas Müller barrelled down the wing like it was 2010 again, drew the hapless Maza “Upson” Rodriguez out of position, and tapped the ball to Mario Gomez, who struck the ball past the flailing, declawed cat that some call Sven Ulreich, and into the back of the net, provoking a goal celebration that broke ten thousand hearts.
And to think it seemed like it wasn’t over. Stuttgart, instigated by a sexy backheeled pass into the mixer from Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, would twice come close to pegging one back in the following minutes. First, Martin Harnik charged into the penalty area like the French at the battle of Nicopolis, and, like that ill-fated French charge at the battle of Nicopolis, was inventively dispossessed by Holger Badstuber. The German defender nervily hoofed the ball at Hans-Jörg Butt, who fisted Holger’s testing shot away from danger, committing a distressingly obvious violation of the backpass rule in the process. Victor Kassai would have sent the pair off for that.
Stuttgart’s second chance again involved Hairnik (sic), who for the second time charged forward towards the net, displacing Butt, before, finding a sea of bodies between him and the open unguarded net, balked, and conceded the ball to the men in neon much in the same way that feudal European Christendom conceded Bulgaria to the Turks at the battle of Nicopolis, ending the half like said battle ended the Medieval Crusades.
Yet the crusades were survived by a Reconquista, and so it was with the second half of this match. Considering as the Reconquista was a success for Christendom, this metaphor is falling apart, like the Stuttgart defence in the 49th minute after Luiz Gustavo rolled David “misused at left-back” Alaba a through ball that would make Silvia Neid weep in one of the most impressive wing switches since Nick Clegg became Deputy Prime Minister. The Austrian international dashed down the wing, unmarked as a fine, cashmere sweater, pounding his climactic shot a Neuer’s Breadth from goal.
In the 56th minute, Jupp Heynckes opted for his second change, dismissing Takashi Usami to the bench for Bastian Schweinsteiger. It’s not very effective. In the 63rd minute, Ivica Olic was passed into the area by that noted flair-oozing Brazilian midfield creator, Luiz Gustavo. The Croatian’s ensuing shot would have been magnificent were it not for an astounding block from Gotoku Sakai and Sven Ulreich. Tokugawa Iemitsu would have been proud.
In the 72nd minute, something amazing happened. Danijel Pranjic struck a shot somewhere in the vicinity of Sven Ulreich’s net. The Croatian Cristiano missed, naturally, but it’s not the score, it’s how you play that counts. Jupp Heynckes, at a Cockerian loss to understand what had just unfolded before his shifting eyes, dispelled Pranjic to the bench, where Heynckes rebuked the carroty midfielder for his selfish showboating. Arjen Robben was deployed as his replacement, because a stitch in time saves nine.
With Pranjic on the bench, it was left to Ivica Olic to carry the glorious banner of Croatia forward to glory, and for moments after he received the ball on the right wing, I thought him unready for that noble errand. I was so nearly proven wrong. The Posavina pin-up did what he had done every other time this season, curling the ball oh so narrowly wide of Ulreich’s right post. Oh well.
There is little more pathetic than watching an individual wrestle in vain with the anticlimax, yet what of the alternative? The Han dynasty was fated for disaster from the moment Dong Zhuo conducted his ultimately futile coup in Luoyang, but this was no excuse for Liu Bei to idly squander his remaining in the peach garden. The Han is no more, but it cannot be truly asserted it fell ignobly. Such has been the way with FC Bayern in 2012. At no time on saturday was this more evident on the 88th minute of play, when Thomas Müller rolled back the years (well, two years, but 98.35235% of you won’t notice), sprinted down the wing, finishing off his Nevillegasmic run with a delightful zinger past Sven Ulreich for 2-0. Every cloud has a neon orange lining.
- Hans-Jörg Butt likely played his final game in Munich today. So long and thanks for all the fishes.
- Anatoliy Tymoshchuk is not a centre back. Please desist this madness at the first possible opportunity.
- This match, at least for viewers on Sky, was like an away game, with white shirts and the camera panning exclusively to Stuttgart supporters. Then again, every game is like an away game on sky.
- The Stuttgart defence’s performance today could best be summed up by the phrase “calling it schnitzel”. Don’t call it schnitzel.
- It’s only a matter of time before some cheeky wag writes “Alabais God” upon the walls of the Sabener Straße. It’s only a matter of time before a dog urinates all over that mural.
- If rock-paper-scissors is considered controversial, I cannot wait the fallout from Thomas Müller and Mario Gomez‘s passionate 46 minute tryst this saturday. It will be what I believe is known in German as a ‘shitstorm’.
- Do those neon orange tinged away kits remind anyone other than your humble writer of the Koeln shirts from the early 1970s?
- 1-0 Gomez (32′)
- 2-0 Müller (90′)
- FC Bayern:
- David Alaba (Gomez, 46′)
- Bastian Schweinsteiger (Usami, 56′)
- Arjen Robben (Pranjic, 74′)
- VfB Stuttgart:
- Cacau (Kvist, 46′)
- Julian Schieber (Okazaki, 64′)
- Ibrahima Traore (Harnik, 79′)
Team stats (Bayern-Stuttgart):
- Ball possession: 48% – 52%
- Shots taken: 15 – 10
- Passes completed (in %): 328 – 361 (86% – 82%)
- Corner kicks: 6 – 6
- Tackles won: 56% – 44%
- Fouls committed: 12 – 14
Leading player stats (Bayern-Stuttgart):
- Touches: Rafinha (73) – Christian Gentner (86)
- Shots taken: Olic/Gomez (3 each) – Georg Niedermeier (3)
- Passes completed: Luiz Gustavo (45) – Christian Gentner (60)
- Crosses attempted: Diego Contento (3) – Sakai/Gentner/Cacau (2 each)
- Tackles won: Holger Badstuber (18) – Georg Niedermeier (14)
- Tackles won in %: Holger Badstuber (95%) – Maza (75%)
Next match: Saturday at Köln (Bundesliga), 3.30 pm