Created on 23-03-2008 at 00:00 AM
The Bayern stars danced for joy in front of the Allianz Arena faithful after sealing a place in the German Cup final in midweek, but Saturday's celebrations were tinged with a note of caution. "That was a major step towards the championship," said Ottmar Hitzfeld after a 2-1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen, which took Bayern nine points clear of their Rhineland visitors and extended their lead over second-placed Hamburg to seven points. However, no-one in the Munich camp is prepared to claim the title just yet.
"It's a good cushion now, but we still have to watch ourselves," commented Uli Hoeneß. Added Oliver Kahn: "We've put ourselves in a very good position, nothing more and nothing less.“ Hitzfeld warned his men to be watchful and wakeful, "because complacency is a real danger.“ The coach has not forgotten that his side pulled out a seven-point lead two weeks ago and promptly slumped to a second defeat of term in Cottbus. "I hope the players learned their lesson from that.“
That would certainly appear to be the case up to now. Following a convincing display in the Cup against Wolfsburg, the Bavarians utterly dominated for long spells against third-placed Bayer. "It was classy. We had the look of champions at times," FCB general manager Hoeneß enthused, describing the élan and poise with which Hitzfeld's men created chance after chance as "well worth watching. It's a long time since I've seen as many scoring chances as that in a top-of-the-table match.“
With the exception of a ten-minute spell around the half-hour mark, Bayern easily bossed proceedings on Saturday and were rewarded with a Luca Toni brace on 17 and 59 minutes, taking the Italian to 16 league goals for the season. "After that, it was just a question of the margin of victory," reflected Hitzfeld, although Bayern declined to accept a string of presentable openings. "We were profligate in front of goal," complained the General, whose team were almost punished for their wastefulness.
Dmitry Bulykin pulled one back out of the blue to make it an unnecessarily anxious last seven minutes for the men in red. "We just made life difficult for ourselves," Hitzfeld lamented. "We should have been 5-0 up before Leverkusen scored," argued Hoeneß, "it would have been disastrous and totally unjust if Leverkusen had made it 2-2.“
However, Bayern shut up shop and the visitors never seriously threatened to sneak off with a point. "We were a class apart at times," Hitzfeld said in praise of his men, "it was an extraordinarily good display." The match stats backed the coach's point of view, as his side delivered 21 shots to their opponents' four, and won 56 percent of their challenges. "Looking at the 90 minutes, we're flattered by the scoreline. We deserved to lose the match,“ Leverkusen coach Michael Skibbe conceded.
No neighbourly gestures
Hitzfeld has rewarded the stars with two days off before ordering his men back to the training ground on Tuesday ready for the weekend trip to fellow Bavarians 1. FC Nürnberg. "The job is to perform away from home, which we failed to do in Cottbus," observed Philipp Lahm. Bayern are in no mood to be generous to their relegation-threatened neighbours. "Nuremberg have had plenty of opportunities to pick up points," Hoeneß pointed out, "we can't go there and hand out neighbourly gifts. We want the title, so we need to take points wherever we go.“
The general manager called for an equally good performance in Nuremberg. "If we play like we did today, no-one in Germany can hurt us," he said, looking forward to the title run-in with some confidence. With nine games still to play, "it's in our own hands," Mark van Bommel noted. The squad needed to concentrate right to the end, Hitzfeld thought. "Then we'll be very difficult to stop."